A Paleontologist Vs. an Archaeologist

Paleontologists and archaeologists sometimes work together at archaeological sites.

Paleontologists and archaeologists sometimes work together at archaeological sites.

It's easy to confuse two scientists who each have their hands in the dirt digging back through history to piece together the past. Both archaeologists and paleontologists spend their days dissecting how life was way back when; the distinction between them lies in the details of what they study. Archaeology looks at our human past, while paleontology focuses on the prehistoric life of all organisms. The two sometimes collaborate at archaeological sites to better understand how early humans interacted with their environment.

Archaeologist Duties

Archaeologists excavate the past, digging up artifacts and remains from ancient societies and examining everything from human skeletons to pottery, tools, clothing and language to better understand how things were. Bring strong analytic and writing skills and attention to detail. This job calls for documenting and presenting your findings. While archaeologists often find a home at colleges and universities, splitting their time between the field and the classroom, they can also work for museums, cultural research firms, historical societies and the government.

Types of Archeology

Not all archaeologists focus on the land before time, or even on the land. This diverse field in packed with specialties. Underwater archaeology looks at what humans have left beneath the surface of lakes, rivers, oceans and wetlands. Think shipwrecks and submerged cities or harbors. Prehistorics archeologists study cultures that predate written language, while historical specialist look at societies from recorded history such as ancient Greece or Rome. More modern archeological focuses examine urban areas and industry.

Paleontologist Duties

This is a career for lab lovers. Though paleontologists spend time in the field digging fossils, they spend more time in the lab analyzing their specimens for clues about how life on earth has evolved and changed over long periods. This is applied-science. Think carbon dating and chemical tracing to determine everything from a fossil's age to the climate where it lived. Like archaeologists these scientists often research and teach at colleges and universities, but also find homes working for government agencies, museums and private firms.

Types of Paleontolgists

When most people think of paleontology they immediately think dinosaurs. But, life on earth is diverse and so are the specialties of paleontology. Most professionals narrow their focus to research very specific types of remains. Some focus on animal fossils and others look at plants or at micro-fossils -- fossils so tiny can't be clearly seen without a microscope. Paleobotonists study the fossils of flowers, seeds, leaves and wood.

 

About the Author

Based in Portland, Ore., Holly Goodman began writing professionally in 1991. Her articles have appeared in "The Oregonian," "Dog Fancy," "High Times," First Wives World and on YouTango.com, among other publications. Her fiction has appeared in "The Journal" and at Literary Mama. Goodman has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from The Ohio State University.

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