Paleontology (/ˌpeɪliɒnˈtɒlədʒi,ˌpæli-,-ən-/), also spelled palaeontology or palæontology, is the scientific study of life that existed prior to, and sometimes including, the start of the Holoceneepoch (roughly 11,700 years before present). It includes the study of fossils to classify organisms and study their interactions with each other and their environments (their paleoecology). Paleontological observations have been documented as far back as the 5th century BCE. The science became established in the 18th century as a result of Georges Cuvier's work on comparative anatomy, and developed rapidly in the 19th century. The term itself originates from Greekπαλαιός ('palaios', "old, ancient"), ὄν ('on', (gen.'ontos'), "being, creature"), and λόγος ('logos', "speech, thought, study").
Paleontology lies on the border between biology and geology, but differs from archaeology in that it excludes the study of anatomically modern humans. It now uses techniques drawn from a wide range of sciences, including biochemistry, mathematics, and engineering. Use of all these techniques has enabled paleontologists to discover much of the evolutionary history of life, almost all the way back to when Earth became capable of supporting life, nearly 4 billion years ago. As knowledge has increased, paleontology has developed specialised sub-divisions, some of which focus on different types of fossil organisms while others study ecology and environmental history, such as ancient climates. (Full article...)
Selected article on the prehistoric world and its legacies
The fossils of the Burgess Shale, like the Burgess Shale itself, formed around 505 million years ago in the Mid Cambrianperiod. They were discovered in Canada in 1886, and Charles Doolittle Walcott collected over 60,000 specimens in a series of field trips up from 1909 to 1924. After a period of neglect from the 1930s to the early 1960s, new excavations and re-examinations of Walcott's collection resumed and paleontologists continue to discover new species. These fossils have been preserved in a distinctive style known as Burgess shale type preservation, which preserves fairly tough tissues such as cuticle as thin films and soft tissues as solid shapes.
In the 1970s and early 1980s the Burgess fossils were largely regarded as evidence that the familiar phyla of animals appeared very rapidly in the Early Cambrian, in what is often called the Cambrian explosion. This view was already known to Charles Darwin, who regarded it as one of the greatest difficulties for the theory of evolution he presented in The Origin of Species. However, from the early 1980s the cladistics method of analysing "evolutionary family trees" has persuaded most researchers that many of the Burgess Shale's "weird wonders", such as Opabinia and Hallucinogenia, were evolutionary relatives of modern animal groups rather than a rapid proliferation of separate phyla, some of which were short-lived. Nevertheless, there is still debate, sometimes vigorous, about the relationships between some groups of animals. (see more...)
The first floor is dedicated to displays that illustrate the formation and composition of amber. Amber in the area arose from deltaic deposits of rivers flowing from Fennoscandia in the Eocene Period, about 40 to 45 million years ago. The processes via which resin is changed into amber by microorganisms, oxidation, and polymerization are illustrated. Samples of microdrops and microicicles (i.e. "amber within amber") are among the displayed items. The museum holds Europe's third largest amber specimen, the "Sun Stone", of size 210x190x150 mm and weighing 3,526 grams, which has been stolen twice. Amber from other areas of the world is also part of the collection.(see more...)