The roots “paleo” and "archae" mean old. We saw the word “ontology” already when talking about “the origin of how things became” and the different ontologies that religions and science have. Paleontology looks at life in the past, and the most popular branch is dinosaurs. Closely related human ancestors get their own subfield, paleoanthropology, and the dividing line paleontology and paleoanthropology is usually when they start walking on two feet. Confirmed human ancestors get another field called archaeology, and the line between paleoanthropology and archaeology is usually set at anatomically modern Homo sapiens. History starts with written records. For this class, we focus on paleoanthropology and use paleontology to give an early context.
Although the line between the paleontology and paleoanthropology, and the line between paleoanthropology and archaeology can be blurry, there is a fairly distinct line between paleontology and archaeology. So, if you ever find yourself passing by an archaeological site, and you stop to chat with the archaeologists, if you want to make yourself seem really stupid, ask them “Have you found any dinosaur bones?”
Pay special attention to the information and figures about brains and teeth because these are going to be trends of human evolution all the way through to the end of this class.
If you are curious about dating techniques and how fossils form, you could jump forward in the textbook and skim the section on paleoanthropology methods too.
- Skim the Early History of Life on Planet Earth
- Skim a good review of geology and speciation
- Skim How Old is Old?
- Skim Wikipedia's Paleontology
- Go to Balboa Park and visit the San Diego Natural History Museum, it's free with a resident ID on the first Tuesday of the month.