Introduction to Paleontology

Course No. 1657
Professor Stuart Sutherland, Ph.D.
The University of British Columbia
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Course No. 1657
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What Will You Learn?

  • Discover the amazing story of the beginning of life on our dynamic planet.
  • Reveal the mass extinctions that threatened life itself.
  • Examine the ways in which life eventually adapted, evolved, and spread.

Course Overview

Produced in partnership with the Smithsonian, this fascinating and visually-stunning course opens brand new doors onto the 4.54 billion-year history of our world.

How did we—not just humans, but all of life, and planet Earth itself—come to be? To find out, you need everything from paleobotany and paleogeography to paleozoology—in short, what you need is the science of paleontology. From recently exposed fossils to new theories about our ancestors, this exciting science is positively exploding with new, game-changing discoveries. In Introduction to Paleontology, you’ll see how new technologies like dispersive x-ray spectroscopy and x-ray computer tomography have joined the tried-and-true backhoe, hammer, and chisel.

Introduction to Paleontology provides a walk back in time through Earth’s history from a lifeless planet to initial bursts of life, from extinctions to life again, and ultimately to our world today. Relying considerably on the National Museum of Natural History‘s curatorial expertise and extensive collections of paleontological fossils, maps, records, and images—with more than 2,500 gorgeous and unique visuals—you’ll see the world as it’s never before been envisioned. Additionally, the expert curators at the Smithsonian helped to shape the structure and content of the course, and reviewed each lecture against the most up-to-date information and understanding of paleontology today.

You’ll watch the continents shift in an infinitesimally slow but never-ending reformation of the globe. You’ll learn about the many times life on Earth has just barely survived mass extinctions and how the planet itself has changed, from a “Snowball Earth,” with ice covering the surface from pole to pole, to life-threatening global heatwaves caused by plumes of hot rocks rising from Earth’s mantle below ancient Siberia. You’ll follow 9 million years of natural selection, witnessing how a land dwelling creature the size of a raccoon living in India 54 million years ago would give rise to a line of marine mammals and, ultimately, Earth’s largest animal. You’ll even have a front-row seat at the 21st century discovery of an extinct species of our own genus, Homo floresiensis, the little people who lived on the island of Flores in the Indonesian archipelago.

Your guide through this revealing new look at Earth’s past, Dr. Stuart Sutherland,

Professor of Teaching in the Department of Earth Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver clearly explains in 24 in-depth lectures:

  • how the science of paleontology developed, coalescing information from geology, biology, ecology, anthropology, and archaeology to help us better understand the fascinating and sometimes shocking history of planet Earth
  • the development and use of the tools of paleontology over decades and through many technological breakthroughs
  • how micro- and macro-fossils can reveal information about the minerology, climate, and atmospheric chemistry of the Earth through time, as well as the interrelation of species with their environments
  • how trace fossils can reveal information about a lifeform and its behavior, even if fossilized remains of the lifeform itself are not available
  • why the only way to really understand our world is by considering it as a system composed of interactive parts, not as separate, stand-alone boxes of information

Dr. Sutherland is a paleontologist with particular expertise in microfossils and their usefulness in paleoceanographic studies. A multi-award-winning teacher with a great sense of humor, his fascination with his subject and passion for sharing the study of paleontology bring an infectious excitement to his lectures—whether he’s talking about a world-famous megafauna fossil find or the minerology of ocean sediments. In fact, when it comes to his love of fossils, Dr. Sutherland says “I’m a kid who never grew up. I get the same feeling of excitement as a 6-year-old when I wander through a collection like the Smithsonian’s.”

While the paleontological terms and species names might be unfamiliar, Dr. Sutherland makes the lectures very easy to follow by clearly stating up front exactly what topics and questions he will be addressing in each lecture, with a special focus on recent discoveries and new information. Each lecture also features a stunning array of visuals, many of which are exclusive to the Smithsonian’s legendary collections and have been expertly curated to help each topic come alive.

