The Paleontology is the scientific study of life in the geological past that involves analyzing fossils of both plants as animals , which have been preserved in rocks . It is responsible for all aspects of biology that different ancient life forms have had: their form and structure , evolutionary patterns , taxonomic relationships with each other and with modern living species, geographical distribution and interrelationswith the environment. Paleontology is a science that works in conjunction with stratigraphy and historical geology because fossils are an important means by which sedimentary strata are identified and correlated with each other. His research methods include that of biometrics , which is designed to provide a description of the forms of organisms statistically and the expression of taxonomic relationships quantitatively .


What is paleontology?

Paleontology is a natural science related to biology and geology which aims at the reconstruction of living beings extinct, their origin, their relationships, and environment – related migration remains.

  • What does paleontology study
  • History
  • What is it for
  • Principles of paleontology
  • Branches
  • Basic concepts
  • Paleontology in the world
  • How it differs from archeology
  • Importance
  • Featured paleontologists
  • Books on paleontology
  • Examples

What does paleontology study

Paleontology is a natural science that is responsible for studying and making interpretations regarding the past that life has had on the face of the earth using fossils . It studies the way organisms inhabited the earth thousands of years ago, their origin, evolutionary changes and the phylogeny of species. He investigates the different relationships that exist between animals and their environment , their migrations , the way in which species became extinct and the different processes offossilization related to the dating of the rocks that contain them.



The history of paleontology dates back to classical Greece . They found writings that refer to the shells of mollusks in Malta and Siracusa , written by Xenophanes in the sixth century BC The Pythagoreans had their methods to interpret fossils and Platonic school saw science as a form of organisms imitate. During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance , Plato’s ideas persisted until Leonardo da Vinci began to refer to fossils in the 18th century . the illustration brought with it technical advances that improved the quality of science and in the seventeenth century the evolution of paleontology and paleobiological studies took place.

One of the first scientists who managed to conduct fossil studies within their correct context was Colonna . Nicolás Steno studied the true nature of fossils and analyzed the growth lines in the fossil shells. Robert Hooke with his microscope managed to describe for the first time observations in the microstructure that fossils had. During the period of the Enlightenment, Buffon managed to mark the beginning of paleontology as a botanical science.seen from a paleontological point of view. Thanks to the efforts of many scientists in the modern age, paleontology was fully developed by doing a series of systematic studies.

What is it for

Paleontology is a science that helps us to reconstruct living beings that lived in antiquity, to study their origin , their changes over time and the relationships that occurred between them and with their environment, their spatial distribution and the different migrations, extinctions, fossilization processes and the correlation and dating of the rocks that contain them.

It allows us to understand the biodiversity we have today and the distribution of all living things that we observe on the planet, provides important evidence to solve some of the most important scientific controversies that have arisen over time regarding the evolution of the living and the drift of continents , as well as provide them the necessary tools for the analysis of how climate change may affect the biosphere .

Principles of paleontology

The principles on which paleontology is based are the following:

  • Principle of biological actualism : it tells us that to interpret fossils we must accept that ancient beings were governed by the same physical and biological laws , and that they also had the same needs as today.
  • Principle of comparative anatomy : place the fossils in the place that corresponds to them, obtaining the reference point to apply the principle of organic correlation , with the aim of reconstructing a complete animal.
  • Organic correlation principle : it was postulated by Cuvier and tells us that each organism forms a set in which its parts complement each other, so it can be recognized by any fragment , including a piece of bone to identify it.
  • Principle of functional correlation : it is known as the principle of functional morphology , and it is the part of Paleontology that studies the relationships between form and function , in other words it tries to relate the structures seen in the fossils with the function they had in the body when it was alive.
  • Principle of stratigraphic superposition : it was stated by William Smith . The principle tells us that in a normal stratigraphic series the lower layers are older than the upper ones. The reworked fossils or those who have undergone one or more cycles of exhumation are older than the sediments that encompass.
  • Stratigraphic correlation principle : they are strata from the same era that have similar fossils.


