Paleontology In The Modern World

What is the use of paleontology? A few decades ago, the main purpose was to date rocks. Many paleontology textbooks justified the subject in terms of utility and its contribution to industry. Others simply said that fossils are beautiful and people love to look at them and collect them (Fig. 1.1). But there is more than that. We identify six reasons why people should care about paleontology:

1 Origins. People want to know where life

Figure 1.1 People love to collect fossils. Many professional paleontologists got into the field because of the buzz of finding something beautiful that came from a plant or animal that died millions of years ago. Fossils such as these tiny fishes from the Eocene of Wyoming (a), may amaze us by their abundance, or like the lacewing fly in amber (b), by the exquisite detail of their preservation. (Courtesy of Sten Lennart Jakobsen.)

Figure 1.1 People love to collect fossils. Many professional paleontologists got into the field because of the buzz of finding something beautiful that came from a plant or animal that died millions of years ago. Fossils such as these tiny fishes from the Eocene of Wyoming (a), may amaze us by their abundance, or like the lacewing fly in amber (b), by the exquisite detail of their preservation. (Courtesy of Sten Lennart Jakobsen.)

came from, where humans came from, where the Earth and universe came from. These have been questions in philosophy, religion and science for thousands of years and paleontologists have a key role (see pp. 117-20). Despite the spectacular progress of paleontology, earth sciences and astronomy over the last two centuries, many people with fundamentalist religious beliefs deny all natural explanations of origins - these debates are clearly seen as hugely important.

Curiosity about different worlds. Science fiction and fantasy novels allow us to think about worlds that are different from what we see around us. Another way is to study paleontology - there were plants and animals in the past that were quite unlike

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