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Paleontology Quotes (29 quotes)
Palaeontological Quotes, Palaeontology Quotes, Paleontological Quotes


A fossil hunter needs sharp eyes and a keen search image, a mental template that subconsciously evaluates everything he sees in his search for telltale clues. A kind of mental radar works even if he isn't concentrating hard. A fossil mollusk expert has a mollusk search image. A fossil antelope expert has an antelope search image. ... Yet even when one has a good internal radar, the search is incredibly more difficult than it sounds. Not only are fossils often the same color as the rocks among which they are found, so they blend in with the background; they are also usually broken into odd-shaped fragments. ... In our business, we don't expect to find a whole skull lying on the surface staring up at us. The typical find is a small piece of petrified bone. The fossil hunter's search therefore has to have an infinite number of dimensions, matching every conceivable angle of every shape of fragment of every bone on the human body.
Describing the skill of his co-worker, Kamoya Kimeu, who discovered the Turkana Boy, the most complete specimen of Homo erectus, on a slope covered with black lava pebbles.
Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin, Origins Reconsidered: In Search of What Makes Us Human (1992), 26.
Science quotes on:  |  Fossil (107)

An old paleontological in joke proclaims that mammalian evolution is a tale told by teeth mating to produce slightly altered descendant teeth.
…...
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Are God and Nature then at strife,
That Nature lends such evil dreams?
So careful of the type she seems,
So careless of the single life…
So careful of the type, but no.
From scarped cliff and quarried stone
She cries, “A thousand types are gone;
I care for nothing, all shall go.”
From poem, 'In Memoriam A.H.H.' written between 1833-50, and first published anonymously in 1850. Collected in Poetical Works of Alfred Tennyson (1860), Vol.2, 64.
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Can I pay any higher tribute to a man [George Gaylord Simpson] than to state that his work both established a profession and sowed the seeds for its own revision? If Simpson had reached final truth, he either would have been a priest or would have chosen a dull profession. The history of life cannot be a dull profession.
From 'G.G. Simpson, Paleontology, and the Modern Synthesis', collected in Ernst Mayr, William B. Provine (eds.), The Evolutionary Synthesis: Perspectives on the Unification of Biology (1998), 171.
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Direct observation of the testimony of the earth … is a matter of the laboratory, of the field naturalist, of indefatigable digging among the ancient archives of the earth’s history. If Mr. Bryan, with an open heart and mind, would drop all his books and all the disputations among the doctors and study first hand the simple archives of Nature, all his doubts would disappear; he would not lose his religion; he would become an evolutionist.
'Evolution and Religion', New York Times (5 Mar 1922), 91. Written in response to an article a few days earlier in which William Jennings Bryan challenged the theory of evolution as lacking proof.
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Every great anthropologic and paleontologic discovery fits into its proper place, enabling us gradually to fill out, one after another, the great branching lines of human ascent and to connect with the branches definite phases of industry and art. This gives us a double means of interpretation, archaeological and anatomical. While many branches and links in the chain remain to be discovered, we are now in a position to predict with great confidence not only what the various branches will be like but where they are most like to be found.
In Henry Fairfield Osborn, 'Osborn States the Case For Evolution', New York Times (12 Jul 1925), XX1
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He [a student] liked to look at the … remains of queer animals: funny little skulls and bones and disjointed skeletons of strange monsters that must have been remarkable when they were alive … [he] wondered if the long one with the flat, triangular head used to crawl, or hop, or what.
In 'The Great Paste-pot Handicap' Maroon Tales: University of Chicago Stories (1910), 289. Note: the fictional student is in the University of Chicago’s Walker Museum.
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How does it arise that, while the statements of geologists that other organic bodies existed millions of years ago are tacitly accepted, their conclusions as to man having existed many thousands of years ago should be received with hesitation by some geologists, and be altogether repudiated by a not inconsiderable number among the other educated classes of society?
'Anniversary Address of the Geological Society of London', Proceedings of the Geological Society of London (1861), 17, lxvii.
