Introduction to Paleontology

Watch Introduction to Paleontology

  • 2016
  • 1 Season

Introduction to Paleontology is an educational series presented by The Great Courses that aims to introduce viewers to the science of paleontology, the study of prehistoric life through fossils. The course is led by Dr. Stuart Sutherland, an experienced paleontologist who has worked in the field for more than 30 years.

The series comprises 24 lectures, each lasting around 30 minutes, and covers a range of topics related to the history of life on Earth. The course seeks to explain how different species evolved, adapted to new environments, and ultimately went extinct. It also explores the various methods that paleontologists use to study fossils, including comparative anatomy and radiometric dating.

The course begins with an introduction to paleontology, identifying the various types of fossils and explaining how they form over time. Dr. Sutherland then jumps into the history of life on Earth, starting with the earliest known fossils and progressing through the major geological time periods. Along the way, he discusses the different types of organisms that lived during each era, including the first simple bacteria, ancient plants, and the earliest known animals.

Dr. Sutherland also spends a significant amount of time discussing the evolution of dinosaurs and their ultimate extinction, as well as the proliferation of mammals in the aftermath of the dinosaurs' demise. He covers a variety of different dinosaur species and explores the various theories surrounding why these creatures disappeared from the planet.

Throughout the course, Dr. Sutherland emphasizes the importance of studying fossils and the insights they provide into the history of life on Earth. He also highlights the many advances in technology that have made it possible to discover and study these fossils in greater detail. For example, he explains how CT scans and other imaging technologies can be used to create 3D models of fossils, providing scientists with new insights into the anatomy and behavior of prehistoric animals.

Overall, Introduction to Paleontology is a fascinating and engaging course that offers viewers a comprehensive introduction to the science of paleontology. Dr. Sutherland's enthusiasm and expertise shine through in each lecture, making the material both informative and enjoyable to watch. Whether you're a casual fan of dinosaurs or a budding paleontologist, this course has something to offer anyone with an interest in the history of life on Earth.

Introduction to Paleontology is a series that is currently running and has 1 seasons (24 episodes). The series first aired on November 11, 2016.

