Paleontology is the study of prehistoric life on Earth, especially through fossils, and is an important tool for studying organisms' evolution. A traveller can find museums, as well as dig sites, which tell the story of our planet before mankind.
For the history of Homo Sapiens during the last 50,000 years, see Historical travel.
|“||Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.||”|
Too many museums to mention have paleontological exhibitions. Here is a selection of museums with collections beyond the usual.
- 1 National Science Museum (国立科学博物館 Kokuritsu kagaku hakubutsukan), Tokyo/Ueno, Japan. A prominent collection of dinosaur fossils.
- 2 The Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology, Highway 838, Drumheller, Alberta, Canada, ☏ , toll-free: , fax: , ✉ email@example.com. Tue-Sun (plus Monday public holidays) 10AM-5PM, fall/winter (Labour Day weekend to mid-May). Daily 9AM-9PM, spring/summer (week before Victoria Day to week before Labour Day). A spectacular range of exhibits and activities showing off the rich fossils of the Alberta badlands, from dinosaurs to pollen. Plenty to see and do. Hundreds of thousands of visitors per year. There are a variety of moderate hikes to fossil artifacts, starting from the museum during the summer Adults $19, seniors (65 and up) $14, youth $10, children 6 years and under free; family of two adults and up to 6 children age 7 to 17 $48; two-day tickets available for 1.5 times the single-day price.
- 3 Neanderthal Museum (Mettmann, Germany). A museum dedicated to the Neanderthal Man, Homo Neanderthalensis, which populated much of Europe and the Middle East until it was displaced by Homo Sapiens, and went extinct around 40,000 BC.
- 4 Natural History Museum (London/South Kensington-Chelsea, United Kingdom). Palaeontology is one of five major sections of this famous museum, and is home to thousands of extinct specimens, large and small. Unlike most other museums of its size and genre, this one is completely free to enter.
- 5 Field Museum (Chicago/Near South, United States). Museum with a wide array of displays on the flora and fauna of different eras, as well as some archaeological exhibits. Best known for being the home of Sue, the most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton yet discovered.
- 6 Zigong Dinosaur Museum (自贡恐龙博物馆) (Zigong, China). Located on top of the Dashanpu Formation, China's most famous dinosaur fossil site, where hundreds of dinosaur fossils have been found since the 1970s. The museum was the first museum in China to be devoted exclusively to dinosaurs. Besides the usual displays, one can also view an excavation pit where fossils have been unearthed.
- 1 Cradle of Humankind (South Africa).
- 2 Olduvai Gorge (Tanzania). This site has some of the oldest proto-human fossils. There is a museum.
- 3 Dinosaur National Monument (Colorado–Utah border, United States).
- 4 Fossil Butte National Monument (Wyoming, United States).
- 5 La Brea Tar Pits (Los Angeles, California (in the Wilshire area)).
- 6 Potomac Highlands (West Virginia, United States).
- 7 Dinosaur Provincial Park (Brooks, Alberta, Canada).
- 8 Jurassic Coast (Devon / Dorset, United Kingdom).
- 9 Franconian Switzerland (Germany).
- 10 Maotianshan Shales (also known as the Chengjiang Fossil Site) (Southeastern Yunnan, China). A world heritage listed site rich in fossils from the Cambrian Period. Some of the fossils are displayed at an on-site museum.
- 11 Naracoorte Caves National Park, Naracoorte, South Australia. UNESCO world heritage site. A range of 28 caves (although only 4 are open to the public) with numerous amounts of fossils found, with plenty of unique species only found here including some of the many Australian megafauna. It is also South Australia's only UNESCO world heritage site.
In some places you can actually "fossil hunt" yourself, but this may be subject to a number of local regulations, as well as import/export restrictions when crossing borders. In some cases what you find in terms of "fossils" is so commonplace that no protection need to be enforced, but it is a great way to spend a day with children (especially the "dinosaur crowd") as well as to introduce amateur paleontologists to the subject. Some museums that sit in appropriate geological contexts even offer fossil hunting as a part of their program and you should certainly take advantage of that if possible. One of the eras that is rather "packed" with common - though pretty - fossils is limestone from the Jurassic era as it can be found in Franconian Switzerland and the English Jurassic Coast.
If you want to look for rare or valuable fossils, you would most likely have to connect with a university or science-institute who do more sophisticated digs and actually find fossils that haven't been found or at least not been scientifically described before. In many cases those digs are only open to people with legitimate science degrees in the appropriate field(s) or studying towards one. In case you need to cross borders for such, a tourist visa may sometimes not be the category to apply for in those cases.