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School of Environment, Education and Development

BSc Geography and Geology with a year abroad

Year of entry: 2018

Course unit details:
Advances in Palaeobiology

Unit code EART30882
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by School of Earth and Environmental Sciences
Available as a free choice unit? No


The unit will draw upon the wide range of world experts at the University of Manchester; each week, a different expert will cover topics relating to their own research and cutting edge techniques in palaeobiology. As such, this unit will bring students right up to the state-of-the-art both in terms of understanding of current hot topics and practical skills. The format for each week will be a 1 hour lecture followed by an interactive seminar session (either directed discussion, hands-on practical, or some combination of the two). After the Easter break, students will give an assessed individual presentation on a topic of their choice from the course, in a half-day Advances Seminar.


-To provide insight into cutting edge evolutionary palaeobiology and science-based archaeology through important current controversies and analytical techniques.

-Equip students with the necessary skills and awareness to tackle important evolutionary problems using techniques ranging from biomechanics and phylogenetics to tomography and taxonomy.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course successful students will:

•       Have the skills and awareness to debate and discuss current controversies and hot topics relating to evolutionary palaeobiology

•       Possess advanced practical skills enabling reconstruction of extinct organisms from fossil data in terms of their anatomy, taphonomy, and evolutionary relationships

•       Have an in-depth understanding of ancient life including important evolutionary events such as the origin of birds and the origin of humans.


Week 1: Introduction: discovering, describing, and analysing fossils and fossil taxa.

Week 2: Bringing extinct organisms back to life: Imaging and tomography.

Week 3: Bringing extinct organisms back to life: Reconstructing locomotion.

Week 4: Bringing extinct organisms back to life: Ancient biomolecules.

Week 5: Macroevolution using the fossil record and advanced phylogenetics.

Week 6: Advances in dinosaur palaeobiology and the origin of birds.

Week 7: Palaeoclimates and Pleistocene extinctions.

Week 8: New insights into human origins.

(Week 9: Bringing extinct organisms back to life: Advanced taphonomy and geochemistry.

Week 9 or 10: Conclusions, bringing together cross cutting themes

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 30%
Written exam 70%
  • End of unit written exam (choice of two essay questions from four) – 70%
  • Assessed individual presentation (15 minutes) as part of a palaeobiology seminar day – 30%

Feedback methods

Feedback is available by discussion of ideas in class and through occasional informal quizzes, as summative and formative feedback on the individual presentations, and via an online discussion board.

Recommended reading

Each week reading will be provided for the relevant literature, mostly in the form original scientific papers and articles.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 10
Seminars 10
Independent study hours
Independent study 80

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Michael Buckley Unit coordinator
William Sellers Unit coordinator
Russell Garwood Unit coordinator
Susanne Shultz Unit coordinator
Robert Sansom Unit coordinator
Andrew Chamberlain Unit coordinator

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