GEOL 331/BSCI 333 Principles of Paleontology

Fall Semester 2018

Death assemblage of the Paleogene oreodont Miniochoerus at the Tate Geological Museum at Casper College

LECTURE: Jimenez Hall (034 JMZ) 1120 9:30-10:45 am TuTh
LAB: Geology Building (237 GEO) 2107 2:00-5:00 pm Th

Instructors: Dr. Thomas R. Holtz, Jr.
Room: Geology Building (237 GEO) 4106
Office Hours: Thurs 12-1:30 pm, or by appointment
Phone: (301) 405-4084, Email:

Dr. John W. Merck, Jr.
Room: Geology Building (237 GEO) 1119
Office Hours: Thurs 12-2 pm, or by appointment
Phone: (301) 405-4379, Email:


NOTE: It is your responsibility as a student to completely read through and understand this syllabus. If you have questions about it, please contact Drs. Holtz or Merck. You will be held responsible for following all requirements of this syllabus.

Course Description: Life of the geologic past as revealed by the fossil record. Students will examine how the physical remains of organisms and traces of their behavior in incorporated into the geologic record. They will examine how paleontologists to determine geologic ages and ancient environments; evolutionary history and extinctions; and the biology and behavior of extinct organisms.

Learning Outcomes: By the end of the semester, every student should be able to:

Themes: This course examines how scientists study the age, environments, evolution, origin, biology, behavior, and extinction of fossil organisms. Over this time, we will explore several big themes:

Textbook: Donald R. Prothero. 2013. Bringing Fossils to Life. 3rd Edition. Columbia University Press. 671 pp. ISBN 978-0891158930.

Course Organization: 2 lectures per week (Tuesday, Thursday); 1 lab per week.
One field trip to the National Museum of Natural History during lab time (November 15)
Lectures lost due to University late openings or cancellations or instructor absence will be made up as Panopto video recordings on the ELMS page.

Item Percentage
Midterm Exam I 20%
Midterm Exam II 20%
Final Exam 20%
Labs 20%
Lab Quizzes 10%
Homework 10%

Grade Scale: The numbers given represent the thresholds that must be passed in order to reach that grade (for example, A+ is 97.000... and any number greater). There is no rounding for letter grades; the thresholds must be passed. F is any grade below D-. Thresholds: 97, A+; 93, A; 90, A-; 87, B+; 83, B; 80, B-; 77, C+; 73, C; 70, C-; 67, D+; 63, D; 60, D-; < 60, F.

The Final Grade is the algebraic sum based on the numerical grades.

Midterm Exams (20%): Two pen-and-paper exams are scheduled for this course. They combine true/false, multiple choice, matching, identification, fill-in-the-blank, short answer, and short essay questions. They are held during regular lecture periods. The dates for these exams are September 25 and October 30. Absences from exams will not be excused except for those causes approved by University policy (see Office of Undergraduate Studies Course Related Policies page, under "Attendance, Absences, or Missed Assignments"). Only those students excused for these causes will be eligible for a make-up exam.

Final Exam (20%): The final exam has a similar format to the mid-term exams. It is cumulative for the entire course, but with a special emphasis on the material since the second exam. NOTE: This exam is on Thursday, December 13, 8-10 am. Please plan your winter schedule accordingly!! Again, absences from exams will not be excused except for those causes approved by University policy in the University of Maryland Undergraduate Catalog). Only those students excused for these causes will be eligible for a make-up exam.

Labs (20% total): Essentially every week there will be a lab. Labs are due the week after they are assigned, allowing students time to examine specimens over the course of the week if they wish.

Lab Quizzes (10% total): In order to evaluate your understanding of the anatomy and identity of fossil material, a series of lab quizzes will be held at the beginning of lab time starting in the third week of the course. The lowest lab quiz grade will be automatically dropped.

Homework (10% total): Throughout the course a set of homework projects are assigned to examine your knowledge of the lecture material.

Extra Credit: No separate extra credit assignments as such planned for this course, although individual exams and homework assignments may have extra credit questions which add up in the final course grade.