Meet Fascinating Creatures from Earth’s Past:
Earth today supports myriad lifeforms that seem very different from us, from microscopic arthropods to the massive blue whale. But in this course, you’ll learn about a variety of extinct flora and fauna that can be difficult for us to even imagine:

  • Trilobites, arthropods that were extremely important in Earth's oceans for more than 250 million years and, with their sophisticated eyes, were probably some of the first animals to gaze upon each other
  • Opabinia, a swimmer discovered in the Burgess Shale with five eyes and a long, flexible proboscis with grasping spines
  • Prototaxites, one of the largest Devonian land-based lifeforms, a massive fungus-like organism that could stand up to 26 feet tall
  • Lystrosaurus, a stubby, shovel-faced, mammal-like reptile that could eat surface vegetation and probably also dig for food in the impoverished world after the Permian extinction
  • Homo neanderthalensis, whom the Neanderthal Genome Project has now revealed to have been similar enough to Homo sapiens to have interbred and produced viable offspring, resulting in approximately 30 to 40 percent of the Neanderthal genome found in the human population today

What Caused the Cycles of Mass Extinction and New Life on Earth?
The expansion and spread of life on Earth has certainly not been a linear process of constant development. Far from it. Life on our planet has experienced numerous cycles of diversification followed by extinctions. The recovery and evolution of new life forms after a mass extinction has sometimes occurred in a relatively quick span of geological time and sometimes much more slowly. For example, before the Cambrian period, life on Earth consisted primarily of simple structures. But during a relatively short time in evolutionary terms, complex life forms seemed to explode onto the scene. Professor Sutherland also explores why Charles Darwin initially found this Cambrian explosion so disheartening for the development of his theories on evolution and how the Burgess Shale discovery greatly increased our knowledge of Cambrian life.

To better understand the cycles of life on Earth, paleontologists must ask questions that may sound strange to us today, such as:

  • Could something we regard as a sign of a healthy biosphere today have contributed to the devastation of life on Earth over 359 million years ago?
  • Has Homo sapiens already suffered a near-extinction in a natural disaster that may have caused a population bottleneck 100,000 years ago or are will still searching for a cause?
  • Is it possible that a microbe— an extreme thermophile just like we find in modern oceanic hydrothermal settings— could be the Last Universal Common Ancestor of all life on Earth today?
  • What series of events led to the Permian mass extinction, a catastrophe that wiped out around 90 percent of all species on Earth?

From Sea to Land and Back Again
When we look at today’s majestic whales, we sometimes wonder why their ancestors “chose” to return to the sea, swapping legs for fins. The question though is fundamentally flawed as creatures do not “chose” to evolve, rather, in the case of whales, millions of years of natural selection allowed the ancestors of the whales to inhabit increasingly more aquatic environments. Through many transitional forms, exemplified by creatures like Ambulocetus (the “walking whale”) these mammals adapted to and came to thrive in the aquatic environment. You will also learn the importance of understanding what is meant when species “share a common ancestor” as we examine the relationship between the hippopotamus and the whales of today.

When examining the evolutionary shift between land and sea, the significance of the Cerro Ballena fossil site in Chile comes into stark relief, not only illuminating the history of Earth’s large mammals, but also the process of paleontological discovery. When a construction crew widening the Pan-American Highway exposed a whale fossil site, Smithsonian curators and technology specialists were able to “excavate” the site digitally using 3D scanning. Scientists can now continue to study the site from afar while the fossils themselves are no longer physically accessible.

Learn about the Future by Studying the Past
Dr. Sutherland closes the course by discussing the role paleontology could play in the crises potentially facing planet Earth in the future. From the continual movement of continents, to known super-volcanoes that could be catastrophic to civilization in the future, to meteorites and asteroids striking the planet, Earth will most likely endure massive changes in the future as it has in the past. While there is little we can do to protect against some of these events, Dr. Sutherland gives special attention to those, such as environmental issues caused by climate change and pollution, that we may be able to mitigate with knowledge and vigilance. In his own words:

”By understanding the reaction of the biosphere to sudden catastrophic change in the past as preserved in the rocks and fossils, we can more fully appreciate current changes in the Earth system. But with conservation and proper environmental management these trends could be reversed. I think paleontology has a vital role to play in these efforts.”

