Rene Shroat-Lewis,
University of Arkansas at Little Rock


In this course, our primary goal is to understand the fundamental concepts and theoretical framework of paleontology. By the end of this course you should be able to: identify and classify the major groups of fossils; demonstrate knowledge of the stratigraphic distributions of the major groups of fossils; understand and know the major concepts, ideas, and vocabulary relevant to the study of ancient life; understand how the fossil record is scientifically studied; appreciate the impact that knowledge of the fossil record has had on evolutionary theory; and, apply a scientific approach to answer questions about ancient life.

Course Size:
less than 15

Course Format:
Integrated lecture and lab

Institution Type:
Public four-year institution, primarily undergraduate

Course Context:

This is an introductory course with a prerequisite of historical geology or introductory biology. The majority of students are geology majors. However, elective credit has been given to biology students.

Course Content:

Topics covered in this course include an introduction to groups of organisms, importance of hard parts, biostratigraphy, ontogeny, paleoecology, and mass extinctions to name a few. A 2-day field trip is required in which students learn techniques for fossil collection and identification.

Course Goals:

  1. Students should understand what a fossil is, the process of fossilization, and be able to recognize modes of preservation.
  2. Students should be able to classify organisms based upon morphological features.
  3. Students should understand evolution and natural selection, how it occurs, and how it is represented in the rock record.
  4. Students should have an understanding of how fossils are used in biostratigraphy, biogeography, and paleoecology.
  5. Students will learn how to use databases to access information about organisms for final presentations.
  6. Final presentations will give students the opportunity to disseminate findings both orally and in written format.

Course Features:

For the final project, students are asked to select a paleontologic topic of interest and give a poster presentation (GSA style) at the end of the semester to the Earth Sciences Department.

Course Philosophy:

Currently, this course is set up for two hours of lecture per week with no lab time. Therefore, lab time had to be created to stay within the time constraints of lecture. Small projects and a short overview of the organisms were completed in lieu of lecture.


Students are asked to complete four lecture exams. There is also a fossil identification exam that they must pass in order to earn a grade better than a "C" in the course. Students may take this exam as many times as needed to pass it, however, it changes every day so students are not just memorizing the fossils.


Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 142kB May30 14)

Teaching Materials:

References and Notes:

Bringing Fossils to Life, Third Edition. Prothero, D.R., 2013
I feel it is the gold standard of paleontology textbooks.

Students are asked to read some journal articles, such as the Punctuated Equilibrium paper by Eldridge/Gould.