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Models in palaeontological functional analysis

Anderson, Philip S. L.; Bright, Jen A.; Gill, Pamela G.; Palmer, Colin; Rayfield, Emily J.


Philip S. L. Anderson

Pamela G. Gill

Colin Palmer

Emily J. Rayfield


Models are a principal tool of modern science. By definition, and in practice, models are not literal representations of reality but provide simplifications or substitutes of the events, scenarios or behaviours that are being studied or predicted. All models make assumptions, and palaeontological models in particular require additional assumptions to study unobservable events in deep time. In the case of functional analysis, the degree of missing data associated with reconstructing musculoskeletal anatomy and neuronal control in extinct organisms has, in the eyes of some scientists, rendered detailed functional analysis of fossils intractable. Such a prognosis may indeed be realized if palaeontologists attempt to recreate elaborate biomechanical models based on missing data and loosely justified assumptions. Yet multiple enabling methodologies and techniques now exist: tools for bracketing boundaries of reality; more rigorous consideration of soft tissues and missing data and methods drawing on physical principles that all organisms must adhere to. As with many aspects of science, the utility of such biomechanical models depends on the questions they seek to address, and the accuracy and validity of the models themselves.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Feb 23, 2012
Journal Biology Letters
Print ISSN 1744-9561
Electronic ISSN 1744-957X
Publisher Royal Society, The
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 8
Issue 1
Pages 119-122
APA6 Citation Anderson, P. S. L., Bright, J. A., Gill, P. G., Palmer, C., & Rayfield, E. J. (2012). Models in palaeontological functional analysis. Biology Letters, 8(1), 119-122.
Additional Information Received: 2011-07-01; Accepted: 2011-08-03; Published: 2011-08-24