PALAEO 3005 - Geochronology, Fossils and Palaeoenvironments III

North Terrace Campus - Semester 1 - 2022

This course provides an advanced understanding of modern palaeontology as a multidisciplinary subject spanning the interface between geology and biology. It focuses on the importance of integrating knowledge about fossils, geological processes, sedimentary archives and geochronology to fully understand the history of life. Students will discover the types of modern scientific approaches used to contextualise and interpret fossil records, including the techniques used to determine the age of fossils and undertake palaeoenvironmental reconstructions from fossil deposits. The course will detail key events in the evolution and extinction of plants and animals, with a strong emphasis on examples from the Australian fossil record, and will explore how changes in diversity through time have been related to major geological, environmental and geographic change. Several core topics are integrated into the course with the aim of examining the fundamental role played by palaeontology in the broader study of earth, life and environmental sciences, including: understanding fossilisation processes (taphonomy); the stratigraphic context of fossil records; using fossils to tell time; advances in radiometric dating techniques; reconstructing past environments and palaeoecologies; using fossils to inform conservation strategies (palaeoconservation); fossil curation and management. Students will be given the opportunity to critically debate contemporary issues and controversies in modern palaeontological science, and engage in informed discussions of `big picture? palaeontology topics.

  • General Course Information
    Course Details
    Course Code PALAEO 3005
    Course Geochronology, Fossils and Palaeoenvironments III
    Coordinating Unit School of Physical Sciences
    Term Semester 1
    Level Undergraduate
    Location/s North Terrace Campus
    Units 3
    Contact Up to 6 hours per week
    Available for Study Abroad and Exchange Y
    Prerequisites Either GEOLOGY 2500 or ENV BIOL 2501
    Assumed Knowledge GEOLOGY 2500 if not taken to satisfy prerequisite, or ENV BIOL 2501 if not taken to satisfy prerequisite.
    Assessment Practical assignments, theory assignment, online quizzes, final exam.
    Course Staff

    Course Coordinator: Associate Professor Lee Arnold

    This course is taught by Associate Professor Lee Arnold, Dr Liz Reed, Dr Jon Tyler and Associate Professor Diego García-Bellido.
    Course Timetable

    The full timetable of all activities for this course can be accessed from Course Planner.

  • Learning Outcomes
    Course Learning Outcomes
    On successful completion of this course students should be able to:

    1.    Understand the importance of integrating knowledge about fossil records, geological processes, sedimentary archives and
           geochronology to fully understand the origin and evolution of life on Earth;
    2.    Demonstrate proficiency in common practical skills in palaeontology and an ability to evaluate, interpret and communicate
           scientific results obtained from fossil deposits.
    3.    Comprehend fossil formation processes in different environments, and recognise the importance of studying taphonomic
           histories and stratigraphic contexts to ensure reliable interpretations of fossil records.

    4.    Evaluate changes in diversity and palaeoecology through time, and assess how key extinction and evolutionary events have
           been driven by major geological and palaeoenvironmental change. 
    5.    Combine information from fossils and associated sedimentary archives to undertake multi-proxy interpretations of past
           environments, and assess how environmental conditions have changed through time.

    6.    Demonstrate an understanding of key geochronology techniques and modern analytical approaches used to contextualise
           and interpret fossil records.

     7.    Critically debate and evaluate current topics or controversies in palaeontology via group presentations and written reports.

    University Graduate Attributes

    This course will provide students with an opportunity to develop the Graduate Attribute(s) specified below:

    University Graduate Attribute Course Learning Outcome(s)

    Attribute 1: Deep discipline knowledge and intellectual breadth

    Graduates have comprehensive knowledge and understanding of their subject area, the ability to engage with different traditions of thought, and the ability to apply their knowledge in practice including in multi-disciplinary or multi-professional contexts.


    Attribute 2: Creative and critical thinking, and problem solving

    Graduates are effective problems-solvers, able to apply critical, creative and evidence-based thinking to conceive innovative responses to future challenges.


    Attribute 3: Teamwork and communication skills

    Graduates convey ideas and information effectively to a range of audiences for a variety of purposes and contribute in a positive and collaborative manner to achieving common goals.


