Teach the Earth > Paleontology > Course Descriptions > Quaternary Paleontology

Quaternary Paleontology

Christopher L. Hill

Boise State University
Public four-year institution, primarily undergraduate


This is a required course for the undergraduate degree in geoarchaeology. Most of the students that take the course are majors in anthropology, biology, and geology. The course provides an overview of Pleistocene and Holocene paleobotany, paleozoology, and archaeozoology with an emphasis on paleoecology and environmental change.

Course URL:
Subject: Geoscience:Paleontology
Resource Type: Course Information
Grade Level: College Upper (15-16)
Theme: Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Paleontology
Course Size:


Course Context:

Although this is a senior-level (400-level) course, usually more than half of the students are anthropology majors with limited college-level experience in the natural sciences. The course includes lecture-style presentations by the instructor and the students, but also has a substantial amount of writing and "hands-on" activities.

Course Goals:

Students should be able to evaluate a set of morphological or behavioral traits and develop a cladogram. They should be able to use cladistics to interpret the potential relationships between taxa.

Students should be able to formulate an interpretation of environmental change based on the application of the scientific process (identification and counting of pollen taxa, organization of observations and data collected, interpretation of patterns, integration of regional pollen signals with global-scale isotope record).

Students should be able to link morphological attributes of vertebrate skeletons with function and ecological relationships.

Students should be able to interpret space-time distribution patterns of Quaternary mammals.

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

A series of activities have been developed for each of these goals. Students are provided with the basic information and provided with a set of assignments. These activities are graded as a means of determining whether the students have met the goals.

Skills Goals

Students gain experience with accessing and critically reading the pertinent literature through a series of writing assignments on the topics of 1)the significance of environmental change, 2) the history of paleontology, 3) time and taphonomy, 4) invertebrates, and 5) vertebrates.

Students gain experience in accessing and critically reading the literature by creating an annotated bibliography on a topic in Quaternary paleontology. This activity includes the critical analysis of web sites.

Students improve quantitative skills in the analysis of data collected in the paleobotany exercise and the vertebrate anatomy exercise.

Students gain experience in peer-teaching and oral communication through in-class presentations.

Students gain experience in informal peer-teaching and working in groups with the vertebrate anatomy lab activity (mammal skeleton description, identification, analysis and interpretation).

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

A series of graded assignments are used to assess student achievments.

Attitudinal Goals

The overall theme of this course is the relevance and significance of paleontology to understanding environmental change. For some students this is their first "hands-on" application of the scientific method.

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

Each of the course activities reinforces some aspect of the application of the scientific method to understanding the dynamics of ecological relationships, time, and environmental change.


Each activity is graded. Students are provided with detailed instructions or checklists for each activity. Each activity is reviewed in class.


Course summary for Quaternary Paleontology (Acrobat (PDF) 58kB May21 09)

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