Geology 3200 - Fall, 2020

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 2020

Lab Period: 3:00-5:50 M and 2:00-4:50 F (extra time), Nevins 2032

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

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

Office Hours: W 10-12, R 1-3 or by appointment on MS-Teams


Benton, Michael, 2019, Cowen’s History of Life, 6th 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.

Field Trips

Until this year, we have always planned a class field trip for students in Geol-3200. That probably will not be possible this year because of the COVID-19 emergency. However, I am still including 40 points out of the total of 800 points for a “field” component to this course. At a minimum, you will need to take one or more self-guided trips to either the Fernbank Museum of Natural History in Atlanta or the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, Florida. If the department is able to run any field trips at all, you will also have the opportunity to attend those this semester. Each student will be provided opportunities to earn the full 40 points and probably some extra credit by attending all trips.


There will be two hour-long exams during the semester. The first exam will be worth 100 points while the second exam will be worth 120 points. There will also be a final exam worth 200 points, given at the course's completion. The final exam will include approximately 100 points of material covered after the second 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 essays required as part of each exam. At least one of these will be a take home assignment for which you will need 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. Essays will count for about 20 percent of each exam grade.

There will be a 20 point quiz almost every Wednesday, beginning in the second week of class. Approximately 6-8 quizzes will be given for a maximum of 160 points out of the 800 point total. All of your scores will be applied to your grade. There will also be at least three video worksheets completed in class. There are NO dropped quizzes but there may be an option to complete and submit video worksheets through BlazeView.

The laboratory section of Geol-3200 is required of all students. There will be 10 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 10 exercises will be worth 150 points out of the 800 point total. Late labs will be deducted 10% per day late.

A total of 800 points may be earned during the course of the semester, allocated as follows:

Two hour-long exams (NO dropped tests) - - - - - - - - - - 220 points

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

Weekly quizzes (20 pts each, NO dropped quizzes) - - - - 160 points

Video worksheets - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 30 points

Labs (10 labs,15 points each, NO dropped labs) - - - - - - - 150 points

Class Field Trip - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 40 points

                                                                                                800 points total

With an 800 point total, you can figure your letter grade in the course as follows:




90 - 100

80 - 90

70 - 80

60 - 70

< 60





< 480








Face Coverings Policy

Every student at Valdosta State University must wear a face covering that covers their nose and mouth at all times while in any campus building, including in this classroom. This requirement is intended to protect the health and safety of all VSU students, the instructor, and the entire university community. Anyone attending class without a face covering will be asked to put one on or leave. Students should also be sure they maintain a distance of at least six feet away from their fellow students and instructor and are seated in a seat that is designated to ensure that distance. This will include any laboratory or field trip activities required in this cours. Students who refuse to wear face coverings appropriately or adhere to other stated requirements may face disciplinary action for Code of Conduct violations.

Disability Policy

Students with disabilities who are experiencing barriers in this course may contact the Access Office for assistance in determining and implementing reasonable accommodations. The Access Office is located in Farbar Hall. The phone numbers are 229-245-2498 (V), 229-375-5871 (VP) and 229-219-1348 (TTY). For more information, please visit VSU’s Access Office or email:

Title IX Statement

Valdosta State University (VSU) is committed to creating a diverse and inclusive work and learning environment free from discrimination and harassment.  VSU is dedicated to creating an environment where all campus community members feel valued, respected, and included. Valdosta State University prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, ethnicity, national origin, sex (including pregnancy status, sexual harassment and sexual violence), sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, age, national origin, disability, genetic information, or veteran status, in the University's programs and activities as required by applicable laws and regulations such as Title IX. The individual designated with responsibility for coordination of compliance efforts and receipt of inquiries concerning nondiscrimination policies is the University's Title IX Coordinator: Maggie Viverette, Director of the Office of Social Equity,, 1208 N. Patterson St., Valdosta State University, Valdosta, Georgia 31608, 229-333-5463.

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 Benton, Michael, 2019,      Cowen’s History of Life, Blackwell, Oxford, UK.


Topics and Important Dates



August 17-21

Earth as a Planet, Early Earth, Geological Timescale

p. 1-8, 21-22 ??


August 24-28

Earth’s Earliest Life, Endosymbiosis, Fossilization

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



Aug 31 – Sep 4

Kingdoms of Life, Classification, Cladistics

p. 35-40 ??


September 8-11

September 7th Labor Day, no school

Invertebrate Phyla

p. 54-58 ??



September 14-18

Cambrian Explosion, Burgess shale

Exam #1 September 16th

p. 59-65 ??




September 21-25

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

p. 66-83 ??



Sep 28 - Oct 2

Early Vertebrates, Early Plants, Anoxia

p. 84-104 ??



October 5-9

Early Tetrapods, Amniotes, Therapsids, Gondwana, Pangea

p. 104-133 ??


October 12-16

Permo-Triassic, Reptiles, Dinosaurs

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


October 19-23

Dinosaurs (continued), Swimming Reptiles, Evolution of Flight

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


October 26-30

Mesozoic Plants and Insects

Exam #2, October 28th

p. 191-198 ??


November 2-6

Mammal Evolution

p. 199-235 ??


November 9-13

Primates and Hominid Evolution,

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


November 16-20

Plant and Animal Migrations, Pleistocene megafauna

p. 238-248, p. 283-293 ??



November 23

Glacial/Interglacial Climate Cycle, Sea Level

p. 276-285 ??


Final Exam on Tuesday, December 8th at 2:45 in NH 2020