Introduction to Paleontology

Course No. 1657
Professor Stuart Sutherland, Ph.D.
The University of British Columbia
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Course No. 1657
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Discover the amazing story of the beginning of life on our dynamic planet.
  • numbers Reveal the mass extinctions that threatened life itself.
  • numbers Examine the ways in which life eventually adapted, evolved, and spread.

Course Overview

Produced in partnership with the Smithsonian, this fascinating and visually-stunning course opens brand new doors onto the 4.54 billion-year history of our world.

How did we—not just humans, but all of life, and planet Earth itself—come to be? To find out, you need everything from paleobotany and paleogeography to paleozoology—in short, what you need is the science of paleontology. From recently exposed fossils to new theories about our ancestors, this exciting science is positively exploding with new, game-changing discoveries. In Introduction to Paleontology, you’ll see how new technologies like dispersive x-ray spectroscopy and x-ray computer tomography have joined the tried-and-true backhoe, hammer, and chisel.

Introduction to Paleontology provides a walk back in time through Earth’s history from a lifeless planet to initial bursts of life, from extinctions to life again, and ultimately to our world today. Relying considerably on the National Museum of Natural History‘s curatorial expertise and extensive collections of paleontological fossils, maps, records, and images—with more than 2,500 gorgeous and unique visuals—you’ll see the world as it’s never before been envisioned. Additionally, the expert curators at the Smithsonian helped to shape the structure and content of the course, and reviewed each lecture against the most up-to-date information and understanding of paleontology today.

You’ll watch the continents shift in an infinitesimally slow but never-ending reformation of the globe. You’ll learn about the many times life on Earth has just barely survived mass extinctions and how the planet itself has changed, from a “Snowball Earth,” with ice covering the surface from pole to pole, to life-threatening global heatwaves caused by plumes of hot rocks rising from Earth’s mantle below ancient Siberia. You’ll follow 9 million years of natural selection, witnessing how a land dwelling creature the size of a raccoon living in India 54 million years ago would give rise to a line of marine mammals and, ultimately, Earth’s largest animal. You’ll even have a front-row seat at the 21st century discovery of an extinct species of our own genus, Homo floresiensis, the little people who lived on the island of Flores in the Indonesian archipelago.

Your guide through this revealing new look at Earth’s past, Dr. Stuart Sutherland,

Professor of Teaching in the Department of Earth Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver clearly explains in 24 in-depth lectures:

  • how the science of paleontology developed, coalescing information from geology, biology, ecology, anthropology, and archaeology to help us better understand the fascinating and sometimes shocking history of planet Earth
  • the development and use of the tools of paleontology over decades and through many technological breakthroughs
  • how micro- and macro-fossils can reveal information about the minerology, climate, and atmospheric chemistry of the Earth through time, as well as the interrelation of species with their environments
  • how trace fossils can reveal information about a lifeform and its behavior, even if fossilized remains of the lifeform itself are not available
  • why the only way to really understand our world is by considering it as a system composed of interactive parts, not as separate, stand-alone boxes of information

Dr. Sutherland is a paleontologist with particular expertise in microfossils and their usefulness in paleoceanographic studies. A multi-award-winning teacher with a great sense of humor, his fascination with his subject and passion for sharing the study of paleontology bring an infectious excitement to his lectures—whether he’s talking about a world-famous megafauna fossil find or the minerology of ocean sediments. In fact, when it comes to his love of fossils, Dr. Sutherland says “I’m a kid who never grew up. I get the same feeling of excitement as a 6-year-old when I wander through a collection like the Smithsonian’s.”

While the paleontological terms and species names might be unfamiliar, Dr. Sutherland makes the lectures very easy to follow by clearly stating up front exactly what topics and questions he will be addressing in each lecture, with a special focus on recent discoveries and new information. Each lecture also features a stunning array of visuals, many of which are exclusive to the Smithsonian’s legendary collections and have been expertly curated to help each topic come alive.

