Geology 3200 - Fall, 2016

History of Life

Department of Physics, Astronomy, and Geosciences

Valdosta State University

Professor: Dr. Donald M. Thieme                Lecture Period:         2:00-2:50 MW Nevins 3041

                                                                        Lab Period:               3:00-5:50 M Nevins 2032

Office: 2046 Nevins Hall _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _       Web Page:

Phone: 219-1345 _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _        E-Mail:

Office Hours: M 11-12, F 10-12 or by appointment


Cowen, Richard, 2013, History of Life, 5th Edition. Blackwell, Oxford, UK.

Course Purpose and Overview

Life on our planet, Earth, has a rich history which is one of the more important sources of information on the history of the rocks and physical environment of our planet itself. GEOL 3200 explores the origins of life on our planet and its evolution from the earliest fossil evidence through to the present day. Traditional topics in both invertebrate and vertebrate paleontology will be covered such as modes of fossilization, taxonomy, anatomy, diversification, and biostratigraphy. We will also discuss more recent debates and literature concerning the evidence for life on other planets, mass extinction events, global climate change, human evolution, and the changing chemistry of the atmosphere, oceans, and rocks beneath the land surface.

Course Content and Attendance

I will take attendance during the first few weeks of class, but that is primarily to get to know you. There will be no points awarded for attendance, but attendance at labs is mandatory and it will not be possible to make up those points after you miss a lab. Lectures will be based upon the textbook by Cowen, more or less in chapter order (see schedule below). However, I will cover some material that is not in your book. You will be required, in particular, to read primary literature on topics such as the Cambrian explosion, mass extinction events, human evolution, plant and animal migrations, and Quaternary climate change. Supplemental materials about invertebrate fossils and fossil assemblages will also be posted online with links from Blazeview.


Lab project

A 100 point semester-long project will be due the last week of the semester. This assignment will be discussed the first week of classes. Students will be required to show proof of progress at several points during the semester.

Field Trips

One mandatory field trip has been planned for students in Geol-3200. The 40 points earned for this field trip are part of the total of 1000 points for this course, meaning that it is basically required of all students in Geol-3200. I will try to schedule an extra credit trip to the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, Florida. You also have the opportunity to attend other departmental field trips that are offered this semester. These optional trips are worth 10 extra credit points per trip and so you can earn as much as 40 points extra credit by attending all trips.


There will be two hour-long exams (120 points each) during the semester and a final exam (200 points) given at the course's completion. The final exam will include approximately 100 points of material covered after the third lecture exam and 100 points of comprehensive material. Make up exams will only be given in the case of extreme circumstances. Illness will only be considered a valid excuse for missing an exam if you can provide a doctor's note stating that you were too ill to attend the test.

There will be a take-home essay assignment given as part of each exam. You will be required to read a work of primary literature on one of the topics covered in the exam and write a critical analysis of that topic in your own words. The essays will count for about 20 percent of the exam grade, i.e. 20 points on the 120 point exams.

There will be a 20 point quiz every Wednesday (except test weeks). A total of 12 quizzes will be given for a total of 240 points out of the 1000 point total. All of your scores will be applied to your grade. There are NO dropped quizzes!

The laboratory section of Geol-3200 is required of all students. There will be 12 lab exercises completed during the semester, and the lab write-ups will always be due one week after the lab has been completed. At 15 points each, the 12 exercises will be worth 180 points out of the 1000 point total. Late labs will be deducted 10% per day late.

A total of 1000 points may be earned during the course of the semester, allocated as follows:

Two hour-long exams (120 pts each, NO dropped tests) - 240 points

One final exam (the final exam is mandatory) - - - - - - - - 200 points

Weekly quizzes (20 pts each, NO dropped quizzes) - - - - 240 points

Labs (12 labs,15 points each, NO dropped labs) - - - - - - 180 points

Lab project - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -100 points

Mandatory Field trip - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 40 points

                                                                        1000 points total (plus any extra credit)


With a 1000 point total, you can figure your letter grade in the course as follows:




90 - 100

80 - 90

70 - 80

60 - 70

< 60





< 600






Disability Policy

Students requiring classroom accommodations or modifications because of a documented disability should discuss this with me so we can make reasonable accommodations. If you have not yet done so, you should also contact the Special Services Program located in Farber Hall and register with them.

Plagiarism and Cheating

Students are allowed to work in groups on labs, but other assignments are individual assignments. Any student who copies, plagiarizes, or otherwise cheats on an individual assignment will be given a zero for that assignment. There will be no exceptions and no opportunity to re-do the assignment.

Tentative Lecture Schedule and Readings: All Readings are in Cowen, Richard, 2013, History of Life, Blackwell, Oxford, UK.


Topics and Important Dates




August 15-19

Earth as a Planet, Early Earth, Geological Timescale

Cowen, p. 1-8, 21-22


August 22-26

Earth's Earliest Life, Endosymbiosis, Fossilization

Cowen, p. 9-16, 17-20, 23-34


Aug 29 – Sep 2

Kingdoms of Life, Classification, Cladistics

Cowen, p. 35-40


September 5-9

September 5th Labor Day, no school

Invertebrate Phyla

Cowen, p. 54-65


September 12-16

Cambrian Explosion, Burgess Shale

Exam #1 September 14th

Cowen, p. 54-65


September 19-23

Mass Extinction Events, Three Great Faunas, Plate Tectonics, Wilson Cycle, Sea Level

Cowen, p. 66-83





September 26-30

Early Vertebrates, Early Plants, Anoxia

Cowen, p. 84-104



October 3-7

Early Tetrapods, Amniotes, Therapsids, Gondwana, Pangea

Cowen, p. 104-133



October 10-14

Permo-Triassic, Reptiles, Dinosaurs

Cowen, p. 133-143, p. 144-163




October 17-21

Swimming Reptiles, Evolution of Flight

Cowen, p. 164-182, p. 183-191




October 24-28

Mesozoic Plants and Insects

Exam #2, October 26th

Cowen, p. 191-198



Oct 31 – Nov 4

Mammal Evolution

K-T boundary Field Trip (4th-6th)

Cowen, p. 199-235



November 7-11

Primates and Hominid Evolution,

Cowen, p. 249-258, p. 259-275



November 14-18

Plant and Animal Migrations,

Pleistocene megafauna

Cowen, p. 238-248, p. 286-293



November 23-27

Cenozoic Invertebrates


Holiday Break (23rd-27th)





Nov 28 – Dec 2

Glacial/Interglacial Climate Cycle,

Sea Level

Cowen, p. 276-285





December 5

Lab Project, Final Exam Review


Final Exam on Tuesday, December 6th at 2:45 in NH 3041