Pub. date: 2006 | Online Pub. Date: September 15, 2007 | DOI: 10.4135/9781412952453 | Print ISBN: 9780761930297 | Online ISBN: 9781412952453| Publisher:SAGE Publications, Inc.About this encyclopedia
Paleontology is the study of fossil animals and plants. Human paleontology focuses exclusively on fossils related to the human lineage. Human paleontology is highly interdisciplinary; to recover, describe, and interpret human fossil remains, its researchers need knowledge of cultural anthropology, archaeology, biology, paleontology, and geology. Fossils, the remains or imprints of dead organisms, are the only physical evidence humans possess of ancient life. While fossils are generally formed from bone, shell, or wood, under very specific conditions, fossils may be formed from soft tissue, animal tracks, skin impressions, and feces. Sometimes, bones are disturbed by scavengers or water movement prior to fossilization; the study of what happens to a bone from the time of the organism's death to its discovery is called taphonomy. Research in paleontology focuses on reconstructing the history of life on Earth. Fossils provide important clues about past environments, ecosystems, and evolution. Paleontology incorporates knowledge from many ...