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 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

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Other Words from paleontology

paleontological \ ˌpā-​lē-​ˌän-​tə-​ˈlä-​ji-​kəl How to pronounce paleontological (audio) \ or less commonly paleontologic \ ˌpā-​lē-​ˌän-​tə-​ˈlä-​jik How to pronounce paleontologic (audio) \ adjective
paleontologist \ ˌpā-​lē-​ˌän-​ˈtä-​lə-​jist How to pronounce paleontologist (audio) , -​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 The museum features paleontology, Ordovician geology, ice age mammals, Native American history and the chronology of science at Big Bone. Charles Infosino,, "Strapped for cash? Check out these free family-friendly venues in Cincinnati," 16 June 2020 The project started with a short video about Currano, her work and her experiences as a woman in paleontology and expanded from there. Anna Kuchment, Dallas News, "If women scientists wore fake facial hair, would men take them more seriously?," 24 Feb. 2020 Prokopi started out as a child collecting fossil shark’s teeth on the beach and soon advanced into a full-blown adolescent obsession with paleontology. Richard Conniff, WSJ, "‘The Dinosaur Artist’ Review: Old Bones Are Big Business," 6 Sep. 2018 While many women study geology and paleontology in college and graduate school, their numbers thin out in the profession’s upper ranks. Anna Kuchment, Dallas News, "If women scientists wore fake facial hair, would men take them more seriously?," 24 Feb. 2020 The passion for paleontology among private collectors means that dinosaurs and other fossil giants can turn up in homes and businesses almost anywhere. Richard Conniff, National Geographic, "Inside the homes (and minds) of fossil collectors," 25 Sep. 2019 To reach this finding, Julia Schwab, a doctoral student in paleontology at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland who led the study, and her colleagues focused on crocodilian sensory systems. Becky Ferreira, New York Times, "When Crocodiles Once Dived Like Dolphins and Whales," 20 Apr. 2020 Fossilized Pigments Reveal the Colors of Dinosaurs The decade began with a revolution in paleontology as scientists got their first look at the true colors of dinosaurs. Jay Bennett, Smithsonian Magazine, "The Top Ten Scientific Discoveries of the Decade," 6 May 2012 Sullivan and his colleagues, including State Museum of Pennsylvania curator of paleontology and geology curator Steven Jasinski, excavated and collected 20 fossils over four separate digs. Ashley Strickland, CNN, "Newly discovered feathered dinosaur was one of the last raptors before extinction," 26 Mar. 2020

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

28 Jun 2020

Cite this Entry

“Paleontology.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 6 Jul. 2020.

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More Definitions for paleontology


How to pronounce paleontology (audio)

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

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