Meet Fascinating Creatures from Earth’s Past:
Earth today supports myriad lifeforms that seem very different from us, from microscopic arthropods to the massive blue whale. But in this course, you’ll learn about a variety of extinct flora and fauna that can be difficult for us to even imagine:

  • Trilobites, arthropods that were extremely important in Earth's oceans for more than 250 million years and, with their sophisticated eyes, were probably some of the first animals to gaze upon each other
  • Opabinia, a swimmer discovered in the Burgess Shale with five eyes and a long, flexible proboscis with grasping spines
  • Prototaxites, one of the largest Devonian land-based lifeforms, a massive fungus-like organism that could stand up to 26 feet tall
  • Lystrosaurus, a stubby, shovel-faced, mammal-like reptile that could eat surface vegetation and probably also dig for food in the impoverished world after the Permian extinction
  • Homo neanderthalensis, whom the Neanderthal Genome Project has now revealed to have been similar enough to Homo sapiens to have interbred and produced viable offspring, resulting in approximately 30 to 40 percent of the Neanderthal genome found in the human population today

What Caused the Cycles of Mass Extinction and New Life on Earth?
The expansion and spread of life on Earth has certainly not been a linear process of constant development. Far from it. Life on our planet has experienced numerous cycles of diversification followed by extinctions. The recovery and evolution of new life forms after a mass extinction has sometimes occurred in a relatively quick span of geological time and sometimes much more slowly. For example, before the Cambrian period, life on Earth consisted primarily of simple structures. But during a relatively short time in evolutionary terms, complex life forms seemed to explode onto the scene. Professor Sutherland also explores why Charles Darwin initially found this Cambrian explosion so disheartening for the development of his theories on evolution and how the Burgess Shale discovery greatly increased our knowledge of Cambrian life.

To better understand the cycles of life on Earth, paleontologists must ask questions that may sound strange to us today, such as:

  • Could something we regard as a sign of a healthy biosphere today have contributed to the devastation of life on Earth over 359 million years ago?
  • Has Homo sapiens already suffered a near-extinction in a natural disaster that may have caused a population bottleneck 100,000 years ago or are will still searching for a cause?
  • Is it possible that a microbe— an extreme thermophile just like we find in modern oceanic hydrothermal settings— could be the Last Universal Common Ancestor of all life on Earth today?
  • What series of events led to the Permian mass extinction, a catastrophe that wiped out around 90 percent of all species on Earth?

From Sea to Land and Back Again
When we look at today’s majestic whales, we sometimes wonder why their ancestors “chose” to return to the sea, swapping legs for fins. The question though is fundamentally flawed as creatures do not “chose” to evolve, rather, in the case of whales, millions of years of natural selection allowed the ancestors of the whales to inhabit increasingly more aquatic environments. Through many transitional forms, exemplified by creatures like Ambulocetus (the “walking whale”) these mammals adapted to and came to thrive in the aquatic environment. You will also learn the importance of understanding what is meant when species “share a common ancestor” as we examine the relationship between the hippopotamus and the whales of today.

When examining the evolutionary shift between land and sea, the significance of the Cerro Ballena fossil site in Chile comes into stark relief, not only illuminating the history of Earth’s large mammals, but also the process of paleontological discovery. When a construction crew widening the Pan-American Highway exposed a whale fossil site, Smithsonian curators and technology specialists were able to “excavate” the site digitally using 3D scanning. Scientists can now continue to study the site from afar while the fossils themselves are no longer physically accessible.

Learn about the Future by Studying the Past
Dr. Sutherland closes the course by discussing the role paleontology could play in the crises potentially facing planet Earth in the future. From the continual movement of continents, to known super-volcanoes that could be catastrophic to civilization in the future, to meteorites and asteroids striking the planet, Earth will most likely endure massive changes in the future as it has in the past. While there is little we can do to protect against some of these events, Dr. Sutherland gives special attention to those, such as environmental issues caused by climate change and pollution, that we may be able to mitigate with knowledge and vigilance. In his own words:

”By understanding the reaction of the biosphere to sudden catastrophic change in the past as preserved in the rocks and fossils, we can more fully appreciate current changes in the Earth system. But with conservation and proper environmental management these trends could be reversed. I think paleontology has a vital role to play in these efforts.”

