Bringing Fossils to Life
Science in the 21st Century - HNRS 2331

Instructor(s): Jason Moore

Course Description

The Earth formed around 4.5 billion years ago and the first, albeit somewhat controversial, evidence for life is found only 700 million years later! Living organisms have, therefore, been present for 85% of the history of the Earth and have shaped the planet in a myriad of different ways as life has evolved. Incremental, frequently infinitesimal changes in morphology over inconceivably long time periods have produced the millions of species that we see interacting around us today. Fortuitous confluences of geological forces have led to the preservation of evidence of past life for millions, and in some cases billions of years. 

In this course we will get hands on with the fossil record to investigate: how life has changed during its 3.8 billion year history, from individual organisms to entire ecosystems; the processes that can lead to the preservation of organic remains over geological time periods; and many of the ways in which we can make inferences about biological processes from the limited, often biased information preserved in the fossil record. I hope this course will provide you with a firm foundation of tools and knowledge that you will be able to use to find the answers to any questions you might have about the history of life, and to discuss and reconcile many of the complexities inherent to understanding organisms for which there are no modern representatives.


Readings will be sourced from the primary literature during the course in response to the questions participants are interested in posing.


The course will be a hands-on introduction to the science of palaeontology. We will begin by outlining a genuine research question and undertaking several exercises to provide background to that question. After several discussions, bringing the results of our exercises into the context of our research question, we will move on to the main focus of the class - your own palaeontological research project. You will apply techniques that you have learnt during the course to a dataset from 34 million years ago. 

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About the Instructor(s): Jason Moore

Jason Moore received his undergraduate degrees and Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge, and subsequently spent time teaching and researching at Texas A&M University and Dartmouth College. He is most interested in understanding how organisms interacted with each other and their environment during the geological past - bringing fossils to life! His recent research has focused on understanding how ancient mammals respond to climate change, the reproductive ecology of dinosaurs, and the nature of the impactor involved in the extinction of the dinosaurs.