Paleontology is the branch of science devoted to study of the history and meaning of life through geological time. It is inherently multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary, weaving connections between geology, biology, and to some extent archaeology and biological anthropology. Paleontology has always been a natural intellectual bridge between geology and biology, and the strengths of these flanking disciplines are a key to the success of paleontology at Michigan. Paleontology faculty are appointed in the departments of Earth and Environmental Sciences and/or Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Students generally work toward degrees in one of these two departments. The work itself is carried out using collections, laboratories, and field sites of the Museum of Paleontology, enriched by extensive comparative collections in the Museum of Zoology and Herbarium.
Paleontological resources at Michigan, in the form of collections, specialized libraries, and equipment for teaching and research, reflect the interests and expertise of professors and graduate students working here from the beginning. Museum of Paleontology collections are divided somewhat arbitrarily into sections labeled paleobotany, micropaleontology, invertebrate paleontology, vertebrate paleontology, but, as might be expected, evolutionary and environmental research and teaching combine these in many different ways.
The Museum of Paleontology provides the facilities enabling direct hands-on study of plants and animals preserved as fossils, and study of the environmental, ecological, and paleogeographical conditions in which they lived. These can be studied statically at fixed times in the past or present, and dynamically as they are seen to change through evolutionary and geological time. Because of the Museum and what it facilitates in terms of hands-on experience, our teaching and research programs have long been known for their empirical focus, with an emphasis on testing new ideas as well as generating them.