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A lot of people may be wondering just what is paleontology-has it got something more to do than just the study of fossils, which is what common folk mostly know about the term? Well, paleontology does involve primarily the search and study of fossils, but it is definitely more than just that. Also, there is a clear and important purpose behind such study of fossils and remains of prehistoric creatures, which ordinary people may not deeply appreciate or understand.
Paleontology is the study of prehistoric life in general, and most importantly, the evolution of organisms and their interaction with each other and their natural environment. In this regard, paleontology gains its reputation as a science that is rich in discovery and natural wonder. It is because paleontology is a historical science-concerned with data and occurrences in the past- as opposed to an experimental science. Since prehistoric life is not of the present time, paleontological science seeks to find causes, rather than observe the effects of the scientific method. Prehistoric life can be recreated to some extent, but not accurately and precisely. Paleontology can only explain causes rather than establish facts through observable effects.
By studying the past, paleontology most importantly helps humans understand their situation and life on earth today. To some extent, with an understanding of the past and the present, humans are more equipped to gain insight into the future of human evolution. However, paleontology remains to be primarily the study of ancient life. This is the basic answer to the question what is paleontology.
Paleontology as a science actually straddles the fields of biology and geology. The former, because it is still a study of life albeit in the past; and the latter, mainly because such evidence of past life is in the form of fossils, which are found in rocks and other matter embedded in the natural formation of the earth. Paleontology may share the same line of work and data with archeologists, who are concerned with human remains and objects made by humans throughout history. Often, paleontologists and archeologists work hand in hand because of the nature of their work, which is to excavate and find physical evidence of ancient life.
Paleontology also utilizes information, skills and disciplines in other scientific fields, such as biology, mathematics, chemistry, physics, and ecology. All these help shed more light on paleontological findings, and better appreciate and interpret them. As with many other specialized fields of science, paleontology largely relies on the more basic fields of natural science.
In turn, there are many other specializations or subdivisions within the science of paleontology. For example, there is vertebrate and invertebrate paleontology. As the name implies, the former is focused on the study of fossils of vertebrates or boned creatures, such as the earliest forms of fish or marine life. The latter, on the other hand, focuses on the study of creatures such as mollusks, worms, and echinoderms. Paleobotany is a specific branch that studies fossilized plants, including algae and fungi as well. Micropaleontology is a specialization on microscopic organisms found in fossil remains.
There are just a few of the many specialized fields of study within the science of paleontology. In real life, it may not be as glamorous or exciting a career as portrayed in popular media and the movies, but it is definitely a challenging and very rewarding one especially for those with a natural interest in dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures. Kids who are on this path might very well be interested to pursue a professional career or personal passion in the field of paleontology. All of the insights above would be a great answer to any young person's question on what is paleontology.
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