Join Dr. Sutherland in witnessing some of the most thrilling paleontological finds in history. You’ll be amazed by the depth of information paleontologists can discern about planet Earth millions of years in the past and what that might tell us about our own future. Introduction to Paleontology will open your eyes to a history more thrilling than science fiction could have imagined. You’ll never look at your home planet the same way again.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    History on a Geological Scale
    Take an exciting virtual walk from the Washington Monument to the U.S. Capital to explore the 4.54 billion-year history of Earth, with each of your strides representing 1 to 2 million years. Along the way, fossils will paint a picture of life on Earth, from the earliest known bacteria to our world today. x
  • 2
    Life Cast in Ancient Stone
    Learn about the fascinating individuals and showmen whose curiosity about the Earth and its fossils led to the development of the science of paleontology. But how easy is it to find fossils? Learn about the geographic, climatic, and chemical requirements for a living organism to leave behind its fossilized record. x
  • 3
    Tools of the Paleontological Trade
    In addition to the basic mechanical tools still used in the field today, paleontologists now have an exciting digital tool chest. What can we learn from dispersive x-ray spectroscopy and x-ray computer tomography when they are used to examine fossils from the size of pollen to the bones of Tyrannosaurus rex? x
  • 4
    How Do You Fossilize Behavior?
    While we rarely if ever find the fossilized remains of certain types of organisms, we can find evidence of their existence as they interacted with the environment. Learn how these trace fossils-e.g., fossilized burrows, tracks, ripples, nests, feces-help us understand the early evolution of the biosphere and the diversification of animal life. x
  • 5
    Taxonomy: The Order of Life
    How much does the scientific name of an animal, past or present, really matter? From Carl Linnaeus' Systema Naturae to the modern system of cladistics, you'll be amazed how much we can learn about the history of life on Earth simply from our ongoing efforts at classification. x
  • 6
    Minerals and the Evolving Earth
    Paleontology provides a different lens to view how our planet's 4,400 minerals developed over billions of years-both influencing and being influenced by our evolving biosphere. Learn how Earth's few primordial minerals interacting with liquid water, plate tectonics, and eventually photosynthesis would create an explosion of mineral species seen nowhere else in our solar system. x
  • 7
    Fossil Timekeepers
    Our planet's fossil record reveals that the natural cycles we take for granted today were previously quite different. Learn how biostratigraphy, sclerochronology, Carbon-14 dating, and other tools reveal a historic Earth with a day as short as six hours and a year as long as 455 days. x
  • 8
    Fossils and the Shifting Crust
    Why do we find life on Earth exactly where it is today? Why are some species found only in isolated pockets while others are spread across multiple continents? Learn what fossils tell us about our planet's exciting historic migrations-of flora, fauna, and the continents themselves. x
  • 9
    Our Vast Troves of Microfossils
    When we think of fossils, we tend to visualize large shells or bones. Microfossils, though, can reveal a more complete and dynamic picture of the past, including some of the most ancient history of life on Earth and details of climate change over 100's of millions of years with a resolution just not possible from large macro" fossils." x
  • 10
    Ocean Fire and the Origin of Life
    For centuries, scientists believed all life on earth was powered by the sun via photosynthesis. That was before ecosystems, powered by chemosynthesis, were found at volcanic oceanic ridge systems. Paleontologists have now found examples fossilized vent systems over a billion years old and the life that lived around them. These exciting fossils and their modern equivalents may help us understand the beginning of life on Earth and point us to life elsewhere in our solar system. x
  • 11
    The Ancient Roots of Biodiversity
    What is the Cambrian explosion? Why did Charles Darwin find the apparent sudden emergence of complex life so puzzling, and what have paleontologists today revealed about this period of Earth's history? Learn what the very latest findings tell us about how the stage might have been set for such rapid adaptation and diversification of life on Earth. x
  • 12
    Arthropod Rule on Planet Earth
