Eli goes to Stuttgart SMNS

In March, Eli Amson will begin a new job as Curator of Fossil Mammals at the Stuttgart Museum of Natural History. Congratulations Eli!

Eli was previously an Alexander von Humboldt postdoctoral fellow with John Nyakatura at Humboldt University then holder of a 3-year DFG project (Eigene Stelle) with our group at the MfN. Now we have a man on the inside at Stuttgart. Prost Eli! 🍻

Who’s a Bonehead? Novel Insights into Evolutionary History from Reptilian Skull Roof Structure

Read Roy Ebel and Eli Amson’s post describing their new paper just published in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Through investigating the reptile skull roof by means of high-resolution computed tomography (µCT), we unveiled a hitherto unknown case of convergent evolution and provide novel insights into the lifestyle of extinct species.
— Read on natureecoevocommunity.nature.com/posts/who-s-a-bonehead-novel-insights-into-evolutionary-history-from-reptilian-skull-roof-structure

Sara Varela awarded ERC!

Postdoctoral researcher Sara Varela has been awarded an ERC Starting Grant for her project MAPAS: Mapping Biodiversity Cradles and Graves

Sara’s project seeks to understand where and why biodiversity originates and disappears. To do so, MAPAS will use modeling and mapping of species originations and extinctions in deep time and to test the influence of different biotic and abiotic drivers in generating biodiversity.

MAPAS will be based at the University of Vigo, Spain, and will start in 2021.

Congratulations Sara! 🍾

Congratulations Roy!

Roy Ebel successfully defended his master’s thesis on the Convergent Evolution of Microanatomical and Morphological Traits in the Skull Roof of Fossorial Lizards and Snakes. For this project Roy processed CT-scans of the skulls of 99 squamate species and analyzed the morphology of the skull roof in relation to locomotory behaviors.

The thesis was supervised by Eli Amson and Johannes Müller, examiners were Nadia Fröbisch and John Nyakatura, and the master’s was undertaken through the Institute for Biology at the Faculty of Life Sciences, Humboldt Unitversity.

For his work, Roy received a mark 1.0 and was ranked 1st in his graduating class! Congrats Roy!

Elephant research featured in PBS documentary

Work on the Miocene fossil record of Abu Dhabi – namely the trackways of the extinct elephant Stegotetrabelodon – has made it into the PBS documentary When Whales Walked: Journeys in Deep Time.

The teaser above doesn’t show the elephant or the site, but the full trailer here does: http://pbsinternational.org/video/3sze48o2d6/4804/m2ztc/

And if you’re in the US, you can watch the whole documentary here: https://www.pbs.org/video/when-whales-walked-journeys-in-deep-time-sn9pvf/

This is based on the study of the Mleisa 1 proboscidean trackway site: Bibi, F., Kraatz, B. P., Craig, N., Beech, M., Schuster, M., & Hill, A. (2012). Early evidence for complex social structure in Proboscidea from a late Miocene trackway site in the United Arab Emirates. Biology Letters, 8(4), 670-673.

Fieldwork in Sudan – 2019

Our team led by Bibi has just returned from a month’s fieldwork in the Pleistocene deposits of the upper Atbara River in eastern Sudan. This was the second season there and the first of a 3 year project funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). Lots of cool fossils found! Besides the Museum für Naturkunde, our team includes partners from Alneelain University, the International African University, and the University of Khartoum, as well as Technical University (Berlin), the Leibniz Institute for Applied Geophysics (Hannover), Western University (USA), and the University of Bordeaux. Fossils and lithics en route to Berlin for study, rock samples for paleoenvironmental analysis and OSL and ESR dating. Stay tuned.

Congrats Khalaf!


On December 4th Khalafallah Salih successfully defended his PhD on the Diversity and Systematics of the Late Cretaceous Crocodyliformes of Sudan at the Technische Universität Berlin. Congratulations Khalaf!

Elephants of Abu Dhabi

Faysal Bibi just returned from Abu Dhabi for filming part of a documentary by PBS and Smithsonian Channel on the evolution of elephants. Shooting took place at the site of Mleisa 1, which records the trackways of prehistoric elephants that walked across the Abu Dhabi landscape 7 million years ago. The site is important because it preserves the footprints of a herd of individuals, suggesting that Miocene elephants exhibited similar social structure as elephants today.

New Pleistocene fieldwork in Sudan

In January 2018, Faysal Bibi led an international team in a paleontological survey of the upper Atbara River and Setit River Valleys in eastern Sudan. Previous work had documented the presence of middle to late Pleistocene sites in the region and our team discovered many more new localities and a diverse fauna. This work was supported by a National Geographic Explorer’s Grant and the German Research Foundation (DFG), and included Johannes Müller (MfN), Robert Bussert (TU Berlin), Brian Kraatz (Western U.), and colleagues Ali Eisawi from Neelain University and Omer el Bedri from African University in Khartoum.

A new fossil hippo from Abu Dhabi

NHM M49464, holotype mandible of A. qeshta

In April 2017, our team described a new species of fossil hippopotamus from the late Miocene Baynunah Formation in the United Arab Emirates. In a study published in the journal Palaeovertebrata, scientists led by Jean-Renaud Boisserie described the species Archaeopotamus qeshta, a primitive hippo with close relatives previously described from late Miocene to early Pleistocene sites in Kenya and possibly Tanzania. The new species name ‘queshta’ comes from the Egyptian name for the modern hippopotamus ‘sayed qeshta’ (سيد قشطى) which means ‘Mr. Cream’.

Reference: Boisserie, J.-R., M. Schuster, M. Beech, A. Hill, and F. Bibi. 2017. A new species of hippopotamine (Cetartiodactyla, Hippopotamidae) from the late Miocene Baynunah Formation, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Palaeovertebrata 41:doi: 10.18563/pv.41.1.e2