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Palaeontologists are scientists who study the remains of ancient life forms and some specialize in the investigation of fossils.

Analysis begins with the anatomical description, measurement and drawing of a fossil. Drawings usually illustrate a three-dimensional picture of the fossil which is placed in the physical context and dated. Dating fossils involves comparing layers of rock with the various formations of the world and comparing fossil beds of a known age. Fossils form part of the history of the earth and of living organisms.

By studying the markings on stratified rocks and fossilized remnants, palaeontologists are able to establish, with amazing accuracy, a record of the evolution of life through geological time.

Palaeontologists combine their findings with those of other scientists such as geologists, geographers and meteorologists, to reconstruct a progressive history of life on earth since ancient times. Fossils are furthermore utilized to determine the relative age of rocks and are particularly important in the search for coal and oil deposits.

It is as a result of the work of palaeontologists that we now have some knowledge of what led to the extinction of certain species and the origin of others, and that we have a fairly accurate picture of ancient plants and of the great dinosaurs that once roamed the earth.

There are various fields of specialization:

- palae-botanists study plant fossils
- invertebrate palaeontologists study animals without a backbone, for example insects
- vertebrate palaeontologists study animals with backbones, for example, fish.

Satisfying Aspects
- the excitement of new discoveries
- contributing to scientific research
- working in a unique and fascinating field

Demanding aspects
- having to concentrate for long periods of time
- working irregular hours
- at times having to be away from home while doing field research

A palaeontologist should:
- be patient and persevering
- have above average intelligence
- have keen interest in fossils
- have aptitude for mathematics and science
- be able to think independently and creatively
- work methodically and accurately
- have good communication skills
- have computer skills
- have sound health to be able to withstand long periods doing fieldwork under basic conditions

School Subjects
National Senior Certificate meeting degree requirements for a degree course

Each institution will have its own minimum entry requirements.

Compulsory Subjects: Mathematics, Physical Sciences
Recommended Subjects: Life Sciences, Geography

Degree: BSc degree majoring in Botany or Zoology with specialization in Anatomy and with supporting courses in Geology and Archaeology.

Post-graduate study: BSc Hons degree.

Further postgraduate study is recommended in this field.

- museums
- universities (teaching and research)
- laboratories
- government departments
- oil companies

University departments of archaeology