Fossils and the History of Life


A wide-ranging introduction to this inspiring subject for beginners. Topics include:

  •  how fossils get preserved
  •  how to recognise some major fossil groups
  •  an overview of the history of life
  •  key ideas in evolution and the fossil record
  •  mass extinctions and evolutionary radiations
  •  recent discoveries

There will also be a chance to study many real fossils put out in the teaching room. You are very welcome to bring along your own fossil specimens which you would like to be identified or which you think are of special interest.

No previous background in palaeontology and geology is needed and no reading is required in advance.

This is a repeat of the same course that is taking place the previous day, Saturday 15 April 2023.

This course will close for enrolment 2 days prior to the start date

Programme details


Preservation processes: key ideas in palaeontology and evolution, and some major fossil groups

Tea/coffee break

Early life, the Cambrian explosion and events in the Palaeozoic Era

Lunch break


  • Practical session (~30 mins) studying fossil specimens in the teaching room
  • Life and death in the Mesozoic Era (~45 mins)

Tea/coffee break

Ups and downs of the last 65 million years: life and death in the Cenozoic Era

Course disperses


Description Costs
Tuition fee (includes tea/coffee) £95.00
Baguette £6.10
Hot lunch (three courses) £16.50


If you are in receipt of a UK state benefit or are a full-time student in the UK you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees.

Concessionary fees for short courses


Dr Peter Sheldon


Dr Sheldon is an Honorary Associate in the School of Environment, Earth and Ecosystem Sciences at the Open University, where he was a Senior Lecturer in Earth Sciences until 2015. He chaired the Open University course on Geology and contributed to many other OU courses. He has given over 80 courses in geology, palaeontology and evolution for Cambridge University’s Institute of Continuing Education since 1979 and over 40 day-schools for OUDCE at Rewley House since 1993.


Accommodation is not included in the price, but if you wish to stay with us the night before the course, then please contact our Residential Centre.

Accommodation in Rewley House - all bedrooms are modern, comfortably furnished and each room has tea and coffee making facilities, Freeview television, and Free WiFi and private bath or shower rooms.  Please contact our Residential Centre on +44 (0) 1865 270362 or email for details of availability and discounted prices.