Paleontology (ancient Greek παλαιός palaiós "old", ὤν ōn, Gen. ὄντος óntos "being" and -ology) is the science of living beings and living worlds of the geological past. The subject of paleontological research are fossils (Latin fossilis "excavated"), i.e. physical remains found in sedimentary rocks as well as other legacies and testimonies of living beings that are older than 10,000 years.
The French zoologist and anatomist Henri de Blainville introduced the term paleontology in 1825, which gradually replaced the older terms oryctology (Greek ὀρυκτός oryktós "excavated") and petrefactology (Latin petrefactum "petrified").
The French naturalist Georges Cuvier (1769-1832) is considered the founder of modern paleontology, which works according to scientific criteria. The British geologist Charles Lyell (1797–1875), who contributed the Ice Age theory, already refuted his view that catastrophes always completely wiped out life on earth and that man was only created after the last ice age. At the same time, the French amateur archaeologist Jacques Boucher de Perthes (1788–1868) was the first to recognize human creations in the stone artifacts.
With his eolite experiment of 1905, the Frenchman Marcellin Boule (1881–1942) made it possible to distinguish human tools from naturally occurring forms. The Swiss doctor Otto Hauser (1874-1932) made his professional entry into cave and rock formation research in France (Le Moustier). There he encountered resistance from local researchers.
The first German paleontologist to advocate Darwin's theory of descent was Ernst Haeckel (1834–1919). He was a zoologist and brought the development to humans into research via hominids. His opponent was Rudolf Virchow, who called him the "monkey professor". Haeckel's suggestions were taken up by the Dutch anatomist, geologist and military doctor Eugène Dubois (1858-1940) and the German paleontologist Gustav Heinrich Ralph von Koenigswald (1902-1982).
Since 1997, 21 paleontology professorships have been given up in Germany, and eight of the 27 university locations have been completely eliminated.
Analogous to the biology of recent living beings, neontology (“study of new beings”), paleontology can be broken down as follows:
The paleozoology includes
the paleontology of invertebrates, a sub-area is paleoentomology, the study of fossil insects.
Vertebrate palaeontology, which can be divided into the palaeontology of fish (palaeoichthyology), amphibians and reptiles (palaeoherpetology), birds (palaeornithology) and mammals (palaeomammalogy).
Palaeobotany is dedicated to fossil plants and includes, among other things, palynology, the study of fossil pollen and spores. In addition, there is palichnology, which explores a wide variety of fossil signs of life (e.g. footprints and tracks, burrows, grazing marks).
The palaeontology of macrofossils differs in its methodology from micropalaeontology, which examines microfossils and the even smaller nanfossils with the help of various microscopy techniques. Microfossils can be the remains of microorganisms as well as microscopic evidence of larger creatures.
Paleontologists examine fossils and fossil groups of organisms from a variety of perspectives and questions. A division into geologically and biologically oriented sub-areas is made:
The path from the death of an individual to the finished fossil describes the theory of fossilization (taphonomy). It also explains the formation of so-called fossil deposits