    Attribute 4: Professionalism and leadership readiness

    Graduates engage in professional behaviour and have the potential to be entrepreneurial and take leadership roles in their chosen occupations or careers and communities.


    Attribute 5: Intercultural and ethical competency

    Graduates are responsible and effective global citizens whose personal values and practices are consistent with their roles as responsible members of society.


    Attribute 7: Digital capabilities

    Graduates are well prepared for living, learning and working in a digital society.

    3, 6, 7

    Attribute 8: Self-awareness and emotional intelligence

    Graduates are self-aware and reflective; they are flexible and resilient and have the capacity to accept and give constructive feedback; they act with integrity and take responsibility for their actions.

  • Learning Resources
    Required Resources
    There is no course-specific text book for GFPIII, though there are a number of recommended reading resources that provide useful overviews of key concepts covered during the course (see next section). 

    A list of relevant reading for each week’s lecture and practical will be made available on MyUni. Students are expected to read this material as part of their non-contact workload.
    Recommended Resources
    General course reading:
    The following text book resources provide invaluable introductions to key concepts covered in GFPIII

    Walker, M. (2005) Quaternary dating methods
    Available at Barr Smith Library Main collection

    Rink, W.J., Thompson, J.W. (2015) Encyclopedia of Scientific Dating Methods
    (See specific chapters on different dating methods)
    Available online through the University library catalogue

    Elias, S.A. (2007) Encyclopedia of Quaternary Science
    (See specific chapters on different dating methods, palaeoenvironmental proxies and climate records)
    Available online through the University library catalogue

    Benton, M.J. (2015) Vertebrate palaeontology 4th ed.
    Available online through the University library catalogue

    Jain, S. (2017) Fundamentals of Invertebrate Palaeontology: Macrofossils
    Available online through the University library catalogue

    Jones, R.W. (2011) Application of palaeontology techniques and case studies
    Available online through the University library catalogue

    Doyle, P. (2014) Understanding Fossils: An Introduction to Invertebrate Palaeontology
    Available online through the University library catalogue

    Bottjer, D.J. (2016) Paleoecology Past, Present and Future.
    Available online through the University library catalogue

    Lowe, J.J. (1997) Reconstructing Quaternary environments
    Available at Barr Smith Library Main collection 

    Williams, M.A.J. (1998) Quaternary environments
    Available at Barr Smith Library Main collection 

    The use of the Scopus database is recommended to locate relevant academic publications in scientific journals. This is an invaluable resource for the “debates and controversies” assignment. Scopus can be accessed from the “popular resources” quick link on the Library’s website and you can search by topic keywords to find relevant journal articles.

    Useful general science journals include (but are not limited to) Science, Nature, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (PNAS), Scientific Reports, Nature Communications. 

    Key specialist journals include Palaeontology, Quaternary Science Reviews, Climate of the Past, Earth Science Reviews, Palaeogeography Palaeoclimatology Palaeoecology (P3), Paleobiology, Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, Geology, Sedimentology, Precambrian Research. However, this is not an exhaustive list of relevant journals for the course, and Scopus should be used to locate specific journal articles across all indexed scientific literature.

    The following resources may contain useful content to enhance your understanding of GFPIII themes but they are often opinion-based and have not been subjected to peer-review. As such, they should generally not be used as the foundation for written work or presentations in GFPIII. 

    Try searching the following resources for keywords such as “palaeontology”, “paleontology” (American spelling), “fossils”, “megafauna”. 

    A couple of well-produced palaeontology podcasts: 

    A series of online popular science articles written by researchers in a journalistic style. They often showcase new scientific finds or research papers. 

    The University of Adelaide Palaeontologists club
    Online Learning
    Online learning will be delivered via the MyUni platform. All lectures will be recorded and made available online. Lecture slides and prac introductions will also be made available online. 

    MyUni will be used for course-related announcements and general information, posting of reading material / lists, and organisation of assignment groups.
  • Learning & Teaching Activities
    Learning & Teaching Modes
    This course will be delivered by the following means:
    • Lectures - 2 x 1 hrs per week
    • Practicals - 1 x 4hr per week for 10 weeks
    • E-lectures - delivered at the start of the course

    The information below is provided as a guide to assist students in engaging appropriately with the course requirements.

