Monday, June 16, 2014



If you are like me, you have spent some sleepless nights wondering what the difference is between an archeologist and a paleontologist.  Well, wonder no more, because I have figured it out, and I am going to explain it to you.

A paleontologist named Matt Smith
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

First, though, I will tell you how these two scientists are alike, which is that they both spend a lot of time digging in the dirt.  Some dogs also like to do this, as you may be aware, but apparently that does not qualify them to be archeologists or paleontologists, even if they dig up a bone.  This does not seem fair, but it's the way things are.

Trilobite Fossil
Photo by James L. Amos

Anyway, when paleontologists and archeologists do their digging, they are mostly looking for different things.  Paleontology comes from two Greek words that mean "ancient" and "creature."  So paleontologists study fossils and such things that will tell them how life forms evolved, starting at the beginning of the Holocene Epoch, which was about 12,000 years ago, and continuing to the present.  Paleontologists do not try to figure out how humans evolved, because that's what archeologists do.

The kind of thing paleontologists like to find.    

When archeologists go digging, they are looking for things that will tell them about human activity in the past, such as skeletons, artifacts, and buildings.  The earliest items that archeologists have studied are stone tools from 4 million years ago that were found in eastern Africa.  The goals of archeology include studying human evolution and also understanding the history of various cultures.

The kind of thing archeologists like to find.

TORQUE (also spelled TORC or TORQ)

A torque is a neck ring made of rigid metal.  Smaller torques could be worn on the arm, but most torques seem to have been neck-sized.  Cultures such as the Scythian, Illyrian, Thracian, Celtic, and European Iron Age produced torques.  Iron-age Celts who wore gold torques were known to be of high rank.  Some of the finest ancient Celtic art is found in torques.

A buffer-type torc from France, 4th century BC

Men among the ancient Teutons, Gauls, and Britons usually wore torques as neck ornaments.  When the Romans invaded Britain, they liked the torques so much that they awarded them to soldiers for brave acts.

Reproduction of a Gaulish torque


Plinth is an architectural term for the base of a column, pedestal, statue, monument, or structure.  Lots of pieces of sculpture sit on plinths in museums.  The base of a cabinet or an audio turntable is also called a plinth.  

The most famous plinth of all might be the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square in London.  This plinth was supposed to hold a statue of William IV mounted on a horse, but then the money ran out, and there was nothing to put on the plinth.  For the next 150 years, people talked, but couldn't decide what to put on the plinth.  Then in 1999, a commission was formed, and they came up with the idea of putting various pieces of contemporary art on the plinth.  

Eventually, the 4th Plinth will probably be used for a statue of Queen Elizabeth riding a horse.  But that will only happen after the queen dies.  In the meantime, there will be a series of contemporary art pieces at the location.


  1. Thanks so much, Dorrie. Not only have you shared some fascinating facts, but you have also given me some new Scrabble words! I am so pleased to know that "torq" is actually a word! And "plinth" should come in handy now and then, too!
    --Sharon. :),

    1. Dear Aunt Sharon,
      I'm glad you liked my blog entry. Just remember that if you need a safe place to store your torq so that it's out of reach of dogs, you can put it on a plinth!
      Love, Dorrie