What do you think life was like back then? Can you imagine having a picnic under a large tree while a pterodactyl flies overhead? Or playing a game of soccer with your friends while a tyrannosaurus runs across the field in pursuit of a stegosaurus?
What do you think the dinosaurs looked like? Do you ever WONDER what they sounded like? How about how their skin felt? Did they play? Were they friendly? How big were they? Why did they become extinct?
If these questions interest you, you might have a future in paleontology. Paleontologists are scientists who study the history of life on Earth. In particular, paleontologists often focus on organisms that lived long, long ago.
Paleontologists are often linked closely to dinosaurs, which makes sense since paleontologists are the scientists who have been able to tell us so much about the dinosaurs as a result of their studies. However, paleontology is much broader than just studying dinosaurs.
A paleontologist’s career involves field work, such as digging for fossils, as well as research, laboratory experiments, and writing about the findings. You may have seen pictures or museum exhibits about paleontologists on a “dig” out in the field.
Paleontologists investigate sites all over the world. In fact, you might find paleontologists practically anywhere that fossilized remains might be found. Paleontologists work hard to find fossils and retrieve them. They then usually take them back to a laboratory to clean, study and preserve them.
Paleontologists don’t always know what they’ve found until they get their samples back to the lab. What they thought was a new species might end up being a piece of a fossil that has already been identified. Of course, the most exciting discoveries are those fossils from species that no one has ever seen before.
When paleontologists find fossils from new species, they must do research to make educated guesses about what the plant or animal might have looked like. Many of the images of dinosaurs we have come from paleontologists who have made guesses about what certain dinosaurs must have looked like.
Sometimes these images change over time as paleontologists find more specimens. For example, finding more bones from a particular dinosaur might change a paleontologist’s mind about what the animal must have looked like.