(from Greek: παλαιό (palaio)
, "old, ancient"; όν (on)
, "being"; and logos
, "speech, thought") is the study of prehistoric
life forms on Earth through the examination of fossils
This includes the study of body fossils
, tracks (ichnites
, cast-off parts, fossilised faeces
and chemical residues.
Modern paleontology sets ancient life in its context by studying how long-term physical changes of global geography paleogeography and climate paleoclimate have affected the evolution of life, how ecosystems have responded to these changes and have adapted the planetary environment in turn and how these mutual responses have affected today's patterns of biodiversity. Hence, paleontology overlaps with geology (the study of rocks and rock formations) as well as with botany, biology, zoology and ecology – fields concerned with life forms and how they interact.
The major subdivisions of paleontology include paleozoology (animals), paleobotany (plants) and micropaleontology (microfossils). Paleozoologists may specialise in invertebrate paleontology, which deals with animals without backbones or in vertebrate paleontology, dealing with fossils of animals with backbones, including fossil hominids (paleoanthropology). Micropaleontologists study microscopic fossils, including organic-walled microfossils whose study is called palynology.
There are many developing specialties such as paleobiology, paleoecology, ichnology (the study of tracks and burrows) and taphonomy (the study of what happens to organisms after they expire). Major areas of study include the correlation of rock strata with their geologic ages and the study of evolution of lifeforms.
(meaning 'three-horned face') was a herbivorous genus
of ceratopsid dinosaur
that lived during the late Maastrichtian
stage of the Late Cretaceous Period
, around 68 to 65 million years ago
(mya) in what is now North America
. It was one of the last dinosaurs to appear before the great Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event
. Bearing a large bony frill
and three horns
on its large four-legged body and conjuring similarities with the modern rhinoceros
is one of the most recognizable of all dinosaurs. Though it shared the landscape with, and was preyed upon
by the fearsome Tyrannosaurus
, it is unclear whether the two battled the way they are commonly depicted in movies and children's dinosaur books.
Although no complete skeleton has been found, Triceratops is well-known from numerous partial specimens collected since the introduction of the genus in 1887. The function of their frills and three distinctive facial horns has long inspired debate. Although traditionally viewed as defensive weapons against predators, the latest theories explain how these features were probably primarily used in display for courtship and dominance, much like the antlers and horns of modern reindeer, mountain goats or rhinoceros beetles.
Triceratops is the best-known of the ceratopsids, though the genus' exact placement within the group has been a point of contention amongst paleontologists. Two species, T. horridus and T. prorsus, are considered valid, although many other species have been named. (see more...)