    Arthropods live successfully all around the Earth today, but it was an extinct group of arthropods, the trilobites, that dominated the globe following the Cambrian explosion. With the benefits of exoskeletons and their well-developed eyes, trilobites were a significant presence in earth's oceans for 250 million years, evolving into more than 20,000 species with a variety of life styles. x
  • 13
    Devonian Death and the Spread of Forests
    Today we look at forests as a sign of a healthy biosphere. But is it possible that the earliest forestation of our planet-as plants became larger, developed seeds, roots, and wood and expanded away from the shoreline-could be responsible for mass extinction towards the end of the Devonian period? x
  • 14
    Life's Greatest Crisis: The Permian
    What could have caused the Permian mass extinction, when around 90 percent of all species became extinct in the geological blink of an eye? Learn what paleontology reveals about the cascading series of events that led to runaway global warming and the greatest catastrophe faced on earth since the evolution of complex life. x
  • 15
    Life's Slow Recovery after the Permian
    Although after most mass extinctions, the biosphere is well on its way to recovery within several hundred thousand years, recovery took many times longer after the Permian extinction. Eventually though, life adapted and diversified into a wide variety of exciting new plants and animals. Enter the dinosaurs. x
  • 16
    Dinosaur Interpretations and Spinosaurus
    Learn how a recent discovery might answer Romer's Riddle" and give us a new picture of Spinosaurus, the largest carnivorous dinosaurs to have ever lived. With an elaborate sail on his back and an interpretation that this dinosaur may have been semi-aquatic, Spinosaurus is at the center of much debate in the paleontological community today." x
  • 17
    Whales: Throwing Away Legs for the Sea
    Learn how descendants of a small raccoon-sized animal that lived in India evolved into modern marine whales. From this small herbivore, within the geological blink of an eye, the power of natural selection would generate a whole array of wonderful creatures including the blue whale, possibly the largest animal to have ever lived on Earth. x
  • 18
    Insects, Plants, and the Rise of Flower Power
    We owe a lot to the angiosperms. Not only do their flowers create a world of beauty, but their fruits helped drive human civilization. But did flowers first appear in water or on land? And what is the history and origin of the wonderful partnership between insects and flowering plants? x
  • 19
    The Not-So-Humble Story of Grass
    With the evolution of grasses came the grassland biomes-the prairies, pampas, and steppes that cover almost 40 percent of Earth's land surface today. Learn how this biome impacted animal evolution, including our own ancestors as they moved out of Africa and around the planet, facilitated by a carpet of grasses. x
  • 20
    Australia's Megafauna: Komodo Dragons
    Meet the Komodo dragon, a 200-pound lizard found on several relatively small Indonesian islands today. Paleontologists now know these specimens are a relic population of a lineage of giant monitor lizards once common in Australia. But exactly how did these animals make that trip? And how much longer is their species likely to survive? x
  • 21
    Mammoths, Mastodons, and the Quest to Clone
    When the Mastodon became the first extinct species to be discovered, much that the Western world knew to be true-i.e., the Biblical description of the creation timeline-was suddenly called into question. Today, the Mastodon offers us another major ethical challenge: Would it be possible for scientists to use their DNA and bring them back?"" x
  • 22
    The Little People of Flores
    Although little folk are common characters in mythology, scientists had never thought they actually existed-until a team of archaeologists made a fascinating discovery on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003. But exactly who exactly is Homo floresiensis? And through what lineage could we be related? x
  • 23
    The Neanderthal Among Us
    For years, we thought of Neanderthals as brutish, ignorant, distant cousins we could mostly ignore. Not any longer. As revealed by The Neanderthal Genome Project, modern humans and Neanderthals were sufficiently similar to have interbred and produced viable offspring. As much as 30 to 40 percent of the Neanderthal genome may be spread throughout the human population today. x
  • 24
    Paleontology and the Future of Earth
    What paleontologists have learned about Earth's history so far reveals that change is just about our only constant. Given that only a minute fraction of the information held in the Earth's crust has been discovered so far, paleontology will continue to be a significant gateway to understanding the past and present, and perhaps provide insight into the future of our planet. x

