Field of Science

Archaeologists vs. Paleontologists

The following blurb is from
The rivalry between archaeologists and paleontologists has been around ever since Hanna Barbara leaked top secret documentary footage showing that humans, dinosaurs, and Pleistocene mega fauna coexisted. This has led to a sibling rivalry, in which neither party can safely work beside the other, for fear of Indian burns, and getting told on to mom and dad. This forces each party to work in complete isolation from each other.
Archaeologists, for their part, hate paleontologists, because nobody in the general public knows what archaeology is, and the general public mistakenly assumes that they are looking for fossils of extinct animals. Paleontologists hate archaeologists for similar reasons, because the general public always asks them if they are archaeologists, and assumes they are looking for buried treasures, such as artifacts, coins, and arrowheads, and constantly asks archaeologists if they are paleontologists.
Public, Please get it right; Archaeologists look for people. Paleontologists look for animals.
I think almost all of us in the paleo profession have encountered this at one time or another explaining what we do to old friends, family, and the public. I've found when I try to correct them I'm just met with blank stares, especially if I try to go beyond the term "dinosaur" at all, so I usually don't bother anymore. It always amazes me that the public is certainly familiar with both terms but consistently gets them backwards when it come to the objects of interest. I've also heard what the first sentence of the article is hinting at, that most people's (Americans at least) only interaction with paleontology is through the Flintstones TV show.  Moreover I also have a hunch that this confusion may be why there are so few paleontologists employed by the U.S. government compared to thousands of archaeologists. A colleague blames the Cope vs. Marsh bone wars for souring the government on paleontology, but I think they might just be confused about the terms and historically thought they actually had it all covered. After all isn't that what archaeologists study?


  1. I'd be pretty surprised if the people deciding the ratio of archaeologists to palaeontologists have ever heard of Cope and Marsh. Or even Powell. Or the USGS.

  2. to be perfectly honest, a huge part of the problem is that archeology, in the public's and especially the press's preception, is full of arrogant egos who care not for facts, but only publicity.

    No, thank you, I do not want to be mistaken for an archaeologist (or worse, a palaeoanthropologist).

    And I pity the many thorough, honest and quiet people who do proper archeology and fight for funding every day.

  3. I've read Gould's books, and Johanson (sp?) on Lucy... but my knowledge of paleontology comes from a beloved professor who specializes in fusilinids and corals from the Paleozoic, and sees them through the lens of stratigraphy. So I never thought to conflate the two disciplines.


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