Portal:Palaeontology
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Portal:Palaeontology

The Paleontology Portal

A paleontologist at work at John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

Paleontology, also spelled palaeontology or palæontology , 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 classify organisms and study interactions with each other and their environments (their paleoecology). Paleontological observations have been documented as far back as the 5th century BCE. 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 ?'palaios, "old, ancient", , on (gen. ontos), "being, creature", and , 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, almost 4 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.

Body fossils and trace fossils are the principal types of evidence about ancient life, and geochemical evidence has helped to decipher the evolution of life before there were organisms large enough to leave body fossils. Estimating the dates of these remains is essential but difficult: sometimes adjacent rock layers allow radiometric dating, which provides absolute dates that are accurate to within 0.5%, but more often paleontologists have to rely on relative dating by solving the "jigsaw puzzles" of biostratigraphy (arrangement of rock layers from youngest to oldest). Classifying ancient organisms is also difficult, as many do not fit well into the Linnaean taxonomy classifying living organisms, and paleontologists more often use cladistics to draw up evolutionary "family trees". The final quarter of the 20th century saw the development of molecular phylogenetics, which investigates how closely organisms are related by measuring the similarity of the DNA in their genomes. Molecular phylogenetics has also been used to estimate the dates when species diverged, but there is controversy about the reliability of the molecular clock on which such estimates depend. (Full article...)

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Dimetrodon.
Dimetrodon is an extinct genus of synapsid that lived during the Early Permian, around 299-270 million years ago (Ma). It is a member of the family Sphenacodontidae. The most prominent feature of Dimetrodon is the large sail on its back formed by elongated spines extending from the vertebrae. It walked on four legs and had a tall, curved skull with large teeth of different sizes set along the jaws. Generally reptile-like in appearance and physiology, Dimetrodon is nevertheless more closely related to mammals than it is to any living reptilian group, though it is not a direct ancestor of any mammals. Most fossils have been found in the southwestern United States, the majority coming from a geological deposit called the Red Beds in Texas and Oklahoma. More recently, fossils have been found in Germany. Over a dozen species have been named since the genus was firstdescribed in 1878.

Dimetrodon was probably one of the top predators in Early Permian ecosystems, feeding on fish and tetrapods, including reptiles as well as amphibians. Smaller Dimetrodon species may have had different ecological roles. The sail of Dimetrodon may have been used to stabilize its spine or to heat and cool its body as a form of thermoregulation. Some recent studies argue that the sail would have been ineffective at removing heat from the body, and was more likely used in sexual display. (see more...)

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Holotype material of Creosaurus atrox, more recently known as Allosaurus atrox.
There have been a number of potential species assigned to the carnosaurian dinosaur genus Allosaurus since its description in 1877 by Othniel Charles Marsh, but only a handful are still regarded as valid. Allosaurus was originally described from material from the Upper Jurassic Morrison Formation of the western United States of America; the type species A. fragilis became one of the best-known species of dinosaur.

The genus Allosaurus was part of the Marsh/Cope "Bone Wars" of the late 19th century, and its taxonomy became increasingly confused due to the competition, with several genera and species named by Cope and Marsh now regarded as synonyms of Allosaurus or A. fragilis. Since the description of Allosaurus, scientists have proposed additional species from such far-flung locales as Portugal, Siberia, Switzerland, and Tanzania, and unnamed remains from Australia and China have also been assigned to the genus at one time or another. (see more...)

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A fossil jaw fragment of Ambondro mahabo


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Two views of a partial skull of Australopithecus africanus

Two views of a natural endocranial cast articulated with a fragmentary skull of Australopithecus africanus, which includes the left maxilla, the orbital area and most of the skull base. Its endocranial volume was 485 cm3 (29.6 cu in). This specimen is cataloged by the Transvaal Museum as TM 1511 and was formerly considered the holotype of a separate species, Plesianthropus transvaalensis. It was first discovered in South Africa by G. W. Barlow and described by Robert Broom in 1938.
Photo credit: José Braga and Didier Descouens

Topics

General - Paleontology - Fossil - Evolution - Extinction
History - History of paleontology - Bone Wars - List of years in paleontology
Locations - List of dinosaur-bearing rock formations - List of fossil sites - Como Bluff - Coon Creek Formation - Dinosaur Cove - Dinosaur National Monument - Dinosaur Park Formation - Dinosaur State Park and Arboretum - Glen Rose Formation - Hell Creek Formation - Lance Formation - Morrison Formation - Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite - Two Medicine Formation
Paleontologists - Mary Anning - Robert T. Bakker - Barnum Brown - William Buckland - Edward Drinker Cope - Jack Horner - Gideon Mantell - Othniel Charles Marsh - John Ostrom - Dong Zhiming
Geologic Time - Paleozoic Era - Cambrian (Early Cambrian - Middle Cambrian - Furongian) - Ordovician (Early Ordovician - Middle Ordovician - Late Ordovician) - Silurian (Llandovery - Wenlock - Ludlow - Pridoli) - Devonian (Early Devonian - Middle Devonian - Late Devonian) - Carboniferous (Mississippian - Pennsylvanian) - Permian (Cisuralian - Guadalupian - Lopingian) - Mesozoic Era - Triassic (Early Triassic - Middle Triassic - Late Triassic) - Jurassic (Early Jurassic - Middle Jurassic - Late Jurassic) - Cretaceous (Early Cretaceous - Late Cretaceous) - Cenozoic Era - Paleogene (Paleocene - Eocene - Oligocene) - Neogene (Miocene - Pliocene) - Quaternary (Pleistocene - Holocene)
Fringe and Pseudoscience - Creationist perspectives on dinosaurs - Living dinosaurs
Popular Culture - Cultural depictions of dinosaurs - Jurassic Park (novel) - Jurassic Park (film) - Stegosaurus in popular culture -Tyrannosaurus in popular culture - Walking with...

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Featured paleontology articles - Achelousaurus - Acrocanthosaurus - Albertosaurus - Allosaurus - Amargasaurus - Ankylosaurus - Apatosaurus - Archaeopteryx - Baryonyx - Carnotaurus - Catopsbaatar - Ceratosaurus - Chicxulub Crater - Compsognathus - Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event - Daspletosaurus - Deinocheirus - Deinonychus - Deinosuchus - Dilophosaurus - Dinosaur - Diplodocus - Dromaeosauroides - Edmontosaurus - Elasmosaurus - Giganotosaurus - Gorgosaurus - Herrerasaurus - Iguanodon - Istiodactylus - Lambeosaurus - List of dinosaur genera - Majungasaurus - Massospondylus - Megalodon - Nemegtomaia - Nigersaurus - Opisthocoelicaudia - Paranthodon - Parasaurolophus - Plateosaurus - Psittacosaurus - Seorsumuscardinus - Stegosaurus - Stegoceras - Styracosaurus - Tarbosaurus - Thescelosaurus - Triceratops - Tyrannosaurus - Velociraptor
Good paleontology articles - Abelisauridae - Alioramus - Amphicoelias - Archaeoraptor - Batrachotomus - Ceratopsia - Coelurus - Dromaeosauridae - Giganotosaurus - Gryposaurus - Heterodontosauridae - Herrerasaurus - Hypacrosaurus - Kritosaurus - Othnielosaurus - Pachycephalosaurus - Saurolophus - Sauropelta - Scelidosaurus - Species of Allosaurus - Species of Psittacosaurus - Spinosaurus - Tyrannosauroidea

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