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  • Download 24 video lectures to your computer or mobile app
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  • 216-page printed course guidebook
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  • 216-page printed course guidebook
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Your professor

Stuart Sutherland

About Your Professor

Stuart Sutherland, Ph.D.
The University of British Columbia
Dr. Stuart Sutherland is a Professor in the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences at The University of British Columbia (UBC). Raised in the United Kingdom, he earned an undergraduate degree in geology from the University of Plymouth and a Ph.D. in Geological Sciences from the University of Leicester for his studies on Silurian microfossils called chitinozoa. Professor Sutherland discovered his passion for...
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Introduction to Paleontology is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 95.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course This is an engaging, informative lecture series! The only complaint I have with it is that many of the papers listed for further study are behind paywalls which put's them out of reach.
Date published: 2019-04-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Terrific I have watched many Great Courses over the years but this is outstanding. I can't recommend it enough. It is a topic I knew nothing about in spite of having 5 degrees including a Ph D and 3 Masters degrees, in different fields. I will have to watch it again to really understand it as there is so much to take in. The presenter had a great approach with many practical examples to supplement what he was teaching. The graphics and photos, of which there were many, brought much of it to life. In particular it put our climate change worries in to context and made our concerns in this area even more potent and valid. What a different world we would live in it this were compulsary viewing for everyone. Many of our petty quarrels would disappear, including within and between nations, as we worked together to save our beautiful planet. Thank you for the opportunity to watch this. I learned so much.
Date published: 2019-04-04
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Dry subject I watched most of the lectures last year. I found the Professor knowledgeable and able to get his points across well. Only negative I would add is he wore the same clothes for every lecture.
Date published: 2019-03-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic for parents of small, curious children There I was, in the geology exhibit in the Harvard Museum of Natural History. We were in front of a 60-foot long exhibit of the history of life and the world. My three kids were baffled that life took so long to get here. They asked, "Why did life take so long?" Thanks to the Great Courses and Professor Sutherland, DAD HAD ALL THE ANSWERS. As usual, the kids didn't know that dad, during his 5 am workouts, listens to and watches Great Courses on his exercise bike. They just think he knows everything. Professor Sutherland was fantastic. I can't believe how much I didn't know about Earth and life. He is a fantastic teacher. The visual aids were wonderful. I learned a lot about geology also. I will never think of the planet in the same way.
Date published: 2019-03-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Wonderful Treatment of "Deep Time" This course is rich in language, visuals, and thought. Professor Sutherland is a lively presenter with just the right amount of humor and occasional self-deprecation, and he presents highly complex issues -- with the aid of appropriate visuals -- in ways that even non-scientists like myself can grasp. I have taken a few other courses that also treat of aspects of "deep time" and, as again in this course, I find it humbling to begin to "feel" how very old our universe and planet are! We are not just the most recent "kids on the block," but our arrival -- in geologic time -- was but minutes ago. How very long this beautiful planet was bereft of all life, and then how slowly, and ever so humbly, did life arise from the most simple chemical processes. This course helps one understand how truly sacred -- and, in the context of the known universe, rare -- life is! It is also sobering to recognize that the long deceased dinosaurs ruled over this planet for so many millions of years that dwarfs our entire hominid existence! The course is also timely because it dramatically shows how previous mass extinctions were the result of cascading effects which, once begun and despite their cause, served to render vast areas of the planet's surface and oceans uninhabitable. Given our own time's very real challenge of a rapidly warming planet, we would be well to heed how quickly the oceans can melt and their very waters become acidic and hostile to life after a certain "tipping point" is reached. If only the climate change deniers would take the time to learn from this course they might better understand the looming dangers facing us, and the grim consequences that are certain if we do nothing to lessen our negative impact on the planet. The science, graphics, and narrative are wonderful. I found each lecture engaging and thought-provoking. What a privilege to live at a time when we can know so much about what has gone before us!
Date published: 2019-02-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful commentary I am really glad that I bought this program. It is very interesting and informative and the leader makes it enjoyable along the way.
Date published: 2019-02-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Combines Disciplines This is a very interesting course because it combines different sciences with paleontology as Dr. Sutherland explaines. It amazes me how vast a store of knowledge many of the Great Courses professors maintain. My favorite parts are about the animals that lived on earth before humans and about all the extinction events that wiped many of them out of the fossil records. Dr Sutherland has a wonderful calm and gentle manner I found myself liking him and thinking of him as a warm and wise friend. He gives a kind of moral depth to the course that I find in many of the Great Courses. This one is very worth adding to your collection.