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Paleontology and the Future of Earth
24. Paleontology and the Future of Earth
November 11, 2016
What paleontologists have learned about Earth's history so far reveals that change is just about our only constant. Given that only a minute fraction of the information held in the Earth's crust has been discovered so far, paleontology will continue to be a significant gateway to understanding the past and present, and perhaps provide insight into the future of our planet.
The Neanderthal among Us
23. The Neanderthal among Us
November 11, 2016
For years, we thought of Neanderthals as brutish, ignorant, distant cousins we could mostly ignore. Not any longer. As revealed by The Neanderthal Genome Project, modern humans and Neanderthals were sufficiently similar to have interbred and produced viable offspring. As much as 30 to 40 percent of the Neanderthal genome may be spread the human population today.
The Little People of Flores
22. The Little People of Flores
November 11, 2016
Although little folk are common characters in mythology, scientists had never thought they actually existed, until a team of archaeologists made a fascinating discovery on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003. But who exactly is Homo floresiensis? And through what lineage could we be related?
Mammoths, Mastodons, and the Quest to Clone
21. Mammoths, Mastodons, and the Quest to Clone
November 11, 2016
When the Mastodon became the first extinct species to be discovered, much that the Western world knew to be true (i.e., the Biblical description of the creation timeline) was suddenly called into question. Today, the Mastodon offers us another major ethical challenge: Would it be possible for scientists to use their DNA and "bring them back?"
Australia's Megafauna: Komodo Dragons
20. Australia's Megafauna: Komodo Dragons
November 11, 2016
Meet the Komodo dragon, a 200-pound lizard found on several relatively small Indonesian islands today. Paleontologists now know these specimens are a relic population of a lineage of giant monitor lizards once common in Australia. But exactly how did these animals make that trip? And how much longer is their species likely to survive?
The Not-So-Humble Story of Grass
19. The Not-So-Humble Story of Grass
November 11, 2016
With the evolution of grasses came the grassland biomes: the prairies, pampas, and steppes that cover almost 40 percent of Earth's land surface today. Learn how this biome impacted animal evolution, including our own ancestors as they moved out of Africa and around the planet, facilitated by a carpet of grasses.
Insects, Plants, and the Rise of Flower Power
18. Insects, Plants, and the Rise of Flower Power
November 11, 2016
We owe a lot to the angiosperms. Not only do their flowers create a world of beauty, but their fruits helped drive human civilization. But did flowers first appear in water or on land? And what is the history and origin of the wonderful partnership between insects and flowering plants?
Whales: Throwing Away Legs for the Sea
17. Whales: Throwing Away Legs for the Sea
November 11, 2016
Learn how descendants of a small, raccoon-sized animal that lived in India evolved into modern marine whales. From this small herbivore, within the geological blink of an eye, the power of natural selection would generate a whole array of wonderful creatures including the blue whale, possibly the largest animal to have ever lived on Earth.
Dinosaur Interpretations and Spinosaurus
16. Dinosaur Interpretations and Spinosaurus
November 11, 2016
Learn how a recent discovery might answer "Romer's Riddle" and give us a new picture of Spinosaurus, the largest carnivorous dinosaurs to have ever lived. With an elaborate sail on his back and an interpretation that this dinosaur may have been semi-aquatic, Spinosaurus is at the center of much debate in the paleontological community today.
Life's Slow Recovery after the Permian
15. Life's Slow Recovery after the Permian
November 11, 2016
Although after most mass extinctions, the biosphere is well on its way to recovery within several hundred thousand years, recovery took many times longer after the Permian extinction. Eventually though, life adapted and diversified into a wide variety of exciting new plants and animals. Enter the dinosaurs.
Life's Greatest Crisis: The Permian
14. Life's Greatest Crisis: The Permian
November 11, 2016
What could have caused the Permian mass extinction, when around 90 percent of all species became extinct in the geological blink of an eye? Learn what paleontology reveals about the cascading series of events that led to runaway global warming and the greatest catastrophe faced on Earth since the evolution of complex life.
Devonian Death and the Spread of Forests
13. Devonian Death and the Spread of Forests
November 11, 2016
Today, we look at forests as a sign of a healthy biosphere. But is it possible that the earliest forestation of our planet (as plants became larger; developed seeds, roots, and wood; and expanded away from the shoreline) could be responsible for mass extinction towards the end of the Devonian period?
Arthropod Rule on Planet Earth
12. Arthropod Rule on Planet Earth
November 11, 2016
Arthropods live successfully all around the Earth today, but it was an extinct group of arthropods, the trilobites, that dominated the globe following the Cambrian explosion. With the benefits of exoskeletons and their well-developed eyes, trilobites were a significant presence in Earth's oceans for 250 million years, evolving into more than 20,000 species with a variety of life styles.
The Ancient Roots of Biodiversity
11. The Ancient Roots of Biodiversity
November 11, 2016
What is the Cambrian explosion? Why did Charles Darwin find the apparent sudden emergence of complex life so puzzling, and what have paleontologists today revealed about this period of Earth's history? Learn what the very latest findings tell us about how the stage might have been set for such rapid adaptation and diversification of life on Earth.
Ocean Fire and the Origin of Life
10. Ocean Fire and the Origin of Life
November 11, 2016
For centuries, scientists believed all life on Earth was powered by the sun via photosynthesis. That was before ecosystems, powered by chemosynthesis, were found at volcanic oceanic ridge systems. Paleontologists have now found examples of fossilized vent systems over a billion years old and the life that lived around them.
Our Vast Troves of Microfossils
9. Our Vast Troves of Microfossils
November 11, 2016
When we think of fossils, we tend to visualize large shells or bones. Microfossils, though, can reveal a more complete and dynamic picture of the past, including some of the most ancient history of life on Earth and details of climate change over hundreds of millions of years with a resolution just not possible from large "macro" fossils.
Fossils and the Shifting Crust
8. Fossils and the Shifting Crust
November 11, 2016
Why do we find life on Earth exactly where it is today? Why are some species found only in isolated pockets while others are spread across multiple continents? Learn what fossils tell us about our planet's exciting historic migrations - of flora, fauna, and the continents themselves.
Fossil Timekeepers
7. Fossil Timekeepers
November 11, 2016
Our planet's fossil record reveals that the natural cycles we take for granted today were previously quite different. Learn how biostratigraphy, sclerochronology, Carbon-14 dating, and other tools reveal a historic Earth with a day as short as six hours and a year as long as 455 days.
Minerals and the Evolving Earth
6. Minerals and the Evolving Earth
November 11, 2016
Paleontology provides a different lens to view how our planet's 4,400 minerals developed over billions of years - both influencing and being influenced by our evolving biosphere. Learn how Earth's few primordial minerals interacting with liquid water, plate tectonics, and eventually photosynthesis would create an explosion of mineral species seen nowhere else in our solar system.
Taxonomy: The Order of Life
5. Taxonomy: The Order of Life
November 11, 2016
How much does the scientific name of an animal, past or present, really matter? From Carl Linnaeus' Systema Naturae to the modern system of cladistics, you'll be amazed how much we can learn about the history of life on Earth simply from our ongoing efforts at classification.
How Do You Fossilize Behavior?
4. How Do You Fossilize Behavior?
November 11, 2016
While we rarely, if ever, find the fossilized remains of certain types of organisms, we can find evidence of their existence as they interacted with the environment. Learn how these trace fossils (e.g., fossilized burrows, tracks, ripples, nests, feces) help us understand the early evolution of the biosphere and the diversification of animal life.
Tools of the Paleontological Trade
3. Tools of the Paleontological Trade
November 11, 2016
In addition to the basic mechanical tools still used in the field today, paleontologists now have an exciting digital tool chest. What can we learn from dispersive x-ray spectroscopy and x-ray computer tomography when they are used to examine fossils from the size of pollen to the bones of Tyrannosaurus rex?
Life Cast in Ancient Stone
2. Life Cast in Ancient Stone
November 11, 2016
Learn about the fascinating individuals and showmen whose curiosity about the Earth and its fossils led to the development of the science of paleontology. But how easy is it to find fossils? Learn about the geographic, climatic, and chemical requirements for a living organism to leave behind its fossilized record.
History on a Geological Scale
1. History on a Geological Scale
November 11, 2016
Take an exciting virtual walk from the Washington Monument to the US Capitol to explore the 4.54 billion-year history of Earth, with each of your strides representing 1 to 2 million years. Along the way, fossils will paint a picture of life on Earth, from the earliest known bacteria to our world today. #Science & Mathematics
Where to Watch Introduction to Paleontology
Introduction to Paleontology is available for streaming on the The Great Courses Signature Collection website, both individual episodes and full seasons. You can also watch Introduction to Paleontology on demand at Amazon Prime, Amazon and Kanopy.
  • Premiere Date
    November 11, 2016