(ENVT009) Introduction to Fossils and the Application of Palaeontology

Ammonite fossils



Course start date: To be confirmed
Price £150.00:

Lecturer(s): Dr Ian Tunbridge
Course Code: ENVT009
Level: Non-accredited, non-credit bearing
Assessments/Exams: None. Throughout the course you will be given ideas and questions to respond to in the online discussion area. Participation in online discussion is encouraged, but not compulsory.
Duration: 10 weeks
Estimated Student Study Time: 2 – 5 hours per week are recommended, but time spent is flexible and at your discretion.
Fee: £150.00
Pre-Requisites: No academic qualifications or experience of ornithology are required, only a strong enthusiasm for the subject.
Delivery: Online Distance Learning
Late Entrants: If this course is not full by the start date then late entrants will be accepted for up to two weeks after the start of the course. As a late entrant you can choose to catch up on the material you have missed or you can skip the missed weeks and concentrate on the material at the point where you join the course, but unfortunately we cannot offer fee reductions or course extensions for late entrants.

Recommended Reading**:

  • Introductory Palaeontology. Patrick Wyse Jackson. Dunelin. A basic introduction to the subject.
  • Fossils at a Glance. C. Milstron & S. Rigby . Wiley. A good account of evolution and the morphology of the main fossil groups.
  • Fossils a Photographic Field guide. C&H Pellant. New Holland. Excellent illustrations of perfect specimens.
  • Invertebrate Paaeontology and Evolution. ENK Clarkson Blackwell. A Comprehensive and significant undergraduate textbook that covers fossil groups in depth.
  • Written in Stone. B.Switek . Icon. A good series of essays that put Palaeontology in a wider context.

Required Reading**: None

**Please note: All courses are subject to sufficient numbers of students registering before they are confirmed as running. Therefore, after booking your place you are advised not to purchase any texts until you have received confirmation that the course is running.

This course was previously taught by Dr Ian Tunbridge when it was offered by the University of Exeter*. If you studied it with the University of Exeter* you might not wish to study it again with Learn for Pleasure as although we have revised and updated our courses where necessary, it will likely be substantively the same.


This course provides practical introduction to palaeontology: the study of ancient life forms preserved as fossils.

Palaeontology is considered here as one of the geological sciences, but it can equally be approached from a biological perspective, in fact, ‘palaeontology’ is more or less synonymous with ‘palaeobiology’. The prefix ‘palaeo’ simply means ‘ancient’ and is found frequently in geological terminology.

Our emphasis will be on the applications of palaeontology, one of which is the use of fossils as indicators of ancient environments, or ‘palaeoenvironments’.

Another important use of fossils is in dating rocks, and geologists normally refer to the age of a rock by using a classification system based on fossils rather than by saying something is so-many millions of years old. ‘Jurassic’ rocks, for example, are characterised by a particular fossil assemblage that distinguishes them from the ‘Cretaceous’ rocks that overlay them.

The course will begin with an examination of the diverse processes by which fossils are preserved, and we will go on to review the uses of fossils in dating rocks and in reconstructing ancient environments. There will be some emphasis on the applications of palaeontology, but this should not detract from the intrinsic interest of studying such a diverse group of organisms – some extant (still alive), but many long extinct.

There will also be important links to geological history and the mass extinctions that punctuate the geological record – a surprisingly frequent phenomenon in the geological past.

Syllabus Plan

Introduction to palaeontology – the study of fossils:

  1. The processes by which fossils are preserved
  2. Trace fossils and microfossils
  3. Invertebrates (1)
  4. Invertebrates (2)
  5. Ivertebrates: the Echinodermata and Hemichordata
  6. Vertebrates
  7. Mass extinctions and their significance in geological history
  8. Uses of fossils: applications in the dating of rocks (biostratigraphy)
  9. Uses of fossils: applications in reconstructing ancient environments
  10. Fossils in the geological succession of Britain