Paleontology or palaeontology () is the scientific study of life that existed prior to, and sometimes including, the start of the Holocene Epoch (roughly 11,700 years before present). It includes the study of fossils to determine organisms' evolution and interactions with each other and their environments (their paleoecology). Paleontological observations have been documented as far back as the 5th century BC. The science became established in the 18th century as a result of Georges Cuvier's work on comparative anatomy, and developed rapidly in the 19th century. The term itself originates from Greek παλαιός, palaios, "old, ancient", ὄν, on (gen. ontos), "being, creature" and λόγος, logos, "speech, thought, study".
Paleontology lies on the border between biology and geology, but differs from archaeology in that it excludes the study of anatomically modern humans. It now uses techniques drawn from a wide range of sciences, including biochemistry, mathematics, and engineering. Use of all these techniques has enabled paleontologists to discover much of the evolutionary history of life, almost all the way back to when Earth became capable of supporting life, about 3.8 billion years ago. As knowledge has increased, paleontology has developed specialised sub-divisions, some of which focus on different types of fossil organisms while others study ecology and environmental history, such as ancient climates.
On this day...
A New Hadrosauroid Dinosaur from the Early Late Cretaceous of Shanxi Province, China
Run-Fu Wang, Hai-Lu You, Shi-Chao Xu, Suo-Zhu Wang, Jian Yi, Li-Juan Xie, Lei Jia, Ya-Xian Li
published 18 Oct 2013
Selected article on the prehistoric world and its legacies
is a genus
of large ornithomimosaur
(ostrich dinosaur) that lived during the Late Cretaceous
around 70 million years ago. In 1965, a pair of large arms, shoulder girdles, and a few other bones of a new dinosaur were first discovered in the Nemegt Formation
. In 1970, this specimen became the holotype
of the only species within the genus, Deinocheirus mirificus
. No further remains were discovered for almost fifty years, and its nature remained a mystery. Two more complete specimens were described in 2014, which shed light on many aspects of the animal.
Deinocheirus was largest ornithomimosaur at 11 m (36 ft) long, and weighing 6.36 t (14,000 lb). The arms were among the largest of any bipedal dinosaurs at 2.4 m (7.9 ft) long, with large, blunt claws on its three-fingered hands. The legs were relatively short, and bore blunt claws. Its vertebrae had tall neural spines that formed a "sail" along its back. The tail ended in pygostyle-like vertebrae, which indicate the presence of a fan of feathers. The skull was 1.024 m (3.36 ft) long, with a wide bill and a deep lower jaw, similar to those of hadrosaurs. Members of this group were not adapted for speed, unlike other ornithomimosaurs. Deinocheirus is thought to have been omnivorous; its skull shape indicate a diet of plants, whereas fish scales were found in association with a specimen. (see more...)
Selected article on paleontology in human science, culture and economics
Bone Sharps, Cowboys, and Thunder Lizards is a graphic novel written by Jim Ottaviani and illustrated by the company Big Time Attic. The book tells a slightly fictionalized account of the Bone Wars, a period of intense excavation, speculation, and rivalry which led to a greater understanding of dinosaurs in the western United States. This novel is the first semi-fictional work written by Ottaviani; previously, he had taken no creative license with the characters he depicted, portraying them strictly according to historical sources.
Bone Sharps follows the two scientists Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Marsh as they engage in an intense rivalry for prestige. Ottaviani has Cope and Marsh interact and meet many important figures of the Gilded Age, from P. T. Barnum to U.S. Grant, as the two scientists pursue their hotheaded and sometimes illegal acquisitions of fossils. Unlike in his previous books, "the scientists are the bad guys this time". Upon release, the novel received praise from critics for its exceptional historical content, although some reviewers wished more fiction had been woven into the story. (see more...)
Do you have a question about Paleontology that you can't find the answer to?
Consider asking it at the Wikipedia reference desk.
Did you know?
- ... that it is all but impossible to match up species known by leaves with those known by trunks in the prehistoric cycad-like genus Cycadeoidea?
- ... that the fossil stick insect Eoprephasma was described from two isolated forewings?
- ... that the practice of insect husbandry by ants is at least 15 million years old?
- ... that a fossil of the extinct monitor lizard Saniwa preserves cartilage, scales, and even a wind pipe?
- ...that a fossil specimen of Pelagosaurus was found with the remains of a Leptolepis in its stomach?
Things you can do
Current Paleontology FACs - None yet...