Science quotes on:  |  Fossil (107)  |  Homo Sapiens (19)

I abide in a goodly Museum,
Frequented by sages profound:
'Tis a kind of strange mausoleum,
Where the beasts that have vanished abound.
There's a bird of the ages Triassic,
With his antediluvian beak,
And many a reptile Jurassic,
And many a monster antique.
'Ballad of the Ichthyosaurus', Dreams to Sell (1887), 14.
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I never really paused for a moment to question the idea that the progressive spiritualization of matter—so clearly demonstrated to me by Paleontology—could be anything other, or anything less, than an irreversible process. By its gravitational nature, the Universe, I saw, was falling—falling forwards—in the direction of spirit as upon its stable form. In other words, Matter was not ultra-materialized as I would at first have believed, but was instead metamorphosed in Psyche.
In The Heart of Matter (1978), 27.
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I shall collect plants and fossils, and with the best of instruments make astronomic observations. Yet this is not the main purpose of my journey. I shall endeavor to find out how nature's forces act upon one another, and in what manner the geographic environment exerts its influence on animals and plants. In short, I must find out about the harmony in nature.
Letter to Karl Freiesleben (Jun 1799). In Helmut de Terra, Humboldt: The Life and Times of Alexander van Humboldt 1769-1859 (1955), 87.
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I want to find a voracious, small-minded predator and name it after the IRS.
Quoted, without citation, in E. Gene Davis, Get 'Em Laughing: Public Speaking Humor, Quotes and Illustrations (2007), 195.

In vertebrate paleontology, increasing knowledge leads to triumphant loss of clarity.
Synapsid Evolution and Dentition, International Colloquium on the Evolution of Mammals, Brussels (1962.)
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It is well known, that on the Ohio, and in many parts of America further north, tusks, grinders, and skeletons of unparalleled magnitude are found in great numbers, some lying on the surface of the earth, and some a little below it ... But to whatever animal we ascribe these remains, it is certain that such a one has existed in America, and that it has been the largest of all terrestrial beings.
Notes on the State of Virginia (1782), 71, 77.
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Life is the most important thing about the world, the most important thing about life is evolution. Thus, by consciously seeking what is most meaningful, I moved from poetry to mineralogy to paleontology to evolution.
This View of Life: the World of an Evolutionist (1964), 27-28.
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My father’s collection of fossils was practically unnamed, but the appearance of Phillips’ book [Geology of the Yorkshire Coast], in which most of our specimens were figured, enabled us to remedy this defect. Every evening was devoted by us to accomplishing the work. This was my first introduction to true scientific study. ... Phillips’ accurate volume initiated an entirely new order of things. Many a time did I mourn over the publication of this book, and the consequences immediately resulting from it. Instead of indulging in the games and idleness to which most lads are prone, my evenings throughout a long winter were devoted to the detested labour of naming these miserable stones. Such is the short-sightedness of boyhood. Pursuing this uncongenial work gave me in my thirteenth year a thorough practical familiarity with the palaeontological treasures of Eastern Yorkshire. This early acquisition happily moulded the entire course of my future life.
In Reminiscences of a Yorkshire naturalist (1896), 12.
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No collateral science had profited so much by palæontology as that which teaches the structure and mode of formation of the earth’s crust, with the relative position, time, and order of formation of its constituent stratified and unstratified parts. Geology has left her old hand-maiden mineralogy to rest almost wholly on the broad shoulders of her young and vigorous offspring, the science of organic remains.
In article 'Palæontology' contributed to Encyclopædia Britannica (8th ed., 1859), Vol. 17, 91.
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Of all extinct life-forms, dinosaurs are the most popular. Why that should be is not clear.
Epigraph in Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 202.
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Paleontology is a very visual inquiry. All paleontologists scribble on napkins at coffee breaks, making sketches to explain their thinking
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Paleontology is not geology, it is zoology; it succeeds only in so far as it is pursued in the zoological and biological spirit.
In 'The Present Problems of Paelontology', collected in Congress of arts and science: Universal exposition, St. Louis, 1904 (1906), Vol. 4, 567.
