The location of the United States in North America.
Paleontology in the United States refers to paleontological research occurring within or conducted by people from the United States. Paleontologists have found that at the start of the Paleozoic era, what is now “North” America was actually in the southern hemisphere. Marine life flourished in the country’s many seas. Later the seas were largely replaced by swamps, home to amphibians and early reptiles. When the continents had assembled into Pangaea drier conditions prevailed. The evolutionary precursors to mammals dominated the country until a mass extinction event ended their reign.
The Mesozoic era followed and the dinosaurs began their rise to dominance, spreading into the country before Pangaea split up. During the latter Jurassic Morrison Formation dinosaurs lived in the western states. During the Cretaceous, the Gulf of Mexico expanded until it split North America in half. Plesiosaurs and mosasaurs swam in its waters. Later it began to withdraw and the western states were home to the Hell Creek dinosaurs. Another mass extinction ended the reign of the dinosaurs.
The Cenozoic era began afterward. The inland sea of the Cretaceous vanished and mammals came to dominate the land. The western states were home to primitive camels and horses as well as the carnivorous creodonts. Soon mammals had entered the oceans and the early whale Basilosaurus swam the coastal waters of the southeast. Rhino-like titanotheres dominated Oligocene South Dakota. From this point on the climate in the United States cooled until the Pleistocene, when glaciers spread. Saber-toothed cats, woolly mammoths, mastodons, and dire wolves roamed the land. Humans arrived across a land bridge between Siberia and Alaska and may have played a role in hunting these animals into extinction.
Native Americans have been familiar with fossils for thousands of year, but the first major fossil discovery to attract the attention of formally trained scientists were the Ice Age fossils of Kentucky’s Big Bone Lick. These fossils were studied by eminent intellectuals like France’s George Cuvier and local statesmen like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington. By the beginning of the 19th century, Dinosaur footprints were discovered near the country’s east coast. Later in the century, as more dinosaur fossils were uncovered, eminent paleontologists Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh were embroiled in a bitter rivalry