Date published: 2019-01-28
Rated 1 out of 5 by from boring presentation of an interesting topic 10 January 2019 Great Courses Introduction to Paleontology# 1657 Topic is interesting, but the presentation is BAD. His British accent is annoying, & his manner of speaking is bad – talks in bursts. Voice pitch is high, making it hard to hear for us near deaf. Should have at least have closed captions. Coverage is interesting, but way too many “best”, “greatest”, “most outstanding”, “best in the field”, etc. Attempt to make so many things as “biggest”, etc. is distracting. Graphics are mixed some OK, many very bad. Time scales sometime go right to left & some left to right – very confusing & and bothersome. Many time scales are too small to have any use. Often no good explanation of what a time line is supposed to show. A few errors, or major events not given, e.g. no mention of the Siberian Traps. Very annoying – at the start of each lesson there is a LOUD, long, over 10 seconds panorama of a sort of time scale with opening doors. Published in 2016, so now in 2019 is mostly up to date. This one is going back.
Date published: 2019-01-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good introduction to a fascinating subject. This course updated and far exceeded what I had learned in undergraduate and graduate level courses in geology and biology a few decades in the past. Professor Sutherland is an enthusiastic lecturer who is not afraid to ensure that facts, theories, hypotheses, and opinions (including his own) are differentiated to give good backing to what is being covered. My only problem with the course itself was the technical aspect of speech to text which was on the discs, not from my TV. Besides the distraction of seeing words printed all the time, often some of the graphics were obscured by the text. Additionally, these is no evidence the text to speech had even been edited ("mollusk" instead of "mosses" when talking about PLANT attachments to substrate. Overall enjoyable, worth viewing.
Date published: 2018-11-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Title is very descriptive of the course. Very comprehensive and well done. Dr. Sutherland assumes the student has no background in the subject. His presentation is very enjoyable and easy to follow.
Date published: 2018-09-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enjoying this VERY MUCH have only 3 lessons to finish, another Great Courses for the Grand Kids, I have to finish watching before I give it to them tomorrow. From the early fractal reproduction to the impossibility of cloning mammoths, this has been so informative. As the years role by scientists have learned so much and the professor has no trouble bringing us up to date!!!
Date published: 2018-08-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Lots of Arm Waving Dr. Sutherland presents the material is a very different way than I learned Paleontology a long time ago and that's good. However, just like more classical approach he tends to make more of the data than is probably warranted. Arm waving is fun! I wish he would have spent more time on his area of interest, microfossils and spent less time on vertebrates. The invertebrate record is much fuller than the vertebrate record and I think more interesting. I'm bored with dinosaurs and there are many other Great Courses on early Hominid history. He's also a bit preachy for my tastes on ecological issues. I enjoyed the course and learned a bit which is why I watch/listen to Great Courses.
Date published: 2018-08-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing I've only watched one episode so far and it's already brilliant! This is one of the most interesting things I have seen on the computer. I think the presenter is really good and the things you learn often boggle your mind. It's just, well, really good!
Date published: 2018-08-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from superb overview well packaged Not withstanding two repeated and embarrassing schoolboy howlers (ur-) is a German prefix, as in Urwald = primitive forest, nothing to do with the city of Ur (a non Indo-european word), and Rafflesia is repeatedly misspelled and mispronounced (I wonder how one so otherwise in command of his facts can make these errors) it is a an impressive, accessible tour-de-force, giving us a general grounding in earth history, the processes of fossilisation and the fossil record. Obviously it is not possible to include too much detail and the history of the dominant life form at present, insects is very understated and not entirely accurate, but the treatment of processes is superb. Palaeontology is the one tangible reason we must believe in macroevoution. All other evidence is circumstantial.
Date published: 2018-07-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best courses offered So much information combined with a great presention and visuals.
Date published: 2018-04-14
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Poor instructor Paleontology is a fascinating subject. Dr. Sutherland absolutely killed it for me - what a disappointment. He is such a boring lecturer that I literally fell asleep on virtually every lecture. The graphics are sparse and don't help much. Overall, this subject has tremendous potential. It is my hope that it is redone in the future.
Date published: 2018-02-24
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Somewhat disappointing I wished I had read the reviews before purchasing this course. I too expected a large part of the content would be about dinosaurs. Instead it contained only one lecture devoted to them, and it was about an obscure aquatic species.I also felt too little time was spent on the significance of the names of various eras.Unfamiliar terms went undefined. Although I did learn some things, overall it was not what I expected.