Join Dr. Sutherland in witnessing some of the most thrilling paleontological finds in history. You’ll be amazed by the depth of information paleontologists can discern about planet Earth millions of years in the past and what that might tell us about our own future. Introduction to Paleontology will open your eyes to a history more thrilling than science fiction could have imagined. You’ll never look at your home planet the same way again.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    History on a Geological Scale
    Take an exciting virtual walk from the Washington Monument to the U.S. Capital to explore the 4.54 billion-year history of Earth, with each of your strides representing 1 to 2 million years. Along the way, fossils will paint a picture of life on Earth, from the earliest known bacteria to our world today. x
  • 2
    Life Cast in Ancient Stone
    Learn about the fascinating individuals and showmen whose curiosity about the Earth and its fossils led to the development of the science of paleontology. But how easy is it to find fossils? Learn about the geographic, climatic, and chemical requirements for a living organism to leave behind its fossilized record. x
  • 3
    Tools of the Paleontological Trade
    In addition to the basic mechanical tools still used in the field today, paleontologists now have an exciting digital tool chest. What can we learn from dispersive x-ray spectroscopy and x-ray computer tomography when they are used to examine fossils from the size of pollen to the bones of Tyrannosaurus rex? x
  • 4
    How Do You Fossilize Behavior?
    While we rarely if ever find the fossilized remains of certain types of organisms, we can find evidence of their existence as they interacted with the environment. Learn how these trace fossils-e.g., fossilized burrows, tracks, ripples, nests, feces-help us understand the early evolution of the biosphere and the diversification of animal life. x
  • 5
    Taxonomy: The Order of Life
    How much does the scientific name of an animal, past or present, really matter? From Carl Linnaeus' Systema Naturae to the modern system of cladistics, you'll be amazed how much we can learn about the history of life on Earth simply from our ongoing efforts at classification. x
  • 6
    Minerals and the Evolving Earth
    Paleontology provides a different lens to view how our planet's 4,400 minerals developed over billions of years-both influencing and being influenced by our evolving biosphere. Learn how Earth's few primordial minerals interacting with liquid water, plate tectonics, and eventually photosynthesis would create an explosion of mineral species seen nowhere else in our solar system. x
  • 7
    Fossil Timekeepers
    Our planet's fossil record reveals that the natural cycles we take for granted today were previously quite different. Learn how biostratigraphy, sclerochronology, Carbon-14 dating, and other tools reveal a historic Earth with a day as short as six hours and a year as long as 455 days. x
  • 8
    Fossils and the Shifting Crust
    Why do we find life on Earth exactly where it is today? Why are some species found only in isolated pockets while others are spread across multiple continents? Learn what fossils tell us about our planet's exciting historic migrations-of flora, fauna, and the continents themselves. x
  • 9
    Our Vast Troves of Microfossils
    When we think of fossils, we tend to visualize large shells or bones. Microfossils, though, can reveal a more complete and dynamic picture of the past, including some of the most ancient history of life on Earth and details of climate change over 100's of millions of years with a resolution just not possible from large macro" fossils." x
  • 10
    Ocean Fire and the Origin of Life
    For centuries, scientists believed all life on earth was powered by the sun via photosynthesis. That was before ecosystems, powered by chemosynthesis, were found at volcanic oceanic ridge systems. Paleontologists have now found examples fossilized vent systems over a billion years old and the life that lived around them. These exciting fossils and their modern equivalents may help us understand the beginning of life on Earth and point us to life elsewhere in our solar system. x
  • 11
    The Ancient Roots of Biodiversity
    What is the Cambrian explosion? Why did Charles Darwin find the apparent sudden emergence of complex life so puzzling, and what have paleontologists today revealed about this period of Earth's history? Learn what the very latest findings tell us about how the stage might have been set for such rapid adaptation and diversification of life on Earth. x
  • 12
    Arthropod Rule on Planet Earth
