PRESENT IS KEY TO THE PAST
The "present is key to the past" is a
simple but important statement in paleontology. Paleontologists
look at present day organisms to help interpret fossils. "Paleo"
means old and "onto" means life. Present day organisms help us
to understand the life and environment of past organisms.
For example, a paleontologist finds a fossil
skull of an organism with large, flat teeth. The skull is about 3 feet
in diameter, with two large holes, where eyes would have been. Two
broken objects come from the face, which were probably tusks. The
paleontologist realizes that it probably belongs in the elephant family,
because of the shape of the skull. However, the condition of the fossil
with a brownish color, suggest that it is much older than a living
elephant. It was found in rock layers that have been age dated to
be of Pleistocene of age. The fossil may be a mastodon or
a mammoth. Teeth were found and identified as belonging to a