Paleontology Lesson for Kids: Definition & Facts

Instructor: Lindsy Frazer

Dr. Frazer has taught several college level Science courses and has a master's degree in Human Biology and a PhD in Library and Information Science.

What was life like on Earth millions of years ago? Paleontology is the field of science that tries to answer that question. Learn what paleontology is, what paleontologists do and more fascinating facts about paleontology in this lesson.

More Than Dinosaurs

Could you imagine living in a time when ice covered most of the Earth and woolly mammoths roamed? If thinking about a past with different plants, animals and environments than we see today interests you, then you are probably a fan of paleontology. Paleontology is the study of fossils to learn about the history of life on Earth. The scientists that study paleontology are called paleontologists.

Ice Age

Many people think of paleontology as the study of dinosaurs and that is partly true. Paleontology is focused on finding out information about ancient organisms and how they lived, like: what types of organisms lived on Earth in the past, where they came from, what happened to them and what their environment was like. Dinosaurs are some of the organisms that have lived on Earth in the past, so paleontologists do study dinosaurs. But, paleontologists also study all of the other extinct organisms that have lived on Earth, including plants and even tiny single-celled creatures like bacteria.

Fossil Detectives

Paleontologist are sort of like fossil detectives. Fossils are the preserved remains of plants and animals that are more than 10,000 years old. They search for and study fossils to uncover clues about life on Earth long ago.

There are two main types of fossil that paleontologists study: body fossils and trace fossils. Body fossils are the preserved remains of the actual body of a plant or animal left behind after it died. Dinosaur skeletons you see in a museum are a good example of body fossils.

Body fossils are remains of the bodies of once living things.
Body Fossils

Plants and animals leave behind more than just their bodies for paleontologists to study. Trace fossils are the preserved remains of plant or animal activity, like footprints, teeth marks or burrows, holes dug by animals.

Fossils of animal activity like footprints or burrows, seen in the picture on the top right, are called trace fossils.
Trace Fossils

An Oyster's Tale

Each fossil tells a story about the life of the organism that left it behind and about life on Earth when it was alive. The fossil of an oyster can tell you how old the organism was when it died and what the climate, or weather, was like at that time.

Fossils of oysters, like this one that lived in England over 170 million years ago, can provide paleontologists with information about the history of life on Earth.

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