    Arthropods live successfully all around the Earth today, but it was an extinct group of arthropods, the trilobites, that dominated the globe following the Cambrian explosion. With the benefits of exoskeletons and their well-developed eyes, trilobites were a significant presence in earth's oceans for 250 million years, evolving into more than 20,000 species with a variety of life styles. x
  • 13
    Devonian Death and the Spread of Forests
    Today we look at forests as a sign of a healthy biosphere. But is it possible that the earliest forestation of our planet-as plants became larger, developed seeds, roots, and wood and expanded away from the shoreline-could be responsible for mass extinction towards the end of the Devonian period? x
  • 14
    Life's Greatest Crisis: The Permian
    What could have caused the Permian mass extinction, when around 90 percent of all species became extinct in the geological blink of an eye? Learn what paleontology reveals about the cascading series of events that led to runaway global warming and the greatest catastrophe faced on earth since the evolution of complex life. x
  • 15
    Life's Slow Recovery after the Permian
    Although after most mass extinctions, the biosphere is well on its way to recovery within several hundred thousand years, recovery took many times longer after the Permian extinction. Eventually though, life adapted and diversified into a wide variety of exciting new plants and animals. Enter the dinosaurs. x
  • 16
    Dinosaur Interpretations and Spinosaurus
    Learn how a recent discovery might answer Romer's Riddle" and give us a new picture of Spinosaurus, the largest carnivorous dinosaurs to have ever lived. With an elaborate sail on his back and an interpretation that this dinosaur may have been semi-aquatic, Spinosaurus is at the center of much debate in the paleontological community today." x
  • 17
    Whales: Throwing Away Legs for the Sea
    Learn how descendants of a small raccoon-sized animal that lived in India evolved into modern marine whales. From this small herbivore, within the geological blink of an eye, the power of natural selection would generate a whole array of wonderful creatures including the blue whale, possibly the largest animal to have ever lived on Earth. x
  • 18
    Insects, Plants, and the Rise of Flower Power
    We owe a lot to the angiosperms. Not only do their flowers create a world of beauty, but their fruits helped drive human civilization. But did flowers first appear in water or on land? And what is the history and origin of the wonderful partnership between insects and flowering plants? x
  • 19
    The Not-So-Humble Story of Grass
    With the evolution of grasses came the grassland biomes-the prairies, pampas, and steppes that cover almost 40 percent of Earth's land surface today. Learn how this biome impacted animal evolution, including our own ancestors as they moved out of Africa and around the planet, facilitated by a carpet of grasses. x
  • 20
    Australia's Megafauna: Komodo Dragons
    Meet the Komodo dragon, a 200-pound lizard found on several relatively small Indonesian islands today. Paleontologists now know these specimens are a relic population of a lineage of giant monitor lizards once common in Australia. But exactly how did these animals make that trip? And how much longer is their species likely to survive? x
  • 21
    Mammoths, Mastodons, and the Quest to Clone
    When the Mastodon became the first extinct species to be discovered, much that the Western world knew to be true-i.e., the Biblical description of the creation timeline-was suddenly called into question. Today, the Mastodon offers us another major ethical challenge: Would it be possible for scientists to use their DNA and bring them back?"" x
  • 22
    The Little People of Flores
    Although little folk are common characters in mythology, scientists had never thought they actually existed-until a team of archaeologists made a fascinating discovery on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003. But exactly who exactly is Homo floresiensis? And through what lineage could we be related? x
  • 23
    The Neanderthal Among Us
    For years, we thought of Neanderthals as brutish, ignorant, distant cousins we could mostly ignore. Not any longer. As revealed by The Neanderthal Genome Project, modern humans and Neanderthals were sufficiently similar to have interbred and produced viable offspring. As much as 30 to 40 percent of the Neanderthal genome may be spread throughout the human population today. x
  • 24
    Paleontology and the Future of Earth
    What paleontologists have learned about Earth's history so far reveals that change is just about our only constant. Given that only a minute fraction of the information held in the Earth's crust has been discovered so far, paleontology will continue to be a significant gateway to understanding the past and present, and perhaps provide insight into the future of our planet. x

