Brett, Carlton E. Department of Geological Sciences, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York.
Gould, Stephen Jay Formerly, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Last reviewed:June 2019
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- Applications of paleontology
- Systematics and taxonomy
- Evolutionary paleontology
- Paleoecology and paleoenvironmental analyses
- Biological aspects
- Evolutionary process and life history
- Life properties
- Sketch of life history
- Related Primary Literature
- Additional Reading
The study of life history as recorded by fossil remains. Paleontology investigates the life of the past through analyses of preserved fossils and their traces (Fig. 1). The term fossil, from the Latin “fossilis” (digging; dug up), originally referred to a variety of objects dug from the Earth, some of which were believed to be supernatural substances imbued with mystical powers. However, in a modern context, fossils can be defined as recognizable remains or traces of activity of prehistoric life. This broad definition takes in a diversity of ancient remains, but specifically excludes inorganic, mineralized structures, even those that spuriously resemble life forms (for example, dendritic patterns of manganese crystals: dendrites), sometimes termed pseudofossils (false fossils). See also: Fossil; Index fossil; Trace fossils
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