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Logotyp för Naturhistoriska riksmuseet
Logotyp för Naturhistoriska riksmuseet
Forskare framför helikopter på bergstopp i Antarktis

Field work during an expedition to Antarctica 2018/19. Photo: Thomas Mörs

The frozen garden of Eden: fossil vertebrates in Antarctica

Through research expeditions to Antarctica, we have collected thousands of fossils of vertebrates as well as fossils of plants and invertebrate animals. The project has yielded many scientific results (30 publications from 2011-2024), and the Swedish Museum of Natural History now has one of the world's largest collections of fossil vertebrates from Antarctica.

Forskningsområden: Paleontologi, Zoologi

Forskningsämnen: Antarktis, Evolution, Fossil, Utdöenden

Project overview

Project period: 2010 – 2023

Participating departments from the museum: Palaeobiology, Zoology

The Antarctic Peninsula is the only part of the continent where exposed layers from the Cretaceous-Eocene period exist. These layers provide insight into the evolution of plants, animals, and ecosystems from that time. Here, there is an opportunity to understand the central biogeographical role that Antarctica played when the animal world underwent dramatic changes at the Cretaceous/Paleogene boundary mass extinction event.

The primary goal of the research project is to find fossils of vertebrates. We achieve this by exploring deposits from various geological time periods: late Cretaceous, Paleocene, and Eocene.

Project description

At the Cretaceous/ Paleogene boundary mass extinction event, the Antarctic Peninsula became an important dispersal corridor between South America and Australia. It is here that we can hope to find more information about biodiversity and the ecology of past worlds - before, during, and after the dramatic cooling period of the late Eocene.

Focus on vertebrates

The aim of this project is to explore Mesozoic and Paleogene deposits in search of fossils, with a focus on vertebrates.

During the SWEDARP expeditions of 2010/11, 2011/12, 2012/13, and 2014/15, as well as the GANOVEX XI and XIII expeditions of 2015/2016 and 2018/2019, we collected thousands of fossils of vertebrates, as well as fossils of plants and invertebrate animals.

Scientific results

One outcome of the project is that the Swedish Museum of Natural History now has one of the world's largest collections of Antarctic fossils. Several scientific results have been reported based on this material:

  • First fossil frog from Antarctica provides new information on Eocene high latitude climate conditions and frog evolution (Mörs et al. 2020)
  • New Antarctic whale fossils give new insights in early whale evolution (Buono et al. 2016; Loch et al. 2020; Davydenko et al. 2021)
  • The oldest Antarctic terrestrial mammal provides new information on the dispersal history of South American mammals to Antarctica (Gelfo et al. 2015)
  • New paleoecological data based on Eocene Antarctic fish diversity patterns, including many new teleost and shark species (Engelbrecht et al. 2016, 2017; Kriwet et al. 2016; Schwarzhans et al. 2017; Kim et al. 2020)
  • New data on penguin palaeobiodiversity and anatomy (Jadwiszczak & Mörs 2011, 2016, 2019; Jadwiszczak et al. 2021, 2022)
  • Exceptional soft tissue preservation of Antarctic worm cocoons, including the oldest animal sperm (Bomfleur et al. 2015; McLoughlin et al. 2017)

Financial support

  • Swedish Research Counci - Vetenskapsrådet (
  • Riksmusei vänner (
  • Ymer-80 (
  • Carl Tryggers Stiftelse (
  • Polarforskningssekretariatet (

Selected publications

Mörs, T., Reguero, M. & Vasilyan, D. (2020). First fossil frog from Antarctica: implications for Eocene high latitude climate conditions and Gondwanan cosmopolitanism of Australobatrachia. Scientific Reports, 10, 5051. External link.

Mörs, T., Niedzwiedzki, G., Crispini, L., Läufer, A. & Bomfleur, B. 2019. First evidence of a tetrapod footprint from the Triassic of northern Victoria Land, Antarctica. Polar Research, 38, 3438. External link.

Engelbrecht, A., Mörs, T., Reguero, M. & Kriwet, J. (2017). A new sawshark, Pristiophorus laevis, from the Eocene of Antarctica with comments on Pristiophorus lanceolatus. Historical Biology, 29 (6), ss 841-853. External link.

Schwarzhans, W., Mörs, T., Engelbrecht, A., Reguero, M. & Kriwet, J. (2017). Before the freeze: Otoliths from the Eocene of Seymour Island, Antarctica, reveal dominance of gadiform fishes (Teleostei). Journal of Systematic Palaeontology, 15 (2), ss 147-170. External link.

Buono, M.R., Fernandez, M.S., Reguero, M.A., Marenssi, S.A., Santillana, S.N. & Mörs, T. (2016). Eocene basilosaurid whales from the La Meseta Formation, Marambio (Seymour) Island, Antarctica. Ameghiniana, 53 (3), ss 296-315. External link.

Kriwet, J., Engelbrecht, A., Mörs, T., Reguero, M. & Pfaff, C. (2016). Ultimate Eocene (Priabonian) chondrichthyans (Holocephali, Elasmobranchii) of Antarctica. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 36 (4), e1160911. External link.

Bomfleur, B., Mörs, T., Ferraguti, M., Reguero, M.A. & McLoughlin, S. (2015). Fossilized spermatozoa preserved in a 50-Myr-old annelid cocoon from Antarctica. Biology Letters, 11: 20150431. External link.

Gelfo, J.N., Mörs, T., Lorente, M., Lopez, G.M. & Reguero, M. (2015). The oldest mammals from Antarctica, early Eocene of La Meseta Formation, Seymour Island. Palaeontology, 58 (1), ss 101-110. External link.

External participants

Project members

Daniela Kalthoff | Curator

Mammal collections

Project Manager

Thomas Mörs

Deputy Head of department



Project members

Ashley Kruger

Research engineer



Resarch Areas: Paleontology, Zoology

Research Subjects: Antarctica, Evolution, Fossils, Taxonomy & Species description, Cretaceous, Paleocene, Eocene, Vertebrates, Paleoecology