Palaeontology

Goal: To encourage your interest in palaeontology, the branch of science concerned with fossil animals and plants.

Use the following questions and strategies to stimulate the discovery of paleontology.

  1. How is palaeontology different from archaeology? What do palaeoanthropologists study? What is palaeonichtheology, ichnology, zoology, palaeobotany, palynology, evolution?
  2. Invite a palaeontologist to visit your unit or visit a museum where you can view fossils.
  3. How are fossils different from modern bone? What is a simple test you can do to tell if it is a fossil? Using a microscope look at a fossil. What do you see?
  4. How are fossils formed? What kind of rock are they usually made of? 
  5. What tools does palaeontologist use at a dig site or in a laboratory? Why must you be very careful when excavating fossils?
  6. Where are fossils found? Are there any dig sites in your areas? Visit one if possible.
  7. Play a game like sister/sister to see what you learned or make up a game.
  8. Make a fossil using playdoh and glue, plaster and sand, or coffee salt dough

Coffee Salt Dough

Materials Required

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1 cup used coffee grounds
  • 1/2 cup to 1 cup cold coffee
  • Wooden spoon
  • Bowl
  • Dry and liquid measuring cups

 

Instructions:

  1. Add the flour, salt, and used coffee grounds into the bowl.
  2. Mix together with the wooden spoon.
  3. Slowly add the cold coffee a little at a time. You want just enough liquid to hold the solid ingredients together.
  4. Stir until all the ingredients are mixed together.
  5. Turn your mixture out onto a counter.
  6. Knead dough for 3-4 minutes. The dough will be sticky at first, but the longer you knead the more the moisture level will decrease.
  7. And there you have you fossil dough.

Terminology

Palaeobotany - (from the Greek words paleon = old and "botany", study of plants), is the branch of paleontology or paleobiology dealing with the recovery and identification of plant remains from geological contexts, and their use for the biological reconstruction of past of past environments (paleogeography), and both the evolutionary history of plants, with a bearing upon the evolution of life in general.

Palaeoanthropology - combines the disciplines of palaeontology and physical anthropology, is the study of ancient humans as found in fossil hominid evidence such as petrifacted bones and footprints.

Palaeonichtheology - the study of fossil fish

Palynology - the study of plant pollen, spores and certain microscopic plankton organisms (collectively termed palynomorphs) in both living and fossil form.

Zoologists - who also research the development of animal diseases, sometimes known as animal scientists or animal biologists because zoology is the branch of biology that deals with the animal kingdom.- modern animals

Evolution - the process by which different kinds of living organisms are thought to have developed and diversified from earlier forms during the history of the earth; the gradual development of something, especially from a simple to a more complex form.

Fossil Record - somewhat like an enormously complex jigsaw puzzle with many pieces still missing.  Our interpretation of this record has been biased by differential preservation.  Some species are underrepresented or have not yet been found.  We are left with a somewhat blurred picture of portions of the past, especially the early past.  Despite these realities, we have been able to piece together a remarkable understanding of the evolution of life on our planet. 

Fossils - the remains or impression of a prehistoric organism preserved in petrified form or as a mold or cast in rock. People often think of fossils as being mineralized bones or shells stored in museums.  However, they can be any remains or traces of ancient organisms.  They even can be footprints, burrows, or casts of bodies with nothing else surviving. 

Some of the best preserved fossils were rapidly frozen in permafrost soil or ice, dehydrated in dry desert caves, or encased in tree resin that hardened into amber.  In any of these three environmental conditions, even soft body parts can be remarkably well preserved indefinitely. 

Taphonomy - the study of the conditions under which plants, animals, and other organisms become altered after death and sometimes preserved as fossils.  Research into these matters has shown that fossilization is a rare phenomenon.  In order for a fossil to form, the body must not be eaten or destroyed by erosion and other natural forces. 

Preservation would most likely occur if the organism were buried quickly and deeply.  In most environments, soft body parts, such as skin, muscle, fat, and internal organs, deteriorate rapidly and leave no trace.  Only very rarely do we find the casts of such tissues. 

Similarly, the totally soft-bodied creatures, like jellyfish, are very uncommon fossils.  Hard body parts, such as dense bones, teeth, and shells, are what most often are preserved.  It is likely that the vast majority of fossils will never be found before they are destroyed by erosion.  That coupled with the fact that extremely few living things are preserved long enough after death to become fossils makes the large collections of fossils in the museums of the world quite remarkable.  It is a testament to the tenacious searching by fossil hunters over the last two centuries.

Author

Penny

Penny is a leader from the 2nd and 3rd St. Albert Girl Guides from Fireside District in Alberta. If you have any questions about this idea you can contact Penny at pennyfgs2@gmail.com.

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Updated Jun 16, 2016

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