Date published: 2018-02-10
Rated 1 out of 5 by from I can't access the course I would really like to give you a review but since I can't download the courses I purchased I cannot I did send an email and received a reply asking me to ring. I should not have to do this. I have paid for 3 courses and believe they should be easy to access. Helen McDonald.
Date published: 2018-01-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Up to date This course brought me up to date in current theories concerning geology and paleontology. I thought his teaching technique was very good and his choice of what to present was spot on. The only disconcerting part was his frequent references to previous or upcoming lectures when a few words would have sufficed. I would recommend this course to anyone who ever loved dinosaurs or has a young child or grandchild who does. It makes answering the questions you/they have much easier.. PS I have a degree in Geology conferred prior to widespread acceptance of continental drift, feathers, warm-blood, and microscopic fossils. I really liked this course.
Date published: 2018-01-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from well done Very good course, which well covered a wide variety of topics, incorporating effective visual aids. Professor Sutherland speaks clearly and concisely, and adds occasional dry wit that I find appealing. Quite subjectively, I wasn't as excited about upcoming lectures as I am with many classes, so can't give this the highest rating. Still, the class is well done and I recommend it to those who already have some interest in the topic. You will definitely learn much about paleontology.
Date published: 2018-01-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from (It's a) Wonderful Life... These lectures are a mix of edu-tainment and examples of serious scientific method, combining geologic history and processes, with biology with an eye to the origin and evolution of species. As a survey course (read introductory overview) the good Professor Sutherland on (aka Stu, when at the pub) lightly touching many, but certainly not all, aspects of paleontology...some of the 30 minute lectures might represent a life's work. His warm, personable presentation style (so common with nearly all geologist) makes the lectures easier to follow, even when dealing with some of the more difficult concepts of the science (e.g. deep time, continental drift, the correct pronunciation of Pseudoschwagerina). I thought he handled the five mass extinctions particularly well. In addition, I refer to chapter 16 in which he 'explained' Spinosaurus discovery and description...a good example of the scientific method at work (with fits and starts) . The Cambrian Explosion, Lecture 11, describes what happens to be one of the most important occurrence in the earth's history of life. I have been to Walcott's quarry in the Burgess Shale (resisting the great temptation to collect some of these intriguing fossils) and have felt the awe of that event locked in just a few meters of shale. Delving deeper into Walcott's discovery can be found in Stephen Jay Gould's publications, which are much harder for the untrained to follow, but contains wonderful descriptions of the depth of the history of the discovery and the depth of the scientific method behind it. Stu simplifies without dumbing-down. These are wonderful lectures especially for the younger set with an interest in rocks and it often with them.... The course is often on sale and use a coupon before it goes to extinction.
Date published: 2018-01-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The title says it all This is absolutely the course to get as a starting point for the subject.... It's just like learning our A B Cs .........Begin at the beginning , then get deeper into the subject with each new topic. The professor's pleasant accent , the museum setting where the lectures are given, the many illustrations, even the introductory scenes all combine to make this writer glad to have made the purchase.
Date published: 2017-12-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the Great Courses' BEST courses! I bought this and the Zoology course together as a set. The Zoology course is a slog to get through, but the Paleontology CDs are pure pleasure from beginning to end. Very informative and brilliantly presented. This course earns an A+ from me!
Date published: 2017-12-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent presentation! Dr. Sutherland is an engaging speaker. His presentation is practically flawless, though he does not appear to refer to a written text. His British accent is interesting to us Americans, and we have no problem at all understanding him. The course is and introduction so it does not delve into any one subject in depth. This is as an introduction should be. Dr. Sutherland's personal studies involve micro paleontology. He brings this lesser know field into play, but spends plenty of time on the big bones, etc. At the end of the course you will wish him to continue. Guess you'll just have to read up on items of your interest! On minor point I will mention for this and most other scientific Great Courses. The professor insists on mixing metric and standard measurements. He often mentions one or the other. On occasion he will give both, but not usually. Staff of The Great Courses take note: These courses are designed to educate the interested viewer. Thus they should do just that. Metric is the standard of most of the world, especially in all the sciences. As well, I'll bet the vast majority of your viewers are familiar with the basics of metric. If not, they'll want to learn. Excellent course. Please buy a copy for your self and then pass it on to your family. More people should view this one.
