(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.
Selected article on the prehistoric world and its legacies
is an anomalocarid
known from one specimen from the lower Devonian Hunsrück Slates
. Its discovery was astonishing because previously, anomalocaridids
were known only from exceptionally well-preserved fossil beds (Lagerstätten
) from the Cambrian, 100 million years earlier. Anomalocaridids, such as Anomalocaris
, were organisms thought to be distantly related to the arthropods. These creatures looked quite unlike any organism living today—they had segmentedexoskeletons
, with lateral lobes used for swimming, five large compound eyes, often set on stalks, and most strikingly, a pair of large, claw-like great appendages
that resembled headless shrimp. These appendages are thought to have passed food to the animal's mouth, which resembled a ring of pineapple.(see more...
Selected article on paleontology in human science, culture and economics
Stephen Jay Gould
(September 10, 1941 – May 20, 2002) was an American paleontologist
, evolutionary biologist
, and historian of science
. He was also one of the most influential and widely read writers of popular science
of his generation. Gould spent most of his career teaching at Harvard University
and working at the American Museum of Natural History
in New York. In the later years of his life, Gould also taught biology and evolution at New York University
Gould's most significant contribution to evolutionary biology was the theory of punctuated equilibrium, which he developed with Niles Eldredge in 1972. The theory proposes that most evolution is marked by long periods of evolutionary stability, which is punctuated by rare instances of branching evolution. The theory was contrasted against phyletic gradualism, the popular idea that evolutionary change is marked by a pattern of smooth and continuous change in the fossil record.
Most of Gould's research was based on the land snail genera Poecilozonites and Cerion. He also contributed to evolutionary developmental biology, and has received wide praise for his book Ontogeny and Phylogeny. In evolutionary theory he opposed strict selectionism, sociobiology as applied to humans, and evolutionary psychology. Gould was known by the general public mainly from his 300 popular essays in the magazine Natural History, and his books written for a non-specialist audience. In April 2000, the US Library of Congress named him a "Living Legend". (see more...)
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