pa·​le·​on·​tol·​o·​gy | \ ˌpā-lē-ˌän-ˈtä-lə-jē How to pronounce paleontology (audio) , -ən-, especially British ˌpa- \

Definition of paleontology

: a science dealing with the life of past geologic 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

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Other Words from paleontology

paleontological \ ˌpā-​lē-​ˌän-​tə-​ˈlä-​ji-​kəl How to pronounce paleontology (audio) \ or less commonly paleontologic \ ˌpā-​lē-​ˌän-​tə-​ˈlä-​jik How to pronounce paleontology (audio) \ adjective
paleontologist \ ˌpā-​lē-​ˌän-​ˈtä-​lə-​jist How to pronounce paleontology (audio) , -​ən-​ \ noun

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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 Most famously — and awkwardly — the series attempted to address the situation in 2003 when Aisha Tyler appeared as a paleontology professor who worked with Ross (David Schwimmer) and eventually dated him — after first dating Joey (Matt LeBlanc). Greg Braxton, Los Angeles Times, 27 May 2021 Here, kids can observe a paleontology lab, try out an earthquake simulator, and dig up actual dinosaur bones in a nearby quarry. Alex Schechter, Travel + Leisure, 10 May 2021 Thanks to recent advances in paleontology, future scientists may also find stomach contents or even vestiges of the dinosaurs’ original proteins within the stone. Michael Greshko, National Geographic, 17 Nov. 2020 To help the paleontology team, the construction crew excavated the rock and brought a huge load up to street level. San Diego Union-Tribune, 24 Apr. 2021 Years later, Zanno reached out to Phipps through his confidant Pete Larson, president of the Black Hills Institute, a South Dakota commercial paleontology firm, to inquire about selling the Dueling Dinosaurs to the NCMNS. Michael Greshko, National Geographic, 17 Nov. 2020 Meiburg draws on ornithology, geography, paleontology, history and literature, especially the works of British naturalist and novelist William Henry Hudson (1841-1922), who spent his youth on the Argentine plains. Sam Hodges, Dallas News, 23 Mar. 2021 Sacha Vignieri, a deputy editor at Science, wrote in an email that editors are proactive in asking authors to meet requirements pertaining to legality and ethical use for all paleontology papers. Rodrigo Pérez Ortega, Science | AAAS, 15 Apr. 2021 The site has had a lot of international media coverage over the past two years because of its rich heritage and significance to the field of paleontology. Washington Post, 6 Apr. 2021

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.

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First Known Use of paleontology

1833, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for paleontology

borrowed from French palaeontologie (later paléontologie), from palae- pale- + ont- (probably from Greek ónta "the things that exist, reality," noun derivative from neuter plural of ont-, ṓn, present participle of eînai "to be") + -o- -o- + -logie -logy — more at is

Note: The French noun was introduced by the zoologist Henri-Marie Ducrotay de Blainville (1777-1850), as a heading for a summary of work done on fossils in 1821 ("Analyse des principaux Travaux dans les Sciences physiques, publiés dans l'année 1821"), in Journal de physique, de chimie, d'histoire naturelle et des arts, tome 94 (janvier 1822), p. liv. Blainville had earlier (tome 90, 1820, p. 80) used palaeosomiologie in the same sense (for "l'étude des corps organisés fossiles," i.e., the study of fossil organisms), in an effort to find a word that included the remains of both plants and animals, but he seems to have judged this coinage inadequate and replaced it with palaeontologie. See Martin J. S. Rudwick, Worlds before Adam: The Reconstruction of Geohistory in the Age of Reform (University of Chicago Press, 2008), pp. 48-49.

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Time Traveler for paleontology

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The first known use of paleontology was in 1833

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Statistics for paleontology

Last Updated

17 Jun 2021

Cite this Entry

“Paleontology.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 18 Jun. 2021.

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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

More from Merriam-Webster on paleontology

Nglish: Translation of paleontology for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of paleontology for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about paleontology


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