There are different branches that are related to the study of paleontology and each one of them depends on its specialization . Among them we have paleobotany that is in charge of studying plants, palaeozoology that conducts studies on animals, palaeo- climatology and palaeoecology , that is in charge of studying flora and fauna and the relationship it has with the environment and its geographical distribution. , and paleoanthropology that studies the history of man. Paleontology is also closely related to biology and zoology and uses others such as chemistry , physics and  mathematics .

Basic concepts

Some basic concepts that should be known when conducting paleontological studies are:

  • Fossil remains : are all the remains or traces of living beings that inhabited the Earth more than 10,000 years ago.
  • Fossilization : it is the transformation of organic remains by chemical or mechanical means . For fossilization to occur, the remains must remain within a sediment, protected from environmental actions, otherwise they can decompose and disappear.
  • Taphonomy : it is in charge of studying the fossilization processes and the way in which fossil deposits are built.
  • Biochronology : does studies on age who own findings paleontological, their order in time and events Biotic of the past.

Paleontology in the world

  • Cuba : many collections found in this country have ended up in European and North American museums, many of them have undergone changes due to natural disasters and because of the transfer to other countries. Many of them are also sent to the Cuban Academy of Sciences, the Museum of Natural Sciences and the Institute of Ecology and Systematics.
  • Argentina : the country has important fossil deposits, many of them belonging to the Paleozoic and Cenozoic era. Argentina was part of Gondwana, which suggests that there is still a large number of dinosaur fossils in the place.
  • Mexico : its main objectives are to promote, disseminate and promote knowledge of science, the protection and rational use of fossils that appear in the country, and to advise the population on the importance of paleontology.
  • Spain : there is the Spanish Society of Paleontology that is in charge of promoting and disseminating paleontology and its activities in the country and internationally.

How it differs from archeology

Paleontology and archeology have some similarities mainly in their way of working, since both sciences excavate to look for “elements” and reconstruct stories from the past. However, paleontology is responsible for studying fossils in order to reconstruct the history of life on Earth . The archeology is a science that studies the remains of cultural events that were created by human beings and all kinds of evidence of human action.


Increasing human knowledge regarding the environment and animal life in ancient times are probably two of the reasons why paleontology is such an important science, however, there are more reasons for its importance. It is important for a country because it allows the realization of geological maps , it expands the knowledge about the past and the type of animals that inhabited the different stages of life on earth.

Featured paleontologists

Some of the most recognized paleontologists throughout time are:

  • Adolf Seilacher (Germany)
  • Andrew Cargegie (United States)
  • Earl Douglass (United States)
  • Emiliano Aguirre Enríquez (Spain)
  • Eudald Carbonelli (Spain)
  • Franz Baron Nopcsa (Hungary)
  • Georges Cuvier ( France )
  • Paul Calistus Sereno (United States)
  • Robert Broom (South Africa)

Books on paleontology

Some important paleontology books are:

  • Jurassic Guide of Asturias, Routes through the sites of dinosaur footprints
  • Walking Among Dinosaurs, Book by Tim Haines
  • In the footsteps of dinosaurs, Book by Martin Lockley
  • Dinosaurs and Sea Dragons, Book by Christopher McGowan
  • Fossils, genes and theories: Heterodox Dictionary of Evolution, Book by Jordi Agusti
  • Treaty of Paleontology, I, Higher Council for Scientific Research


  • The largest dinosaur in South America .
  • The marine cemetery in Chile .
  • 17 skulls of primitive man at the Atapuerca site in Spain.
  • The discovery of the 2.40 meter long femur of a dinosaur in southern Argentina .
  • TecPetrol deposit “to the northwest of Senillosa where numerous exposed fossil materials were found“ in situ ”from an ecosystem of more than 85 million years ago.
  • YPF site of Loma Campana, in Añelo where several fossils of vertebrates -probably dinosaurs- were located, fragmented and in a poor state of preservation, but a complete large sauropod dinosaur femur was found.

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