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The application of botanical and zoological evidence to determine the relative age of rocks—this chronometry of the earth's surface which was already present to the lofty mind of Hooke—indicates one of the most glorious epochs of modern geognosy, which has finally, on the Continent at least, been emancipated from the way of Semitic doctrines. Palaeontological investigations have imparted a vivifying breath of grace and diversity to the science of the solid structure of the earth.
Cosmos: A Sketch of a Physical Description of the Universe (1845-62), trans. E. C. Due (1849), Vol. 1, 272.
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The attempted synthesis of paleontology and genetics, an essential part of the present study, may be particularly surprising and possibly hazardous. Not long ago, paleontologists felt that a geneticist was a person who shut himself in a room, pulled down the shades, watched small flies disporting themselves in milk bottles, and thought that he was studying nature. A pursuit so removed from the realities of life, they said, had no significance for the true biologist. On the other hand, the geneticists said that paleontology had no further contributions to make to biology, that its only point had been the completed demonstration of the truth of evolution, and that it was a subject too purely descriptive to merit the name 'science'. The paleontologist, they believed, is like a man who undertakes to study the principles of the internal combustion engine by standing on a street corner and watching the motor cars whiz by.
Tempo and Mode in Evolution (1944), 1.
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The Chinese … use fossil teeth as one of their principal medicines. Some Chinese families have for centuries been in the business of “mining” fossils to supply the drug trade.
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The first concept of continental drift first came to me as far back as 1910, when considering the map of the world, under the direct impression produced by the congruence of the coast lines on either side of the Atlantic. At first I did not pay attention to the ideas because I regarded it as improbable. In the fall of 1911, I came quite accidentally upon a synoptic report in which I learned for the first time of palaeontological evidence for a former land bridge between Brazil and Africa. As a result I undertook a cursory examination of relevant research in the fields of geology and palaeontology, and this provided immediately such weighty corroboration that a conviction of the fundamental soundness of the idea took root in my mind.
In The Origins of Continents and Oceans (4th ed. 1929), trans. John Biram (1966), 1.
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We have only indirect means of knowing the courage and activity of the Neanderthals in the chase, through the bones of animals hunted for food which are found intermingled with the flints around their ancient hearths.
In 'Customs of the Chase and of cave Life', Men of the Old Stone Age: Their Environment, Life and Art (1921), 211.
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When out fossil hunting, it is very easy to forget that rather than telling you how the creatures lived, the remains you find indicate only where they became fossilized.
Co-author with American science writer Roger Amos Lewin (1946), Origins: What New Discoveries Reveal about the Emergence of our Species and its Possible Future (1977), 96.
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Where, then, must we look for primaeval Man? Was the oldest Homo sapiens pliocene or miocene, or yet more ancient? In still older strata do the fossilized bones of an ape more anthropoid, or a Man more pithecoid, than any yet known await the researches of some unborn paleontologist?
'On some Fossil Remains of Man' (1863). In Collected Essays (1894). Vol. 7, 208.
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Why the dinosaurs died out is not known, but it is supposed to be because they had minute brains and devoted themselves to the growth of weapons of offense in the shape of numerous horns. However that may be, it was not through their line that life developed.
In 'Men versus. Insects' (1933), collected in In Praise of Idleness and Other Essays (1935), 199.
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Xenophanes of Kolophon ... believes that once the earth was mingled with the sea, but in the course of time it became freed from moisture; and his proofs are such as these: that shells are found in the midst of the land and among the mountains, that in the quarries of Syracuse the imprints of a fish and of seals had been found, and in Paros the imprint of an anchovy at some depth in the stone, and in Melite shallow impressions of all sorts of sea products. He says that these imprints were made when everything long ago was covered with mud, and then the imprint dried in the mud.
Doxographists, Zeller, Vorsokr. Phil. 543, n. 1. Quoted in Arthur Fairbanks (ed. And trans.), The First Philosophers of Greece (1898), 83.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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