The fossil record reveals that life has changed dramatically since it originated, and that evolution is intimately associated with changes in physical conditions on our planet. Not only have the various groups of organisms evolved but also the biosphere, as a whole, has changed conspicuously since its origin over 3.500 million years ago.
How has life changed during this immensely long period of time and what processes have affected rates and trends of evolution? What caused the biotic diversifications and the mass extinction events that have been major factors in the evolutionary history? In what way is the evolution of life linked to the geological development of Earth through time? How can fossils be used as tools in various geological investigations? These are just some of the issues that will be discussed during this course.
The field of palaeontology is currently undergoing a revolution, and our perception on what a fossil is and what can be preserved in the fossil record are fundamentally changing (among other things, it has been shown that residues of the original biological make-up can be retained in fossils many million-of-years old). Such new research is discussed during the course, and an introduction to those state-of-the-art methodologies that have led to this paradigm shift is also provided. Moreover, in order to understand the fossilisation process, taphonomic experiments involving extant organisms are conducted, the results of which are assessed in the light of genuine fossils.
The complex interactions between extinct organisms and their environments, and the evolution of marine and terrestrial biotic systems within a deep-time framework are core topics of the course. We will also study modern stratigraphic methods, global correlations, and the geologic time scale. Finally, two shorter and one more extensive excursion form part of the course. In addition to field-based studies of highly fossiliferous strata, an art studio is visited where extinct organisms are reconstructed in magnificent detail using modern techniques and in accordance with the latest research.
This is an elective course at advanced level, suitable for inclusion in a MSc. degree in geology. The course is taught during the second half of the spring term.