Scripps Institution of Oceanography: Introduction to Paleontology

Department: Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Instructor: Rials Christensen 
Instructor Email:;
Prerequisites: None

Course Description

In this course, students will learn about the history of life on earth, form the origin of life to the present. We will discuss topics such as evolution, extinction, biologic interactions through time, biodiversity, and the role that environment plays in shaping life on earth. These topics will be explored through hands-on laboratory activities and demonstrations where students will be able to work with fossils and rocks, as well as through field trips to various fossil localities and museums in Southern California, including the San Diego Natural History Museum. Students in this course should have an interest in science and nature, but do not need to have a science background.  As a result of the course, students will have an appreciation for the history and complexity of life on earth, and a better understanding of how the natural world works.

Content and Evaluation

Students will be responsible for material presented in class, as well as for assigned readings from textbook chapters and the primary literature, where appropriate. There will be daily reflective writing assignments, lab assignments, weekly quizzes, and a final project.

Topical Outline

Topics to be disucssed include:

  • Geologic Time and the Geologic Record
  • Rock Types and Sedimentary Structures
  • Modes of Fossil Preservation
  • The Origin of Life
  • Evolution
  • Extinction
  • History of Marine Life
  • Evolution of Life on Land
  • Dinosaurs
  • Evolution of Mammals
  • Southern California’s Fossil Record
  • Human impacts


*Courses vary by experience and exposure to content. Instructors have the ability to change content and pace to serve the needs of students.


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