Find clues to the past from plant and animal fossils.

Quick Stats

Salary Range
$44,000 – $161,000

Data from U.S. Department of Labor

What do Paleontologists do?

A Paleontologist unearths and studies fossils of extinct plants and animals — which are Mother Nature’s time capsules. As you know, time capsules are filled with objects, then buried for discovery by future civilizations for the purpose of learning about the past. If you opened a time capsule that was buried in 1975, for example, you’d probably find disco balls, bellbottoms, and eight-track tapes. Paleontologists, however, open time capsules that go further back in history than that — thousands, or even millions, of years, in fact.

As a Paleontologist, you’re a type of Archaeologist who’s employed by a government, university, or museum, which pays you to travel the globe searching for prehistoric fossils. Those fossils include body fossils — for instance, bones, teeth, claws, eggs, and other remains — and trace fossils: for example, footprints, bite marks, and nests. When they’re found, you visit the sites in order to supervise and participate in digs, the purpose of which is excavating fossils.

Of course, your job doesn’t end there. Once you’ve found and unearthed the fossils, you’re responsible for preserving them, transporting them to a lab, then studying them with special equipment and processes in order to determine what they are, as well as their origin, age, and composition.

The goal: As if you were opening a time capsule, you use the objects you discover to construct a factual narrative about the past, which can help explain geological processes like fossilization, historical events like ice ages, and scientific theories like evolution. It’s “CSI: Ancient Earth,” and you’re the star.

Should I be a Paleontologist?

You should have a bachelor's degree or higher and share these traits:
  • Trustworthy: You are known for your personal integrity and honesty.
  • Detail Oriented: You pay close attention to all the little details.
  • Logical Thinker: You take a step-by-step approach to analyze information and solve problems.

  • Also known as: Invertebrate Paleontologist, Micropaleontologist, Micro Paleontologist

    How to become a Paleontologist

    Most Paleontologists have a Bachelor's degree. Chart?chd=s:aba9ta&chl=|certificate+%281%25%29||bachelor%27s+%2857%25%29|master%27s+%2842%25%29|&cht=p3&chs=466x180&chxr=0,0,57
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