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What's the difference between paleontology and archeology?

Updated: Jan 10, 2023

Many people make the mistake of thinking that archaeology and paleontology are the same thing. Both entail excavations and digging things up, but they are two different scientific disciplines.

What is archaeology?

Archaeology is the study of human history and the things made by humans. There are two categories of what archaeologists find. The first are called artifacts, which are portable items like pottery, statues, personal adornment and tools. Archaeologist also uncover and study features of sites that were inhabited and created by humans. Features are non-portable creations such as walls, trenches and hearths. You might be surprised to discover that an archaeological artifact is anything that is over 50 years old, making some of those reading this blog, artifacts in their own right ;)

What is paleontology?

Paleontology is the study of ancient life, including animals and plants. Paleontologists study fossils of dinosaurs, early mammals, fish, insects and plants. The study of ancient humans is a part of paleontology called paleoanthropology.

What are the oldest archaeological artifacts?

Some of the oldest artifacts found are stone tools. The Lomekwi stone tools from Kenya are estimated to be about 3.3 million years old. Evidence of artists were around as long as 100,000 years ago with shells and bones found to be used for paint making in the Blombos Cave in South Africa. And, there’s the elusive Ark of the Covenant sought by the inspirational and dashing film archaeologist Indiana Jones. Take a look at some of the eight oldest artifacts in the world.

What is an example of a famous archaeological feature?

King Tut’s tomb in Egypt, discovered by Howard Carter, is an archaeological feature that was filled with ancient Egyptian artifacts. Egypt abounds in archaeological features, with the remains of pyramids and burial chambers visible all over the country. Rome’s features fill the pages of tour guide books and include

places such as the Roman Colosseum,

the pantheon and the Roman forum.

What are the most notable paleontological finds?

New species are constantly being discovered, so any list of paleontological finds is destined to be immediately outdated. A few important finds are: The discovery of the Archaeopteryx

in the 1860s, which was one of the very first transitional forms from dinosaur to birds ever found. The oldest known fossils are 3.7 to 200 million year old stromatolites, or ancient bacteria. When it comes to ancient humans, the most well-known is Lucy, a 3.2 million year old Australopithecus afarensis. Lucy is one of the most complete skeletons of a human ancestor who was able to walk upright on two legs.

If you are interested in experiencing the difference between paleontology and archaeology yourself, participate on a dig for your next vacation. Find paleontology digs and archaeology digs on Ancient Odysseys.

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