Meet the Curator
John Flynn, Frick Curator of Fossil Mammals, Division of Paleontology, and Dean of the Richard Gilder Graduate School
Author of more than 100 scientific publications, Flynn's research focuses on the evolution of mammals and Mesozoic vertebrates, geological dating, plate tectonics, and biogeography. He also has contributed articles to Scientific American, Natural History, and National Geographic, curated numerous earlier exhibitions, provided scientific expertise for several popular science books, and been featured in numerous television and radio shows, newspapers, and magazines.
Dr. Flynn has led more than 50 paleontological expeditions to Chile, Per, Colombia, Madagascar, Angola, India, and the Rocky Mountains, supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation, the National Geographic Society, NASA, and other organizations.
In 2001 Flynn received a Guggenheim Fellowship for a year of research, writing, and expeditions in South America. He has served as a member of the External Advisory Board for Yale's Peabody Museum, and was elected President (1999-2001) and member of the Board/Executive Committee (1993-2002) of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, the world's largest organization of professionals in this field.
With a specialty in mammalian paleontology and paleomagnetism, Flynn has spent his career searching for important new fossil mammal localities, as well as developing newer and more sophisticated ways to read the age of rocks and fossils, leading to more accurate geological time scales.
Flynn is actively pursuing laboratory research on the anatomy, DNA, and evolution of Carnivora, and has current field programs focusing on the Andes Mountains of Chile and the Amazon Basin of Per, as well as Mesozoic deposits of Madagascar and India. In addition, Dr. Flynn has been deeply involved in integrating research with Museum exhibition and educational programs, and he recently embarked on helping to expand and enhance the world-leading fossil mammal collections at the American Museum.
On recent expeditions to the Andes Mountains in Chile, Dr. Flynn and colleagues discovered a number of extremely important and rare fossil specimens, including the continent's oldest, best preserved fossil primate skull and oldest rodent fossils, both of which suggest an African origin for these important New World groups. These same Andean volcanic-derived deposits have produced at least 12 new mammal faunas, spanning at least 30 million years (about 10-40 million years ago) and more than four degrees of latitude, including a newly named South American Land Mammal "Age" (the Tinguirirican) and evidence for the oldest open habitat/grassland environments found anywhere in the world. This research also yields important insights into the relationships and evolutionary history of other mammals, including a variety of groups native to South America.
Similarly, six recent expeditions to Madagascar uncovered spectacular Mesozoic fossils, from mid-late Triassic cynodonts, archosaurs, and rhynchosaurs to tiny advanced mid-Jurassic mammals representing the oldest known tribosphenic mammals.
Together with several doctoral students and postdoctoral scientists, Flynn's research also has focused on integrating DNA with anatomical and paleontological data in analysis of the phylogeny and diversification of major groups of mammals, and has investigated the evolutionary relationships and the patterns and rates of evolution of the mammalian order Carnivora (e.g. cats, dogs, bears, weasels, seals, etc.) and its extinct relatives. Recent research has generated the most comprehensive DNA-based phylogeny of living Carnivora, and studies of body size and relative brain size evolution across living and fossil members of this group.