Science, art and imagination combine to inspire and teach about the times when dinosaurs walked the earth and how humans came to be here.
It could be said that paleontology seeks out the hidden “story” in history. It is the scientific study of the remains of ancient life forms—plants and animals—from when life was first present on Earth right up until the present.
Scientists in the field of paleontology are called paleontologists and they search for fossils in the strata of the Earth, looking for clues that will help us understand life in prehistoric times.
Fossils, of course, are remnants from living things that have mineralized and turned to stone. Examples of such relics are ancient trilobite shells, the teeth of a saber-toothed cat, mammoth bones, the frond of a fern, petrified wood, the footprint of a dinosaur, and more.
Paleontologists study the fossils to learn about organisms, animals and plants that have long been extinct. Such research reveals how they were able to adapt to a changing environment in order to survive, often through eons of change.
Scientists organize the history of the Earth by using geologic time, which is divided into four eras as outlined on the Geologic Time Scale. In layers of rock, the oldest era sits at the bottom, like a foundation, with the accumulation of newer sediments and rocks building up, layer by layer on top of it. In geologic time, the earliest organisms appear at the deepest levels, while the most recent are found at the top.
The Four Major Geologic Eras
- Precambrian Era– This was the time of simple marine organisms. The single-celled organisms, multiple-celled organisms and algae of this era were all soft and microscopic. As a result, scientists have had difficulty finding representative fossils and there is not a lot of evidence from this period.
- Paleozoic Era – Ancient life began with the earliest of sea life, such as cephalopods and trilobites, later followed by insects, fish, early amphibians and then reptiles. During this time, there were plants and algae growing. As plants produced more oxygen, animal life could flourish.
- Mesozoic Era – During this period, reptiles ruled. The pterosaurs, crocodiles and dinosaurs were the three main animal groups during this period. Early birds and mammals made their appearance but were not common. Conifers spread across the world. Then, there was a mass extinction. Scientists believe it was the result of a giant meteor striking the Earth.
- Cenozoic Era – In this era, mammals and birds started to thrive. Cenozoic Era means “the age of recent life.” This is the current age, marked by incredible changes and dominated by mammals.
Few fields of science are as fascinating as paleontology. Although much of the research occurs in laboratories, field work takes paleontologists to some of the most remote and exotic corners of the globe, combining the thrills of a treasure hunt with the suspense of a good mystery story and the unique opportunity to travel back in time.
Since you’re here …
… we’ve got a small favour to ask. More people are reading CAVEMENWORLD than ever, but few are paying for it. Advertising revenues across the media are falling fast. And unlike some othe organisations, we haven’t put up a paywall – we want to keep our articles open to all. So you can see why we need to ask for your help. CAVEMENWORLD’s independent, investigative journalism and graphics take a lot of time, money and hard work to produce. But we do it because we believe our perspective matters – because it might well be your perspective, too.
If everyone who reads our reporting, who likes it, helps to support it, our future would be much more secure.