Human society is fascinated with secrets of the past. “Escape into an ancient world,” proclaim the museum exhibits. “Let us show you the marvelous record we have of an extinct lineage that dominated Earth and has left nothing but these fossils behind! An evolutionary dead-end,” paleontological displays bark like a circus sideshow. In spite of such appeals to our most faithful audiences, a paleontologist represents the quintessential natural historian. The careful documentation of the history and biota of natural areas whose record is preserved only in rocks provides context to the more lurid views of the terrors of the past....

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