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Your professor

Stuart Sutherland

About Your Professor

Stuart Sutherland, Ph.D.
The University of British Columbia
Dr. Stuart Sutherland is a Professor in the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences at The University of British Columbia (UBC). Raised in the United Kingdom, he earned an undergraduate degree in geology from the University of Plymouth and a Ph.D. in Geological Sciences from the University of Leicester for his studies on Silurian microfossils called chitinozoa. Professor Sutherland discovered his passion for...
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Introduction to Paleontology is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 115.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from This was such an interesting course. Due to my comparative ignorance about paleontology before taking this course, I was expecting more about dinosaurs, but I wasn’t disappointed in the course content. Some topics were a little boring to me personally, but the lecturer was fantastic and really passionate about his field. This course helped me understand the scope of the earth’s history and how the field of paleontology works.
Date published: 2020-05-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Really well done I’ve always been just a bit interested in paleontology and bought this during shelter at home for covid-19. It's holding my attention really well - the graphics are splendid and the presenter is quite good. Rationing one lecture a day, and I look forward to them. Recommended!
Date published: 2020-04-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good presenter. Program well organized I'm now 75% through this set and expect to finish in the next few days. The presenter is both knowledgeable and engaged. Visuals, while good, could be better, but I'm probably taking as a standard TV programs which are far more expensive to produce. I think a lot of it is geological history over time rather than paleontology in the strict sense, but that's good from my perspective. It is current within the last couple of years (I'm writing in 2020), which is important in a field characterized by rapid process.
Date published: 2020-04-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Packed with information and ideas This is a pretty comprehensive course covering the geological and biological history of earth. The lecture part has been carefully edited to use every bit of time to convey information and ideas. It demands the viewer's close attention. The visuals are excellent.
Date published: 2020-04-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course! I have watched almost the first half of these videos and felt I made a good purchase. The speaker presents well, appears knowledgeable on the subject matter, and makes the coursework interesting to listen to. I happen to love the subject matter even though I am not a paleontologist. I am a nurse with about 10 more years to go until retirement. I enjoy learning about other subjects besides medicine sometimes and this fits the bill nicely for me.
Date published: 2020-04-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant speaker and script is succinct Illustration and such are first class
Date published: 2020-04-11
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Introduction to Palentology Lecture #4 wouldn't run, so got good help from service rep to get replacement. Lecturer was very entertaining with a dry sense of humor and a bit of a tongue in cheek delivery. First few lectures seemed kind of shotgun across various subjects. parts of lectures seem to have advertisements for Smithsonian Museum system.
Date published: 2020-04-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well Presented This is a subject I have been wanting to learn more about. It is well presented and the professor has a great sense of humor. I have watched it more than once. Learning how paleontologists work and how they know what they know has been fascinating.
Date published: 2020-04-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Introduction to Paleontology Excellent presentation. Very detailed but easy to understand.
Date published: 2020-04-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Two Thumbs Up Very good introductory course. The wit of the instructor was a bit dryer than the typical American is used to, but I appreciated it none the less. This course was another 'Oliver Twisty' for the end, leaving me holding out my bowl and whining 'more, please.' I simply wish there were some advanced follow-up courses available in the library.
Date published: 2020-04-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I have enjoyed the courses I have taken to date I haven't started this course yet. However I am looking forward to it.... NOTE A few months ago I purchased the CIA course and it didn't meet my expectations....So after obtaining the information, I returned it to the address I was given...To date I have not received any information on it being received. Would you forward this request so that it can be resolved.... Thankyou in advance WDS
Date published: 2020-02-17
Rated 1 out of 5 by from I bought it about a month ago and I can't find it on my computer
Date published: 2020-02-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Professor, Great Topic This is the second course I have taken with Professor Sutherland and again he has produced a Great Course. He has an excellent knowledge of the subject, a well paced delivery and a sense of humor.