    A student enrolled in a 3 unit course, such as this, should expect to spend, on average 12 hours per week on the studies required. This includes both the formal contact time required to the course (e.g., lectures and practicals), as well as non-contact time (e.g., reading and revision).

    Learning Activities Summary
    Week Lecture Practical
    1 Course introduction
    Principles of  palaeontology and overview of the fossil record
    SA Museum visit: fossil galleries and South Australia's fossil riches
     2 Extinctions in time: key evolutionary events recorded in the geological record
    Major events in the history of life: Australian fossil case studies and global significance
    Debates and Controveries Assignment, overview, instructions, group organisation
    3 Stratigraphic context of fossils: depositional environments, geomorphic processes and classification of fossil settings (2 lectures) Sediment sequence analysis and stratigraphic logging of fossil sequences: cores and latex peels
     4 Biostratigraphy and biocorrelation: using fossils to tell time (2 lectures) Case study: Determining relative chronologies of sites using fossils
    5 Geochronology: dating principles and overview of different techniques
    Deep time dating techniques and palaeontological case studies
    Debates and Controveries Assignment group presentations
    6 Near time dating techniques and palaeontological case studies
    Interpreting site histories and fossil chronologies
    Geochronology application: reconstructing a site chronology using numerical dating techniques
     7 Taphonomy: death, decay and diagenesis (2 lectures) Assessing taphonomic histories of fossil specimens and roadkill skeletal assembly exercises
    8 Reconstructing past environments and climates using fossil remains: techniques and applications (2 lectures) Analysing sample datasets and identifying specimens
    9 Palaeoenvironmental reconstructions using sediment proxies and geochemical approaches (2 lectures). Analysing sample datasets: geochemical approaches to palaeoenvironmental reconstruction
    10 Palaeoecology and palaeobiogeography: reconstructing community dynamics and distributions (2 lectures) Fossil sorting exercise and recording community changes through time
    11 Interpretive techniques in palaeontological science: field and laboratory approaches (2 lectures) Vertebrate and invertebrate fossil identification exercises
    12 Applied Palaeontology: palaeoconservation and archaeology
    Curation of palaeontological collections
    SA Museum visit: collection management
    Specific Course Requirements
    Attendance is compulsory at all scheduled practical sessions
  • Assessment

    The University's policy on Assessment for Coursework Programs is based on the following four principles:

    1. Assessment must encourage and reinforce learning.
    2. Assessment must enable robust and fair judgements about student performance.
    3. Assessment practices must be fair and equitable to students and give them the opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned.
    4. Assessment must maintain academic standards.

    Assessment Summary
    Assessment task Type of assessment Percentage
    of total assessment for grading purposes
    Outcomes being assessed / achieved Approximate Timing of Assessment
    Practical assignments
    (10 x 2.5%)
    Formative &
    25% No 1-6 Week
    Theory assignment: presentation (5%) and essay
    Formative &
    30% No 1,2,7 Week 5 and 6
    quizzes (3 x 5%)
    Formative 15% No 1-6 Week 4,7,10
    Summative 30% No 1-6 End-of-year examination period
    Assessment Related Requirements
    Attendance at practicals classes is compulsory and will be recorded. The learning outcomes for this course are substantially
    dependent on this hands-on experience and practice. Therefore, missing any practical class session in a semester without an allowed
    absence will result in a grade of FAIL being recorded for the course. Students are able to apply for an allowed absence from a practical class by submitting an application form, with appropriate supporting documentation, to the Course Co-ordinator. Missed practical classes cannot be repeated at a later date.

