Models in palaeontological functional analysis
Philip S. L. Anderson, Jen A. Bright, Pamela G. Gill, Colin Palmer and Emily J. Rayfield*
School of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, Wills Memorial Building, Queens Road, Bristol BS8 1RJ, UK
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.
palaeobiology, biomechanics, function, feeding, locomotion
One contribution of 12 to a Special Feature on ‘Models in palaeontology’.
Received July 1, 2011.
Accepted August 3, 2011.
This journal is © 2011 The Royal Society