Date published: 2019-12-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A course in earth history revealed in fossils I purchased this course, hoping to catch up on developments in Paleonotology since I took a college course some years ago. I discovered that much of current understanding of this field has advanced significantly in just the past decade or two. The presenter is fantastic, with just the right mix of scientific detail, clear explanations of important concepts and humor. This is not a dry review of fossils and fossil classification; rather, Dr. Sutherland skillfully integrates the record of plant and animal life recorded in the rocks to paint a picture of the history of earth and the ecology of life through geologic time. I planned to watch an episode each night in a disciplined learning activity, but found myself watching several episodes each day, simply because I wanted to hear more. I am a professional geologist - although not a paleontologist - and I learned so much. This is a course that should be watched, rather than listened to. The pictures and graphical material are critical.
Date published: 2019-12-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exceptional course, superb professor Do not get thrown by some of the reviews, professor has great speaking skills, no problem with any accent. If you come across confusing terms etc, stop and look up. This leads to a greatly enhanced learning experience. Professor is very involved with this subject and it shows in his enthusiastic presentation. I would do another course if he offered one. You will not be disappointed with this, and will come away with a renewed realization of how little a part of the planet Man is involved with; we are but bit players in the dance of our cosmos. Loved the timeline using the national mall, very humbling. If you think it is all about dinosaurs, look up definition of paleontology. My only complaint involves the confusing graphs, axis sometimes goes right to left and the usual left to right, and also hard to read the titles on them. Perhaps a little more time on the screen, or maybe new bifocals for me since I watch while running on treadmill? Makes my 30 speed by!
Date published: 2019-10-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very enjoyable learning experience Very nice coverage of Paleontology; segues wonderfully with evolution by natural selection!
Date published: 2019-08-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Really liked the hall of paleontology ,graphics Professor engaging,content well organized,fascinating and entertaining. Each class very well presented by a wonderful teacher,scholar.
Date published: 2019-06-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good material, even for an advanced amateur. I have been reading and writing about paleontology as a hobby for 32 years. Still there was a lot of new material in this course. One should think of it as "special topics" instead of an "introduction" since the topics covered seem fairly arbitrary, but that is not a bad thing. Other reviews complained about the instructors accent, his lame jokes, the quick presentation of species names. None of that is a real drawback.
Date published: 2019-06-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exceptional excursion through time! I've always enjoyed finding fossils but their history escaped me. This course takes you back to the very beginning of life on earth 4 billion years ago and then describes and discusses the fossil record through every eon and period. This is not a dull course. It is fascinating and fun!
Date published: 2019-06-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Unique Presentation I have not yet finished the Introduction to Paleontology, but so far have found it to be enjoyable and informative. The only criticism I have is based on my own background in science and college experience. I found myself wanting him to get on with more details and a little less catering to those without a sense of the time periods involved. My interest in the subject goes back to Elementary School and time in the library then and in college as well as fossil hunting in our Texas Hill Country where ocean once covered the land and dinosaurs also roamed. I look forward to the rest of this course and being brought up to date on the subject.
Date published: 2019-05-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course This is an engaging, informative lecture series! The only complaint I have with it is that many of the papers listed for further study are behind paywalls which put's them out of reach.
Date published: 2019-04-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Terrific I have watched many Great Courses over the years but this is outstanding. I can't recommend it enough. It is a topic I knew nothing about in spite of having 5 degrees including a Ph D and 3 Masters degrees, in different fields. I will have to watch it again to really understand it as there is so much to take in. The presenter had a great approach with many practical examples to supplement what he was teaching. The graphics and photos, of which there were many, brought much of it to life. In particular it put our climate change worries in to context and made our concerns in this area even more potent and valid. What a different world we would live in it this were compulsary viewing for everyone. Many of our petty quarrels would disappear, including within and between nations, as we worked together to save our beautiful planet. Thank you for the opportunity to watch this. I learned so much.
Date published: 2019-04-04
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Dry subject I watched most of the lectures last year. I found the Professor knowledgeable and able to get his points across well. Only negative I would add is he wore the same clothes for every lecture.