Expectations and Policies

Expectations & Attendance:
Attendance in lecture is expected. If you cannot make a certain lecture, try and find another student who might lend you their notes. (In fact, establishing a study group early in the course has proven useful for many students in the past). If you want to achieve a good grade in the course, the time to start working towards that is from the very beginning! Keep up with the material as it is presented rather than "cramming" to study it right before exams.

NOTE: Attendance means more than mere presence: it means "paying attention". Please take out your ear buds and refrain from texting/web-browsing/doing homework/etc. in class and in lab.

Attendance in laboratory is required. At the beginning of each lab there will be instruction about aspects of that day's material and lab quizzes evaluating previous weeks' material. The specimens will often be accessible during the week if you wish to revisit them before turning in your assignment; however, due to loss of specimens in the past some individual fossils might only be made available during lab time.

Communication in this course will primarily be by means of the ELMS Inbox email system. In cases of inclement weather or other unexpected emergencies, the University may close. Please consult the University main webpage or call 301-405-7669 (SNOW) to confirm such cancellations. Dr. Holtz will contact students via ELMS in order to inform them concerning delays of due dates for projects to be handed in or for exams: typically these will be shifted until the next available class date.

General Policies:
The University has provided a page on Academic policies here. Each student is responsible for reviewing this page with regards to issues of Academic Integrity; the Code of Student Conduct; Sexual Misconduct; Discrimination; Accessibility; Attendance, Absences, or Missed Assignments; Student Rights Regarding Undergraduate Courses; Official UMD Communication; Mid-Term Grades; Complaints About Course Final Grades; Copyright and Intellectual Property; Final Exams and Course Evaluations; and Campus Resources. For specifics with regards to this course, see the following:

Laptop/Tablet/Smartphone Use:
Recent studies have shown that:

Towards this end, I very strongly encourage you to take notes via pencil/pen and paper. It is in your academic benefit to do this.

If you choose to take notes using a computer, you are agreeing to the following conditions:

When not in use, smartphones, tablets, laptops, and all other modes of electronic communication must be turned off and stowed away during class and discussion time. (NOTE: using your smartphone between your legs underneath the desk is NOT "stowed away", and you aren't and have never fooled a teacher or instructor when you try that...) If you are using the device for recording lectures, please activate them then leave them untouched for the remainder of the lecture.

That said, there may be some group activities in which we will use individual laptops/tablets/smartphones in class. Dr. Holtz will make every effort to inform you about this in advance. However, in those situations you may only use these devices for the task at hand.

Course Evaluations:
CourseEvalUM will be open for students to complete their evaluations during the last two weeks of the semester. Students can access CourseEvalUM through ELMS to complete their evaluations. You will be alerted about these dates and provided more information closer to that time, and students will be alerted via their official University e-mail account.

Students who complete evaluations for all of their courses in the previous semester (excluding summer), can access the posted results via Testudo's CourseEvalUM Reporting link for any course on campus that has at least a 70% response rate. You can find more information, including periodic updates, at the IRPA course evaluation website. The expectation is that all students will complete these. This is YOUR chance to anonymously evaluate this class: please use this opportunity!

NOTE: As part of the nature of the course, there will be a lot of memorization (less than a foreign language class, but more than that found in more mathematically-oriented introductory science classes). This will include lots of anatomical, geological, and paleontological terms, as well as evolutionary and temporal relationships. If you have difficulty memorizing, this may not be the class for you. Also, if there are words or concepts with which you are not familiar, feel free to ask Drs. Holtz or Merck (in class, after class, over email, etc.) for an explanation or clarification.

Copyright © 2018 Thomas R. Holtz, Jr. & John W. Merck, Jr. as to this syllabus, all lectures, and all written material provided in this course. Students are prohibited from copying and selling course materials, from selling lecture notes, and from being paid to take lecture notes without the express written permission of the professor teaching this course. Violations of this prohibition will be treated as violations of the University Honors Code and reported and dealt with accordingly.

  • Lecture Notes

    For a formatted printable copy of the complete syllabus, click here.

    Death assemblage of the Ordovician trilobite Dikelokephalina