    If you are undertaking the course again because you have failed a previous attempt, you must not use previous practical sheets, answer keys or any material from previous versions of the course in the execution of Practicals. Use of such material will constitute plagiarism.
    Assessment Detail
    Practical assignments: (25% of total course grade; 2.5% per practical)
    The students will complete a series of worksheets or assignments as part of each compulsory practical, which will be handed in for the marking at the end of each class. The practical assignments aim to improve quantitative and qualitative skills required to understand course material, and develop applied skills in the evaluation and interpretation of scientific results. The practicals will also reinforce theoretical learning from the lectures, as well as providing an opportunity to develop teamwork and communication skills among peers. Two practicals will assess observation and interpretive skills of museum fossil collections. Feedback will be provided during the following week in practical classes and/or via MyUni announcements.

     Theory assignment: (30% of total course grade; 5% for presentation and 25% for essay)
    A two-part take home assignment will be used to assess the student’s ability to independently research and critically evaluate
    scientific literature, and to develop their skills in writing, presentation and the synthesis of information. The assignment will focus on one of several contemporary issues or controversies in modern palaeontological science, each of which will be introduced by a lecturer during Part I of the course. Students will be asked to critically evaluate both sides of the debate / controversy and evaluate the strength of evidence available on the topic. The first part of the assignment (worth 5% of the total course grade) focuses on small group presentation and debate around the chosen subject, with the aim of developing verbal communication and
    group interaction skills, stimulating thought, and gaining feedback from lecturers and peers prior to undertaking the written part of the assignment. The second part of the assignment is worth 25% of the total course grade and the student will be required to write an essay on the same chosen debate or controversy subject. The writing part of the assignment is designed to test the
    student’s deep knowledge of a specific key topic and has a word limit of 2,000 words. Feedback on the written assignment will be provided in the second half of the course via MyUni.

    Online Quizzes (15% of total course grade; 3 quizzes worth 5% each)
    Three quizzes will be given to address progressive comprehension of lecture and practical class material, with a particular focus on key facts and concepts. The quizzes will be given at evenly spaced intervals throughout the course (weeks 4, 7, 10) to provide the students a benchmark for their progress in the first three units of the course. Each quiz will consist of multiple choice, short
    answer and data interpretation questions based on material covered in the preceding three teaching weeks. The three quizzes will be completed outside of teaching hours, and feedback will be provided during the following week in practical classes and/or via MyUni announcements.

     Final exam (30% of total course grade, 2 hours duration)
    A final written exam will be used to summatively assess all components of the course. It will consist of short answer and long answer (essay style) questions, some of which may require the drawing / interpretation of scientific diagrams, as well as
    calculation questions based on activities covered in practical classes.

    If an extension is not applied for, or not granted then a penalty for late submission will apply.  A penalty of 10% of the value of the
    assignment for each calendar day that the assignment is late (i.e. weekends count as 2 days), up to a maximum of 50% of the available marks will be applied. This means that an assignment that is 5 days late or more without an approved extension can only receive a maximum of 50% of the marks available for that assignment.

    Course Grading

    Grades for your performance in this course will be awarded in accordance with the following scheme:

    M10 (Coursework Mark Scheme)
    Grade Mark Description
    FNS   Fail No Submission
    F 1-49 Fail
    P 50-64 Pass
    C 65-74 Credit
    D 75-84 Distinction
    HD 85-100 High Distinction
    CN   Continuing
    NFE   No Formal Examination
    RP   Result Pending

    Further details of the grades/results can be obtained from Examinations.

    Grade Descriptors are available which provide a general guide to the standard of work that is expected at each grade level. More information at Assessment for Coursework Programs.

    Final results for this course will be made available through Access Adelaide.

  • Student Feedback

    The University places a high priority on approaches to learning and teaching that enhance the student experience. Feedback is sought from students in a variety of ways including on-going engagement with staff, the use of online discussion boards and the use of Student Experience of Learning and Teaching (SELT) surveys as well as GOS surveys and Program reviews.

    SELTs are an important source of information to inform individual teaching practice, decisions about teaching duties, and course and program curriculum design. They enable the University to assess how effectively its learning environments and teaching practices facilitate student engagement and learning outcomes. Under the current SELT Policy ( course SELTs are mandated and must be conducted at the conclusion of each term/semester/trimester for every course offering. Feedback on issues raised through course SELT surveys is made available to enrolled students through various resources (e.g. MyUni). In addition aggregated course SELT data is available.

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