Palaeobiology of Vertebrates

Schrenk flyer

Human evolution began about 7 million years ago, in Africa. The genus Homo started to develop approximately two and a half million years ago from its early progenitors. Professor Friedemann Schrenk investigates the origin and evolution of early humans and later descendants such as Homo erectus. His objective is to trace the chronological and spatial distribution of early hominids in Africa and Eurasia. Fossil finds near Lake Malawi have shown that the genus Homo and the extinct "Nutcracker Man" share a common origin. Schrenk interprets such data fragments against a broad background, which includes natural habitats as well as environmental conditions and available sources of food. Using modern analytical methods, an interdisciplinary research team cooperates in the interpretation of the plethora of information drawn from hominid and mammalian fossil fragments. This work goes well beyond simply dating the findings: the microstructure of teeth, for example, may explain function and diet as well as growth and life history. Analyses of skulls aid in interpretation of brain development and growth patterns, and the microscopic anatomy of trabecular bone patterns in long bones allow conclusions to be drawn regarding the locomotion of early hominids. Even isotopes present in teeth of mammals can help us to reconstruct climatic changes in the past or food preferences. In order to position these hominids in the evolutionary tree, the team examines changes in structure of the skeleton and the jaw in the genus Homo. Field research is conducted in close cooperation with geologists, who assist in locating appropriate sites for palaeontological surveys, as well as in dating the sediments and in reconstructing original landscape patterns. As Schrenk explains, "It is highly important to involve our African research partners and the local population in the fieldwork and to offer a transfer of knowledge concerning the prehistory of humans in Africa. In Karonga in Northern Malawi for example, there is now a museum covering the early history of the region."

Schrenk teaches topics ranging from the evolution of vertebrates to the functional morphology of fossil hard tissue. Furthermore, students benefit from access to the comprehensive collections of the Senckenberg Research Institute as well as international cooperation projects.

Brief Biography

Schrenk klein

Friedemann Schrenk studied Geology, Zoology und Palaeontology at the University of Darmstadt and in Johannesburg, South Africa. He received his doctorate at the Goethe University Frankfurt with a dissertation on skull development in rodents. He then worked as a research associate at the Centre for Morphology at the University Clinic in Frankfurt, and at the Institute of Special Zoology at the University of Tübingen before moving to the Hessen State Museum in Darmstadt where he was the deputy director and head of the Palaeontology Department. In 1994 Schrenk obtained his Habilitation at the Technical University of Darmstadt, writing on the topic of the Hominid Corridor of South Eastern Africa. In 2000 Schrenk was appointed professor at the Goethe University Frankfurt. He also heads the Palaeoanthropology Section of the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum.


Prof. Dr. Friedemann Schrenk
Schrenk Institute of Ecology,
Evolution und Diversity
Max-von-Laue-Str. 13
(Biologicum, Flügel D)
60438 Frankfurt am Main
Telephone: +49 (0)69 798 42230