Date published: 2017-11-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Spectacular course This course was outstanding. It was very thorough and I learned a large amount that I had no idea existed in this field. First, the professor was excellent - he has a very good speaking voice, presents topics very clearly, and is engaging and enthusiastic (but not too much). The accompanying study guide follows his lectures quite closely, at least 95% of the time. The graphics and visuals are superb and reflect a modern production by the Great Courses. The presentation of the course is essentially chronologic, starting with early earth history, and progressing to the modern day. With that as context, techniques in paleontology and topics in evolution are presented. I found this course really interesting. Many of the lectures start out with the professor framing the topic as a question or puzzle. He then works through the subject, showing how an initial hypothesis that seemed reasonable, doesn't hold up, or how more recent research requires a reassessment - very good at showing the scientific method. I don't think any special scientific knowledge is required - no chemistry or geology or biology is needed. Anything required to understand the topic is presented at the time. Highly recommended. You probably could learn a great deal from just listening to the audio, but I think you would miss out tremendously as the graphics are so good and really add to the course, aiding in the understanding of the subject. 24 lectures, each around 30 minutes, is really just right. I've been through some courses of 48 lectures, and although thorough, it gets to be a bit of a slog after a while. This course was perfect.
Date published: 2017-10-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Informative; Dynamic; Entertaining Prof. Sutherland brings a passion and competence to his series of lectures. In addition, he integrates a wry humor that injects a light touch and a sense of humility. The lectures cover all the basic tenets of the field for the novice. The only problem for this beginner is at times the material gets somewhat complicated with an avalanche of specialized jargon that is hard to take in without a background in the sciences. However, this is a minor negative in an otherwise excellent course.
Date published: 2017-10-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Comprehensive and clear The course provides a structured framework within which detailed material is explained. An excellent base further study.
Date published: 2017-10-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best Course Yet! We have bought many Great Courses over the past few years and found Paleontology to be the best. It was captivating, with lots of pictures and graphics, and the instructor had an easy, engaging, humorous way of presenting the material.
Date published: 2017-09-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Reading Old Bones This very good course strongly resembles Stuart Sutherland’s other one, A New History of Life (ANHL). In both cases the first part deals with the nuts and bolts of paleontology—biostratigraphy, radiometric dating, and problems of bias, for example--and the rest deals with a history of life in chronological order. Both courses cover the origin of life, the Burgess Shale with its Cambrian fossils, microfossils, plate tectonics, and the massive Permian extinction that nearly wiped out all life on Earth (2 lectures in each course). There are lots of great maps and photos in both, so you won’t want to settle for the audio versions. The differences are also important, making this course worth purchasing even if you have the other one, and vice versa. While ANHL has four lectures on paleontology as a discipline, this one has eight. ANHL has three lectures on dinosaurs, this one has only one. ANHL includes important subjects not covered here, such as the evolution of spines and jaws, two lectures on the transition from fish to amphibians, the Ordovician extinction (the first big one after the Cambrian period), a much fuller account of the Cretaceous extinction, the development of amniotes (the ancestors of reptiles and mammals), the Mesozoic oceans and the evolution of flight. This course discusses items not in the other one: the relationship of insects and flowers, grass, komodo dragons, whales, mammoths and mastodons, Flores Man (the now-famous “hobbit” in Indonesia), and Neanderthals—there is a lot more about mammals here. To make an analogy with debates over evolution itself, ANHL offers a gradual and continuous narrative while this one makes large leaps from one topic to the next. Both work well. Another difference is the tie-in here to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, with Sutherland frequently referring to its paleontologists and fossil holdings. There are recorded interviews in Lecture 17 with Nick Pyenson, Smithsonian curator of fossil marine mammals, and other employees responsible for 3D digitization. As always I have my gripes. Like many people Sutherland misuses “decimation” in place of “devastation.” Decimation literally means “killing every tenth person,” so perhaps less harsh than devastation—unless you’re the unlucky tenth. Lecture 10 has an overly hokey special effect in which you see a cracked window and then a swimming fish in front of Sutherland while he describes the risky dive of the Trieste bathyscaph into the Challenger Deep, as if he too were there. Teaching Company, please don’t do that again! Leave that sort of thing to Disney! Third, the copy I own was given me by a close friend because it wouldn’t work on her DVD player, and even on my player the DVDs cause a loud whirring sound. The Teaching Company needs to be more careful about quality control. For that reason, I’m marking down the course value a bit, but in the other three categories, I’m giving Introduction to Paleontology a 5.
Date published: 2017-09-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I tried to paleontology Love it learning a lot. I'm a closet paleontology anyway
Date published: 2017-08-30
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