Take up the challenge of discovering origin of life

Sanjay Arora

Do you recall the first time you saw dinosaur bones? You were told they lived a thousand years ago. Ever wondered how bones gave away this information? Well, this is what paleontology deals with.

Palaeontology is the study of fossils to classify organisms and study about their interaction with each other and the environment. Palaeontology differs from archeology in that it excludes the study of anatomically modern humans. Fossils are the principal evidence of ancient life forms on earth. This gives us knowledge of our past and most importantly how the species have evolved in the course of time to reach where they are today.

Let us have detailed information about it and he career scope in it.

The science of palaeontology became established in the 18th century as a result of George Cuvier’s work on comparative anatomy and later developed rapidly in the 19th century. The term is of Greek origin. Paleontology lies between biology and geology. However, it now uses techniques drawn from a wide range of sciences including biochemistry, mathematics and engineering. Use of all these techniques has enabled palaeontologists to dig out more information about the evolutionary history of life. With the increase in knowledge, it has developed specialized sub divisions, to share the work load, some of which focuses on different types of fossils while others study ecology and environmental history.

Carbon dating is the common way to decipher the time period in which the organism existed. Estimating the apt dates is not only essential but also difficult. Radiometric dating (which provide absolute dating with 0.5% accuracy) are not always an option and often the palaeontologists have to rely on relative dating by deciphering the rock layers from youngest to oldest (biostratigraphy).

Classification of ancient organisms is also difficult, for many do not fit in the Linnaean taxonomy classifying living organisms. Development of molecular phylogenetics, which investigates the relationship of the animals, has also been used to estimate the dates when species diverged. However there is some controversy upon the reliability of the molecular clock on which such estimates depend.


A degree in paleontology offers several career opportunities. The most common career paths are teaching, working in a museum or as a monitor for an oil company. You can also be a television researcher where television channels that produce documentaries employ palaeontologists to research a topic in depth and provide contents for their programs. You may work for a scientific publication which involves large amounts of knowledge and determining whether they would be interesting for the readers.

Many people hold the wrong notion that palaeontologists only study dinosaur bones but there’s much more to this field. Using fossil evidence palaeontologists explore evolution, ecologies and living things of the past to understand the present and prepare for the future.

Job Description

Palaeontologists plan, direct and conduct projects in the field. They dig up the fossils and collect core sample from soil and water bodies and prepare them for transport to the institution where the samples will be studied. They gather and analyze the data. They prepare reports which are to be presented before their colleagues at professional meetings and teaching institutions.

Some sub-disciplines in this diverse field include:

  • Human palaeontology: a study of prehistoric human and proto-human fossils.
  • Ichnology: study of fossil tracks, rails and footprints.
  • Invertebrate palaeontology: a study of invertebrate fossils.
  • Micropalaeontology: a study of microscopic fossils.
  • Palaeobotany: study of fossil plants.
  • Palaeoecology: study of ecology and climate of the past.
  • Palynology: study of living and fossil pollen and spores.
  • Taphonomy: study of process of decay and formation of fossils.
  • Vertebrate palaeontology: study of fossils of vertebrates.

Education Requirements

For most of the jobs in palaeontology you might require a Ph.D. which requires four to seven years of advanced study after graduation.

As an undergraduate, you’ll need to have a strong foundation in chemistry, physics, calculus, statistics and computer science in addition to biology and geology.

Field and lab experience are of equal importance in preparing for course work at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Institute Watch

The top institutions in India are:

IISER Kolkata

Jadavpur University

Presidency University

Banaras Hindu University

Delhi University

The writer is Chief Mentor and CEO of Maven Career Coaching. https://www.linkedin.com/in/coachsanjayarora/

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