ID 2213: A Look at the Past: Simulating Movements of Extinct Animals

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Research Internship / Project / Master’s Thesis

Collaboration with the University of Buenos Aires

Mammals and dinosaurs first appeared approximately 230 million years ago. Between the Early and Middle Jurassic, mammals are hypothesized to have shifted from one to several modes of locomotion. However, little is known about how the first mammals stood and moved. Fossil footprints offer valuable insight into locomotor behaviour, as they provide information produced by the extinct animal when it was alive. Therefore, these footprints can help validate functional hypotheses about locomotion of early mammals.

We research extremely well-preserved tracks and trackways recovered from Middle Jurassic outcrops in Argentina. These fossil footprints, e.g. Ameghinichnus patagonicus, display a wide spectrum of gait styles including walking, running, hopping, and galloping. The goal of our research is to further evaluate these trackways to infer behaviour of the animals and better understand mammalian evolution and locomotion of early mammals.

We aim to investigate these fundamental questions about early mammalian locomotion using biomechanical modeling and simulations. Biomechanical modeling and simulations have been used successfully to better understand and predict performance of human gait, e.g. to predict the effect of a prosthesis on gait. Similar to a prediction with a novel prosthesis, no experimental locomotion data exists for early mammals. Therefore, we can investigate locomotion of early mammals based on similar techniques. Specifically our goal is to link trackways with their trackmaker and investigate if we can extract information about the animal’s body size and weight distribution from the trackways using simulations.


  • Literature study into the selected fossil and fossil trackways, and into movement simulation of extinct species
  • Design and implementation of biomechanical models suitable for the fossil
  • Simulation study of locomotion using biomechanical model
  • Comparison of simulation outcomes to trackway pattern


  • Some experience in dynamics simulations and/or optimization


Prof. Dr. Anne Koelewijn

Junior Professorship for Computational Movement Science


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