pa·le·on·tol·o·gy | \ ˌpā-lē-ˌän-ˈtä-lə-jē , -ən- , especially British ˌpa- \

Definition of paleontology 

: a science dealing with the life of past geological periods as known from fossil remains To many Americans, and nearly all young ones, paleontology can be summed up in one word: dinosaurs. —Jerry A. Coyne

Keep scrolling for more

Other words from paleontology

paleontological \ˌpā-lē-ˌän-tə-ˈlä-ji-kəl \ or less commonly paleontologic \ˌpā-lē-ˌän-tə-ˈlä-jik \ adjective
paleontologist \ˌpā-lē-ˌän-ˈtä-lə-jist, -ən- \ noun

Did You Know?

Until the 1820s, hardly anyone even suspected that dinosaurs had ever existed. In the years since, paleontology has sought to discover the entire history of life on earth, from the era of single-celled organisms up into the human era. Paleontologists continue to make remarkable discoveries, such as that a huge meteorite that fell in the Gulf of Mexico wiped out the dinosaurs—all except the birds, the only surviving dinosaurs. "Radiometric dating" can reveal the age (often tens of millions of years) of a rock or fossil or a tiny grain of pollen by measuring how much its radioactive elements have disintegrated. The study of molecules of DNA, RNA, and proteins has also become important for dating. Paleontologists often consult with geologists searching for oil, gas, and coal deposits, since all these "fossil fuels" were formed from plant and animal remains.

Examples of paleontology in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web

One of the first stops was Austria, home to a virtual paleontology lab run by Gerhard W. Weber, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Vienna. Nicholas St. Fleur, New York Times, "In Cave in Israel, Scientists Find Jawbone Fossil From Oldest Modern Human Out of Africa," 25 Jan. 2018 Dinosaur paleontology had just undergone a scientific revolution. Eva Botkin-kowacki, The Christian Science Monitor, "Rise of the 'Jurassic Park' generation," 11 June 2018 And although funds are scarce for all science in India, the plight of paleontology is particularly acute. Sanjay Kumar, Science | AAAS, "India’s paleontologists fight destruction of its fossil riches," 4 Apr. 2018 It was given the name Attenborites janeae, after English naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough, who was known for his science advocacy and support of paleontology. Doyle Rice, ajc, "Scientists discover fossil of ancient sea creature, name it after Obama," 21 June 2018 The [original] movie did an incredible service for paleontology and got everybody interested in dinosaurs. NBC News, "'Jurassic World': Paleontologist who inspired Alan Grant role talks real-life dino science," 20 June 2018 For 10 years, Temple has been working on the museum’s new public viewing areas of paleontology prep labs. Allison Bagley, Houston Chronicle, "Where to track Dinosaurs in Texas," 20 June 2018 It was given the name Attenborites janeae, after the English naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough, who was known for his science advocacy and support of paleontology. Doyle Rice, USA TODAY, "Scientists discover fossil of ancient sea creature, name it after President Obama," 19 June 2018 Patricia Vickers-Rich is an emerita professor of paleontology at Monash University in Melbourne. Katie Worth, Scientific American, "When Scientists Are Mad about Each Other," 14 Feb. 2014

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'paleontology.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of paleontology

1833, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for paleontology

French paléontologie, from palé- pale- + Greek onta existing things (from neuter plural of ont-, ōn, present participle of einai to be) + French -logie -logy — more at is

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about paleontology

Share paleontology

Statistics for paleontology

Last Updated

7 Sep 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for paleontology

The first known use of paleontology was in 1833

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for paleontology



English Language Learners Definition of paleontology

: the science that deals with the fossils of animals and plants that lived very long ago especially in the time of dinosaurs

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on paleontology

What made you want to look up paleontology? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


a magnificent or impressive array

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Musical Words Quiz

  • gramophone
  • Which word describes a musical performance marked by the absence of instrumental accompaniment?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!