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Recent Fieldwork at Għar Dalam Cave, Malta

Wednesday, February 3, 2016 - 9:10am

Dr. Pilaar Birch joined a team from the Natural History Museum, London, and the National Museum of Natural History, Malta at the cave of Għar Dalam for a week of fieldwork in January 2016. The cave was excavated extensively during the 20th century, and thousands of fossil and sub-fossil bones from pygmy hippos, tiny elephants, and dwarf deer were recovered. These are now displayed in a museum outside the cave. With the support of Senior Curator John J. Borg, a new project funded by a grant from the Leverhulme Trust and led by Dr. Adrian Lister and Dr. Victoria Herridge is studying the dynamics of island evolution and the process of dwarfing through time in relation to climate change and sea-level rise during past glacial cycles. Did these species gradually become smaller as they were isolated on Malta, or did dwarfing occur earlier, on Sicily, and the animals migrate via a glacial period land bridge? The project is also investigating the nature of deposition in the cave and the temporal relationship of these species to one another. Dr. Pilaar Birch will be analyzing oxygen and carbon isotope ratios from the tooth enamel of deer, hippo, and elephant in order toreconstruct the climatological setting and possible dietary niche separation of these species.