Table of Contents
- 15 Famous Paleontologists
- William Buckland (1784-1856)
- Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002)
- John Ostrom (1928-2005)
- Alan Walker (1938-)
- Henry Fairfield Osborn (1857-1935)
- James Hall (1811-1898)
- Benjamin Franklin Mudge (1817-1879)
- Louis Agassiz (1807-1873)
- John “Jack” Horner (1946-)
- John Fleagle (1946-)
- Luis Alvarez (1911-1988)
- Mary Anning (1799-1847)
- Edwin Colbert (1905-2001)
- Charles Darwin (1809-1882)
- George Cuvier (1769-1832)
Famous Paleontologists: If you have ever been fascinated by the massive skeletal remains of dinosaurs or the unearthed early human tools exhibited in museums, you probably should thank paleontologists.
Paleontologists study the fossils (biological remains) of organisms that have lived in the past.
The information obtained from these fossils becomes beneficial because it establishes the link between the time and location an organism once lived in.
In the past centuries, the field of paleontology has greatly flourished due to the discoveries of various scientists. To give credit, below are just some of the few amazing scientists who made the field of paleontology blossom the way it is today. These famous paleontologists is not listed in any particular order.
15 Famous Paleontologists
William Buckland (1784-1856)
Key Contributions of William Buckland in Paleontology
- He wrote a dinosaur fossil’s first complete account.
- Later on, he called the giant reptilian organism the Megalosaurus (which would be later called the dinosaur).
- He pioneered the use of fossilized fecal matter (called coprolites) in the reconstruction of the ideas about primitive ecosystems.
Further Reading: Strange Science
Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002)
Key Contributions of Stephen Jay Gould in Paleontology
- Perhaps, his greatest contribution was being the lead promoter of the theory about evolutionary change.
- His theory, better known as punctuated equilibrium, suggested that changes in fossil records are not a result of a slow and steady process but rather caused by sporadic changes.
Further Reading: Stephen Jay Gould & NYTimes Article on his life.
John Ostrom (1928-2005)
Key Contributions of John Ostrom in Paleontology
- In 1969, John Ostrom discovered the remains of an organism he called the “Deinonychus” which means “terrible claw“. As its name suggests, the human size animal is characterized by sharp-pointed claws and clutching hands.
- Years after, it was found out that this animal is a hundred and ten million year old dinosaur.
Further Reading: National Geographic (Scroll down to Dinosaurs) and Berkeley Journal.
Alan Walker (1938-)
Key Contributions of Alan Walker in Paleontology
- He studied the first stages of human evolution, particularly in the different epochs (Miocene, Pliocene, and Pleistocene) in the geologic time scale.
- Alan Walker focused mainly on data and fossils obtained from East Africa. As a result, he could deduce ancient behaviors exhibited by the organisms’ biological remains.
- In addition to this, Walker discovered hundreds of fossils which include: a skeleton of a young Homo erectus and a skull of an Australopithecus.
Further Reading: The Ape in Trees.
Henry Fairfield Osborn (1857-1935)
Key Contributions of Henry Osborn in Paleontology
- In the early 20th century, Osborn rose to fame after leading various fossil hunting expeditions and after training new vertebrate paleontologists in the Western United States.
- Osborn also described and named several dinosaur species such as the Ornitholestes, Tyrannosaururs rex, Pentaceratops, and Velociraptor.
- Osborn also conducted several studies about the brains of T.rex by dissecting the fossils using a diamond chainsaw.
Further Reading: The Osborn Problem.
James Hall (1811-1898)
Key Contributions of James Hall in Paleontology
- In this geosyncline principle, he discovered the main reason a basin sinks: the gradual buildup of sediments forcing it to subside slowly.
- Aside from that, Hall also founded the famous New York Natural and History Museum.
Further Reading: James Hall Legacy.
Benjamin Franklin Mudge (1817-1879)
Key Contributions of Benjamin Franklin Mudge in Paleontology
- One of his greatest contributions in the field was his discovery of the Ichthyomis, the first “bird with teeth”.
- Together with John Parker, he founded the Kansas Academy of Science (formerly Kansas Natural History Society) in 1878.
Further Reading: Robinson Library Archives.
Louis Agassiz (1807-1873)
Key Contributions of Louis Agassiz in Paleontology
- During his time, as a result of his extensive research, Agassiz’s discoveries became evidence that somehow disproved the theory of the “Biblical flood”.
- However, he focused too much on glaciers, the main driving mechanism that changed the Earth’s geology, so he rejected the idea of evolution.
Further Reading: Berkeley Journal.
John “Jack” Horner (1946-)
Key Contributions of John Horner in Paleontology
- He discovered that, like any other animals, dinosaurs do nurture their young. He also found that they were social animals, and some could be found in groups.
- Furthermore, he found out that some dinosaurs are “unevolved” versions of other species.
- At present, he is searching for a way to reactivate dinosaur DNA in birds to “revive” and create modern dinosaurs.
Further Reading: Famous Scientists.
John Fleagle (1946-)
Key Contributions of John Fleagle in Paleontology
- He worked on the functional and comparative anatomy of primates from Asia and Africa.
- He also studied primate behavioral abilities and compared their ecological roles in their communities.
Further Reading: Stony Brook School of Medicine.
Luis Alvarez (1911-1988)
Key Contributions of Luis Alvarez in Paleontology
- Together with his son named Walter and colleagues, Luis Alvarez proposed the reason why dinosaurs became extinct—an destructive asteroid (the size of San Francisco) that slammed into planet Earth.
- Later, this idea was called the “Alvarez Hypothesis” in honor of their work.
Further Reading: About Luis Alvarez.
Mary Anning (1799-1847)
Key Contributions of Mary Anning in Paleontology
- Her greatest contribution was discovering the Jurassic fossils beds in Lyme Regis in Dorset. Aside from that, the London Geological Society awarded her for discovering the fossil of Ichthyosaurus.
Further Reading: Famous Scientists – Mary Anning.
Edwin Colbert (1905-2001)
Key Contributions of Edwin Colbert in Paleontology
- He has led various expeditions that excavated important dinosaur fossils like the Staurikosaurus.
- In South Africa, Colbert discovered the remains of the Lystrosaurus, a primitive therapsid (a mammal-like reptile)
Further Reading: About Edwin Colbert.
Charles Darwin (1809-1882)
Key Contributions of Charles Darwin in Paleontology
- Famous for that controversial theory, Darwin concluded the fossils and likelihood between related living organisms.
- After finalizing all the evidence he found, Darwin was able to write his book entitled On the Origin of Species using Natural Selection.
Further Reading: History of Evolution.
George Cuvier (1769-1832)
Key Contributions of George Cuvier in Paleontology
- He founded vertebrate paleontology as a separate scientific discipline.
- His contributions in the field include research on the comparative biology of invertebrates and vertebrates.
- The principle of the endangerment and extinction of organisms also came from Cuvier.
Further Reading: Berkeley University – George Cuvier.
More than any other field of science, paleontology provides opportunities to explore the past and the vast possibilities of scientific ideas that have yet to be discovered.
But unfortunately, since its commencement, there is still no Nobel Prize that have been awarded for paleontology or any other related fields of natural history. This only means that in the future, paleontologists will have to exert more effort in digging for answers to questions about the past.
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