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A vehicle driving in Zimbabwe, viewed from above
A bird embryo viewed through confocal microscopy
A colorful image of fossil bone microstructure, viewed through a microscope

We Explore the History and Evolution of Vertebrate Form


The paleontological record is the only direct window into the history of life. Conversely, it is through developmental biology that the specific mechanisms driving morphological evolution can be determined.

In our lab, situated within the Department of Geosciences at Princeton University, we seek to unite these disparate sources of data to form a single cohesive story of how animal form evolves. By placing fossils into a broad quantitative, geological, and phylogenetic context we can then use techniques gleaned from embryology to interrogate the mechanisms by which major transitions and the origin of major groups have occurred, taking these insights back into the rock record.

A man brushing sediment away from a fossilized bone


To pursue our scientific interests and contribute to natural history collections, we are active in conducting hypothesis-driven fieldwork throughout the world. The vertebrate fossil record is notoriously scant, so increasing our sampling of life’s history is paramount: every fossil we collect has the potential to drive the field forward.
Our field program is primarily centered around the Triassic Period: it was within this environmental crucible that the vertebrate lineages that define later terrestrial ecosystems experienced their initial diversification. In addition to the field opportunities available as a broader lab, we also encourage and support student-led field projects. 

Two men digging fossil bones out of sediment, viewed from above


Principal Investigator

Chris is a paleontologist and evolutionary biologist, broadly interested in the evolution of vertebrates across deep time. He is an assistant professor within the Department of Geosciences at Princeton University. After a B.S. in Biology, Geology, and Molecular & Cellular Biology from Cedarville University, he obtained an M.S. and Ph.D. in Geosciences from Virginia Tech, followed by postdoctoral work in the Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences at Yale University. 

A photo of Chris Griffin in the field


Barta, D., C. T. Griffin, M. A. Norell. 2022. Osteohistology of a Triassic dinosaur population reveals highly variable growth trajectories typified early dinosaur ontogeny. Scientific Reports 12: 17321. 

Egawa, S., C. T. Griffin, P. Bishop, R. Pintore, H. P. Tsai, J. F. Botelho, D. Smith-Paredes, S. Kuratani, M. Norell, S. Nesbitt, J. Hutchinson, B.-A. Bhullar. 2022. The dinosaurian femoral experienced a morphogenetic shift from torsion to growth along the avian stem. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 289: 20220740.

Griffin, C. T., B. M. Wynd, D. Munyikwa, T. J. Broderick, M. Zondo, S. Tolan, M. C. Langer, S. J. Nesbitt, H. R. Taruvinga. 2022. Africa’s oldest dinosaurs reveal early suppression of dinosaur distribution. Nature 609: 313–319.

Griffin, C. T., J. F. Botelho, M. Hanson, M. Fabbri, D. Smith-Paredes, R. M. Carney, M. A. Norell, S. Egawa, S. M. Gatesy, T. B. Rowe, R. M. Elsey, S. J. Nesbitt, B.-A. S. Bhullar. 2022. The developing bird pelvis passes through ancestral dinosaurian conditions. Nature 608: 346–352.

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