What is a Paleontologist?

Studying the fossils of animals, paleontologists are scientists that enjoy learning about the condition of the earth thousands and millions of years ago. Exploring layers of sedimentary rock, they search for fossilized remains that can shed light on some of the mysteries of the world. Each adventure offers a chance to discover new information pertaining to the past.

Equipped with a host of scientific methods, the paleontologist is interested in finding out more about the life of the animal that is attached to any fossil that they come across. They want to know how old the fossil is and whether or not the fossil came to be due to underwater formation or on land. After gathering the pertinent details, a paleontologist will use this information to formulate theories regarding the history of the earth.

Tools of the Trade

A paleontologist uses many tools when they are digging in the ground looking for fossils. Picks, chisels, drills, shovels, and brushes help remove layers of dirt, rock, and other materials that have settled below and above targeted areas. Once a fossil and other artifacts are found, a paleontologist enters and compiles all of their data into a computer that allows them to analyze the findings, as well as compare newly discovered information to what they have already learned from paleontologists before them. Computers also come in handy when a paleontologist needs to get a better handle on various time periods, which helps them assess a more accurate date for their findings.

Work Sites

For the most part, a paleontologist works outdoors, where they can dig into the ground looking for fossils of interest. They will also make trips to a science lab to study what they have found or often decide to send their findings to others for analysis.

Necessary Schooling

If you are interested in becoming a paleontologist, you should know that it takes four years of college to complete necessary studies. It is not uncommon to see future paleontologists continuing their education in order to obtain a master’s degree or doctorate in their field of study. Typical courses that one usually takes in college for a degree in paleontology includes chemistry, computer science, physics, mathematics, and of course , biology.

Examples of Paleontologists

To get an idea of the life and accomplishments of a paleontologist, consider the following:

·    Ernst Stromer von Reichenbach (1870-1952): As a paleontologist/geologist hailing from Munich, Germany, Stromer von Reichenbach earned a reputation for exploring the lives of Egyptian dinosaurs between 1911 and 1914 when he traveled to the Bahariya Oasis, which is located nearly 200 miles southwest of Cairo. As a result, he is responsible for naming the family of Spinosaurids (1915), Aegyptosaurus (1932), Bahariasaurus (1934), Carcharodontosaurus (1931), and Spinosaurus (1915).

·    Joan Wiffen: Wiffen taught herself in the ways of paleontology, but nonetheless achieved recognition for her work in New Zealand, as a dinosaur hunter. Starting in 1974, she shifted the views of scientists studying the history of fossils and such in New Zealand. She found fragmentary fossils of late Cretaceous period dinosaurs, like the ankylosaur, carnosaur, and sauropod. These specimens became the first dinosaurs uncovered in New Zealand. For quite some time, it was a belief that no dinosaurs had resided on the island, which is known for its isolation.

·    Hans-Dieter Sues: Serving as a paleontologist at the University of Toronto, Sues also holds the position of Senior Curator of the Department of Palaeobiology at the Royal Ontario Museum. His era of choice is the late Paleozoic and Mesozoic period with special attention paid to non-mammalian vertebrates. He is also responsible for naming the following dinosaurs: Majungatholus (with P. Taquet, 1979), Ornatotholus (with P. Galton, 1983), Saurornitholestes (1978), Stygimoloch (with P. Galton, 1983), and Zephyrosaurus (1980).