Paleontology is the study of the history of life on Earth as reflected
in fossil records. Fossils are the remains of plants, animals, fungi, bacteria
and other living things that lived in the geological past and are preserved
in the crust of the Earth. Paleontologists study fossils and their relationship
to existing plants and animals.
The work of these scientists helps us understand both the present and the
For example, using their knowledge of how fossils are distributed in sediments,
paleontologists can help make accurate geological maps. These maps are essential
in finding oil, water and minerals. Paleontologists may also help predict
natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.
A paleontologist may pursue any one of a number of specialties. They include:
- Vertebrate Paleontology -- the study of fossils of animals with
- Invertebrate Paleontology -- the study of fossils of animals without
- Micropaleontology -- the study of fossils of single-celled organisms
- Paleobotany -- the study of plant fossils
- Taphonomy -- the study of how fossils form and are preserved
- Biostratigraphy -- the study of the vertical distribution of fossils
- Paleoecology -- the study of ancient ecosystems and how they developed
Most paleontologists are college and university professors who teach general
geology courses in addition to paleontology. Smaller numbers work in museums
carrying out research, teaching occasionally and consulting on exhibits. A
much smaller number of paleontologists work for government surveys, usually
in geological mapping or other applied geological problem solving. Or they
may work in the petroleum industry.
Palynologists, micropaleontologists and some invertebrate paleontologists
tend to work with companies or as consultants. Vertebrate paleontologists,
paleobotanists and some invertebrate paleontologists are more likely to be
employed in museums and universities.