Date published: 2019-03-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic for parents of small, curious children There I was, in the geology exhibit in the Harvard Museum of Natural History. We were in front of a 60-foot long exhibit of the history of life and the world. My three kids were baffled that life took so long to get here. They asked, "Why did life take so long?" Thanks to the Great Courses and Professor Sutherland, DAD HAD ALL THE ANSWERS. As usual, the kids didn't know that dad, during his 5 am workouts, listens to and watches Great Courses on his exercise bike. They just think he knows everything. Professor Sutherland was fantastic. I can't believe how much I didn't know about Earth and life. He is a fantastic teacher. The visual aids were wonderful. I learned a lot about geology also. I will never think of the planet in the same way.
Date published: 2019-03-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Wonderful Treatment of "Deep Time" This course is rich in language, visuals, and thought. Professor Sutherland is a lively presenter with just the right amount of humor and occasional self-deprecation, and he presents highly complex issues -- with the aid of appropriate visuals -- in ways that even non-scientists like myself can grasp. I have taken a few other courses that also treat of aspects of "deep time" and, as again in this course, I find it humbling to begin to "feel" how very old our universe and planet are! We are not just the most recent "kids on the block," but our arrival -- in geologic time -- was but minutes ago. How very long this beautiful planet was bereft of all life, and then how slowly, and ever so humbly, did life arise from the most simple chemical processes. This course helps one understand how truly sacred -- and, in the context of the known universe, rare -- life is! It is also sobering to recognize that the long deceased dinosaurs ruled over this planet for so many millions of years that dwarfs our entire hominid existence! The course is also timely because it dramatically shows how previous mass extinctions were the result of cascading effects which, once begun and despite their cause, served to render vast areas of the planet's surface and oceans uninhabitable. Given our own time's very real challenge of a rapidly warming planet, we would be well to heed how quickly the oceans can melt and their very waters become acidic and hostile to life after a certain "tipping point" is reached. If only the climate change deniers would take the time to learn from this course they might better understand the looming dangers facing us, and the grim consequences that are certain if we do nothing to lessen our negative impact on the planet. The science, graphics, and narrative are wonderful. I found each lecture engaging and thought-provoking. What a privilege to live at a time when we can know so much about what has gone before us!
Date published: 2019-02-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful commentary I am really glad that I bought this program. It is very interesting and informative and the leader makes it enjoyable along the way.
Date published: 2019-02-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Combines Disciplines This is a very interesting course because it combines different sciences with paleontology as Dr. Sutherland explaines. It amazes me how vast a store of knowledge many of the Great Courses professors maintain. My favorite parts are about the animals that lived on earth before humans and about all the extinction events that wiped many of them out of the fossil records. Dr Sutherland has a wonderful calm and gentle manner I found myself liking him and thinking of him as a warm and wise friend. He gives a kind of moral depth to the course that I find in many of the Great Courses. This one is very worth adding to your collection.
Date published: 2019-01-28
Rated 1 out of 5 by from boring presentation of an interesting topic 10 January 2019 Great Courses Introduction to Paleontology# 1657 Topic is interesting, but the presentation is BAD. His British accent is annoying, & his manner of speaking is bad – talks in bursts. Voice pitch is high, making it hard to hear for us near deaf. Should have at least have closed captions. Coverage is interesting, but way too many “best”, “greatest”, “most outstanding”, “best in the field”, etc. Attempt to make so many things as “biggest”, etc. is distracting. Graphics are mixed some OK, many very bad. Time scales sometime go right to left & some left to right – very confusing & and bothersome. Many time scales are too small to have any use. Often no good explanation of what a time line is supposed to show. A few errors, or major events not given, e.g. no mention of the Siberian Traps. Very annoying – at the start of each lesson there is a LOUD, long, over 10 seconds panorama of a sort of time scale with opening doors. Published in 2016, so now in 2019 is mostly up to date. This one is going back.
Date published: 2019-01-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good introduction to a fascinating subject. This course updated and far exceeded what I had learned in undergraduate and graduate level courses in geology and biology a few decades in the past. Professor Sutherland is an enthusiastic lecturer who is not afraid to ensure that facts, theories, hypotheses, and opinions (including his own) are differentiated to give good backing to what is being covered. My only problem with the course itself was the technical aspect of speech to text which was on the discs, not from my TV. Besides the distraction of seeing words printed all the time, often some of the graphics were obscured by the text. Additionally, these is no evidence the text to speech had even been edited ("mollusk" instead of "mosses" when talking about PLANT attachments to substrate. Overall enjoyable, worth viewing.
Date published: 2018-11-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Title is very descriptive of the course. Very comprehensive and well done. Dr. Sutherland assumes the student has no background in the subject. His presentation is very enjoyable and easy to follow.
Date published: 2018-09-28
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