UCMP Paleontology Wing

This Paleontology Wing of our on-line museum is the newest of our exhibits. As such, it is still rather small compared to the rest of our site, but we hope this will change over the next few months. Watch for additional exhibits coming soon!

What Paleontology is NOT.

There is a great deal of confusion between the field of paleontology and the fields of anthropolgy and archaeology. While these sciences do overlap at times, the methods and basic focus of each is quite different and distinct.

Anthropology is the study of the origins and history of the human species. It investigates areas of language, culture, and behavior and how these came to exist in their modern forms. It also looks at the relationships of extinct and modern relatives of humans to investigate the historical pattern of human physical evolution. While this is an important and interesting field, it looks only at the evolution of primates, and specifically at humans.

Archaeology is further removed from paleontology. This is the study of human civilizations and their history. The unearthing of ancient cities, tombs, and other human artifacts along with their interpretation is the focus of this field. In general, archaeology focusses on the last 4000 years of earth's history, and especially on the role of humans.

Paleontology looks not only at the history of humans, but at the history of all life on earth -- and not just during the last 4000 years, but during the last 4 billion years. It is therefore a much broader field, with a very different emphasis. All three fields examine the past, and all involve the interpretation of things which came out of the ground, but they should not be confused.

What is Paleontology?

When people hear the word paleontology, the first thing to spring to mind is usually thoughts of dinosaurs and skeletons mounted in museums. Perhaps the image of a paleontologist is that of the characters in the movie Jurassic Park, or of some of the colorful people who are interviewed for dinosaur specials on television.

While the study of dinosaurs and the reconstruction of skeletons are both important areas of paleontology, they are by no means the only ones. Paleontology is nothing less than the study of life on earth, from its origin to the present day. This includes on the one hand all the diversity of life, from bacteria to kelp to dinosaurs. Paleontology also spans many areas of science -- paleontologists must have training not only in biology, but in geology, chemistry, and other fields as well. Because paleontology is such a diverse field, several subdisciplines are recognized. Each of these focusses more closely on particular kinds of organisms,preservation types, or techniques.

Perhaps the nature of paleontology is best understood by following the process of fossil discovery, from locating the fossil to its interpretation and publication. We do not have this exhibit ready yet, but we hope to complete it soon. Until then, we suggest the following related exhibits: