Tilman Musch

Research Program Coordinator (Sep 2022-Aug 2024)

Dr. habil.

Tilman Musch conducts research on human-environment relations in arid regions. His scientific itinerary has led him to research sites ranging from Inner Asia to the northern Sahel, and most recently to the Central Sahara. He received his doctorate at the Institut de Langues et Civilisations Orientales in France with a thesis on spatial concepts of (former) nomads in the Baikal region and Mongolia. At the University of Bayreuth, he conducted research on territoriality, land tenure, and pastoral mobility among nomadic groups. In 2021, he was awarded his habilitation at the University of Bayreuth for his research on concepts of space and time in the desert.

Tilman is currently coordinating the research initiative “An African History of Knowledge and Science Beyond Academic Conventions” at the MPIWG. This initiative directs special attention to projects that creatively and critically examine the ownership of knowledge and promote collaborative enterprises that activate new generative conceptions of the “archive.” Under the umbrella of this initiative, Tilman is also conducting his own research on how humans, animals, and plants interacted and interact with the (hyper-)arid and scarce spaces they inhabit, on how environmental knowledge emerged and emerges from these relationships, and on how such knowledge contributes to resilience.


Selected Publications

Musch, Tilman. 2023. “Three fish species from Horchi (Tibesti Mountains, Central Sahara): Rediscovery after decades of drought.” Bulletin of Fish Biology 20 (February): 29–33.

Musch, Tilman. 2021. “Exploring Environments through Water: An Ethno-Hydrography of the Tibesti Mountains (Central Sahara).” Ethnobiology Letters 12, no. 1 (January): 1–11,

Musch, Tilman, and Dorothea Brückner. 2020. “Clayton Rings and Ancient Beekeeping: An Ethno-zoological Contribution.” Journal of Global Archaeology 2020:1–28,

Musch, Tilman. 2019. “Der Nashornspur folgen, wo es kein Nashorn mehr gibt. Fährtenlesen in der Zeit, oder: Tubu Teda als Archäologen,” Anthropos 114:145–56,

Musch, Tilman. 2017. “In den Sand geschrieben. Spuren, Brände und das Suchen von Kamelen bei den Teda,” Paideuma 63:207–30,

Musch, Tilman. 2015. “Six Days towards the Polar Star: Orientation among Tubu Teda,” Journal des Africanistes  85 (1–2): 282–10,




Sown in the Desert. An Ethnographic Study of How People Adapt Crops to their Environments

Over the last six millennia, the once green Sahara has dried out and become the desert we know today. In the hyper-arid Central Sahara, mountain ranges provided and still provide favorable habitats for humans, animals, and plants, in which they have evolved and adapted to the extreme environmental and climatic conditions. It is possible that such mountain ranges, like the Tibesti, were also centers from which Neolithic cultural elements had spread. