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Introduction to Palaeontology

Course Times & Enrolment

This course is currently unavailable.

Course Summary

Palaeontology is the study of prehistoric life. Fossils record the history of life on Earth from fossil organic molecules to mighty dinosaurs. Understanding the rich array of life that has previously inhabited Earth has allowed us to understand the mechanisms of evolution that cannot be gleaned from living organisms alone. In this course you will learn about the process of evolution, and how to interpret the vast store of information preserved in the fossil record.

Course Details

Content of Course

Students will learn how to identify the major groups of organisms that are typically found as fossils (particularly locally to Edinburgh) and how the abundance of these groups has changed with time to define separate ‘evolutionary faunas’. They will gain a knowledge of the importance of considering groups individually and as part of a large group (i.e. all contemporary organisms).

Teaching method(s)

Students will learn the patterns of evolution in different groups of organisms and how palaeontologists study fossils in all their forms.

Learning outcomes


On completion of this course, students will be able to;

  • Place palaeontology in a philosophical context given its unique method of scientific process.

  • Explain what is meant by macroevolution and microevolution and distinguish between the two giving examples.

  • Describe some of the techniques that palaeontologists use to analyse the fossil record and use this information to ascertain macroevolutionary patterns.

  • Describe the defining characteristics of the major groups of life that have inhabited Earth.


Core Readings


  • Benton, M.J. and Harper, D.A., 2013. Introduction to paleobiology and the fossil record. John wiley & Sons.

  • Fossils at a Glance, 2nd Edition. 2004. Clare Milsom, Sue Rigby. John Wiley & Sons.


If you have questions regarding the course or enrolment, please contact COL Reception at Paterson's Land by email or by phone 0131 650 4400.

Student support

If you have a disability, learning difficulty or health condition which may affect your studies, please let us know by ticking the 'specific support needs' box on your course application form. This will allow us to make appropriate adjustments in advance and in accordance with your rights under the Equality Act 2010. For more information please visit the Student Support section of our website.