Palaeontology is the study of life on earth in the past as based on fossils. Fossils are the remains of animals, plants, single-celled living things, bacteria, and fungi that are replaced rock materials, and impressions of the same are preserved in rocks. Palaeontology studies all the aspects of the biology of ancient life through fossils: the evolutionary patterns, shapes, and size, their taxonomic relationship with the modern living species and with each other, geographic distribution. Palaeontology has played an important role in providing evidence to support the theory of evolution and has helped reconstruct Earth’s history. Palaeontological studies have helped geologists to locate deposits of natural gas and oil which is an important part of life on Earth now.
History of Palaeontology
- In the early age of civilization, humans considered fossils as something related or proof to religious purposes, mythical creatures, or were considered as the works of the devil. Though some scientists in these civilizations understood what fossils were. Xenophanes, who was a philosopher and biologist, reasoned that the land was once underwater and was the floor of the ocean because he discovered seashells on land.
- In the 1700s, the proper science of palaeontology started and was known as the Age of Reason. Leonardo Da Vinci used ichnofossils to make the connection between the main branches of palaeontology, and various other contributions to the field.
- In the 18th century, Georges Cuvier proved that animals can get extinct too. After studying the fossils he discovered fossils of animals that did not represent any of the animals hence leading to the development of palaeontology. Geology was developed because of the increasing knowledge of the fossil record.
- With the increase of museums and geologic societies, palaeontological and geological activity became organized in the first half of the nineteenth century. There was an increase in fossil specialists and geologists in the nineteenth century.
- Charles Darwin published him The Origin of Species which shifted the focus of palaeontology to learning evolution theory and evolutionary paths.
Palaeontology and the Subdisciplines
A subdiscipline is the study of a specialised field inside a broader subject, the field of palaeontology has many subdisciplines.
- Vertebrate palaeontology – it is the study of animals with a backbone or the vertebrae, palaeontology of vertebrate subdiscipline has reconstructed the skeletons out of the discovered fossils such as turtles, cats, dinosaurs and many animals, which gives them insight on how they survived and their evolution.
- Invertebrate palaeontology – is the study of animals without backbones or the vertebrates such as corals, crabs, sponges, mollusks. Though the invertebrates don’t have bones they still leave some evidence like fossilized exoskeletons and shells and the impressions of other body parts.
- Paleobotany palaeontology – it is the study of the fossils of ancient plants, the fossils are usually impressions of the parts of plants like seeds and leaves or plants left on rock surfaces. The plant fossils help in the understanding of the evolution of plants and their diversity. It also helps in understanding the environments and climates in ancient times.
- Micropalaeontology – is the study of fossils of microscopic organisms like algae, pollens, protists. To study microfossils, palaeontologists use powerful electron microscopes.
Palaeontology and its relevance in today’s world
- Climate change – palaeontology gathers a lot of information about climate change, it helps us in better understanding how climate change will affect the organisms of the world.
- Palaeontology provides a base for other streams of science – palaeontology assists science streams like evolution, climatology, and ecology.
- The exploitation of species by humans – Palaeontology helps us understand how the exploited species used to interact in the environment they lived in.
- As palaeontology is the basis of science and has importance in biology, palaeontologists teach anatomy to science students.
- Fossils are an important part of palaeontology, fossils help in tracking oil discoveries.
- Palaeontology aids to track changes to the ecosystems, it also helps us in understanding what exact elements are bringing change in the ecosystem and what is leading to those changes.