Niles Eldredge
Niles Eldredge is an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

Paleontology "old, ancient", ὄν, ὀντ- "being, creature", and λόγος "speech, thought") is the study of prehistoric life. It includes the study of fossils to determine organisms' evolution and interactions with each other and their environments...

, who, along with Stephen Jay Gould
Stephen Jay Gould
Stephen Jay Gould was an American paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and historian of science. He was also one of the most influential and widely read writers of popular science of his generation....

, proposed the theory of punctuated equilibrium
Punctuated equilibrium
Punctuated equilibrium is a theory in evolutionary biology which proposes that most species will exhibit little net evolutionary change for most of their geological history, remaining in an extended state called stasis...

 in 1972.
Eldredge began his undergraduate studies in Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 at Columbia University
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

. Before completing his degree he switched to the study of anthropology
Anthropology is the study of humanity. It has origins in the humanities, the natural sciences, and the social sciences. The term "anthropology" is from the Greek anthrōpos , "man", understood to mean mankind or humanity, and -logia , "discourse" or "study", and was first used in 1501 by German...

 under Norman D. Newell
Norman D. Newell
Norman Dennis Newell was professor of geology at Columbia University, and chairman and curator of invertebrate paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.-Personal life:...

. It was at this time that his work at the American Museum of Natural History began, under the combined Columbia University-American Museum graduate studies program.

Eldredge graduated summa cum laude
Latin honors
Latin honors are Latin phrases used to indicate the level of academic distinction with which an academic degree was earned. This system is primarily used in the United States, Canada, and in many countries of continental Europe, though some institutions also use the English translation of these...

from Columbia College of Columbia University
Columbia College of Columbia University
Columbia College is the oldest undergraduate college at Columbia University, situated on the university's main campus in Morningside Heights in the borough of Manhattan in New York City. It was founded in 1754 by the Church of England as King's College, receiving a Royal Charter from King George II...

 in 1965, and enrolled in the university's doctoral program while continuing his research at the museum.