The Paleontology Portal
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 their 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...)
On this day...
New Horned Dinosaurs from Utah Provide Evidence for Intracontinental Dinosaur Endemism
Scott D. Sampson, Mark A. Loewen, Andrew A. Farke, Eric M. Roberts, Catherine A. Forster, Joshua A. Smith, Alan L. Titus
published 22 Sep 2010
Selected article on the prehistoric world and its legacies
The Saint Croix macaw
) is an extinct species of parrot
. The last populations lived on the Caribbean islands Saint Croix
and Puerto Rico
. It was originally described by Alexander Wetmore
in 1937 based on a subfossil limb bone unearthed by L. J. Korn in 1934 from a kitchen midden
at an Amerindian archeological site
on Saint Croix. A second specimen was described by Storrs L. Olson
and Edgar J. Máiz López based on various limb and shoulder bones excavated from a similar site on Puerto Rico, while a possible third specimen from Montserrat
has been reported. The species is one of two medium-sized macaws
of the Caribbean, the other being the smaller Cuban red macaw
). Its bones are distinct from Amazon parrots
as well as from the other medium-sized but geographically distant Lear's macaw
) and blue-throated macaw
). The natural range is unknown because parrots were regularly traded between islands by indigenous people. Like other parrot species in the Caribbean, the extinction of the Saint Croix macaw is believed to be linked to the arrival of humans in the region. (see more...
Selected article on paleontology in human science, culture and economics
Jurassic Park is a 1993 American science fiction adventure film directed by Steven Spielberg. It is the first installment of the Jurassic Park franchise. It is based on the 1990 novel of the same name by Michael Crichton, with a screenplay written by Crichton and David Koepp. The film centers on the fictional Isla Nublar, an islet located off Central America's Pacific Coast, near Costa Rica
Nicaragua border, where a billionaire philanthropist and a small team of genetic scientists have created a wildlife park of cloned dinosaurs.
Following an extensive $65 million marketing campaign, which included licensing deals with 100 companies, Jurassic Park grossed over $900 million worldwide in its original theatrical run. It surpassed Spielberg's 1982 film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial to become the highest-grossing film until Titanic (1997). Jurassic Park was well received by critics, who praised its special effects and Spielberg's direction but criticized the script. The film won more than 20 awards (including 3 Academy Awards), mostly for its visual effects. Jurassic Park is considered by many to be one of the greatest films of the 1990s and in some cases of all time, as well as a landmark in the vector of visual effects regarding its computer-generated imagery and animatronics.
Jurassic Park was followed by two sequels, The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Jurassic Park III, both of which were box office successes but received mixed critical responses. A third sequel, Jurassic World, is set for release on June 12, 2015. (see more...)
Did you know?
Two skeletons of women between 25 and 35 years of age preserved in the Tomb of Téviec. The tomb is dated to the Mesolithic between 6,740 and 5,680 years ago. They died a violent death, with several head injuries and impacts of arrows. The two bodies were buried with great care in a pit half in the basement rock (underlying or country rock) and half in the kitchen debris that covered them. The tomb is protected by antlers. The grave goods include flint and bone (mainly wild boar) offerings and funeral jewelry which is made of marine shells drilled and assembled into necklaces, bracelets and ankle ring. Some of the bone objects have engraved lines. The tomb was recovered in 1938 and restored in 2010.
Photo credit: Didier Descouens
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