Rock Cycle - Past Life (5)
Pre Lab 

  • Analyzing how animal bones can help us identify specific animals.
  • Exploring paleontology.
  • bones
  • fossil
  • paleontology
  • worksheet

Students determine the organism by looking at bones of the feet.

Insect in amber


Paleontology is the study of old (paleo-) life (-onto-). It is a relatively new science in Western culture. The history of paleontology is a very interesting case of the development of human thought. The influence of religion prevented even the thought of extinct organisms for a long time. Fossils were perceived as "oddities" of nature. Therefore, the early scientific literature, from the Greeks until 1600's, was full of explanations that included many myths and stories about objects that we now know are fossils. Shiny, button-shaped fossil fish teeth were thought to come from the heads of toads. Clam fossils were hoofs of sheep. Ammonites, a sea animal similar to the modern Nautilus, were interpreted as coiled snakes turned to stone by a saint. The fossil tusk of the narwhal, a small whale, was for many years thought to be from the magical unicorn. Fossil oysters were nicknamed the Devil's Toenails. The connection between fossils and now extinct species was also an important breakthrough for a fuller understanding of geologic time.

In many animals, the shape and relative position of bones determine the general form of the animal. Land vertebrates evolved from freshwater or marine vertebrates. This change entailed many modifications in the organismsí limb bones, as their shape and function changed from fins used for balancing or motion in water to legs used for weight-bearing and walking on land. Limbs with digits replaced the paired fins, and the overall size and density of the bones increased.

  1. On their lab sheets, have the students attempt to pair the name of the organism with the bones of its fore limb. Here are answers to guide you:
    1. The rhinoceros (#1) is heavy boned to support its weight.
    2. The monkey (#2) has an opposable thumb, capable of gripping objects as do humans. Have students look at their hands to see their opposable thumb
    3. The lizard's limb (#3) is long and can hold onto surfaces. The turtle's foot (#4) is almost a web-like structure.
    4. The pelican limb (#5) is long and narrow, and shows a bird's characteristic hollow, light weight structure.

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