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A Paleontological Look at History


The fossil record of animal life is far more incomplete and patchy than even the most obscure historical records. Consequently, some of the approaches developed by paleobiologists over the past couple of decades to assess the reliability of the fossil record, investigate patterns and infer underlying processes may be useful in analyzing historical data as well. Here I discuss two examples where paleontologists have investigated historical questions, in one case the evolution of cornets, in the second estimating the survival rate of Medieval manuscripts. Depending on the scope of big history, there are a number of areas where history and paleontology overlap, particularly in the investigation of early human history. More rigorous analysis of the biases of the historical record may be of some use in determining which historical patterns are sufficiently reliable for further exploration.

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