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

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 This change supports the hypothesis that eye-socket shape might be based on the power of an animal’s bite, says Randy Irmis, curator of paleontology at the Natural History Museum of Utah, who was not involved in this work. Fionna M. D. Samuels, Scientific American, 11 Aug. 2022 Ultimately, the joy of paleontology comes from a simple place for Dabelko. Palak Jayswal, The Salt Lake Tribune, 21 July 2022 Chris Mays is a lecturer in paleontology at University College Cork in Ireland. Chris Mays, Scientific American, 23 June 2022 Yet the science of paleontology has moved on; no longer is dinosaur hunting financed by industry barons desperate to one-up one another, and no longer are dinosaurs collected by frontiersmen on horseback. Steve Brusatte, The Atlantic, 7 June 2022 In popular depictions of paleontology, armored dinosaurs are often treated like icing on the Mesozoic cake. Riley Black, Smithsonian Magazine, 31 May 2022 The budget invested in this film's roster of ground, air, and sea behemoths is well spent, and the production team clearly had a blast cracking open modern paleontology records and expanding the series' dino roster beyond the usual suspects. Sam Machkovech, Ars Technica, 8 June 2022 Nevertheless, the study marks an important milestone in trilobite paleontology, one which will help inform future research. Joanna Thompson, Scientific American, 3 June 2022 In the final decade of the Victorian era, a wealthy widow named Cora (Keira Knightley) decides to take up paleontology and investigate rumors of a dread sea serpent called the Blackwater Beast. Keith Phipps, Rolling Stone, 2 May 2022 See More

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.

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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The first known use of paleontology was in 1833

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paleontologic geology



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Last Updated

16 Aug 2022

Cite this Entry

“Paleontology.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 Aug. 2022.

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Nglish: Translation of paleontology for Spanish Speakers

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


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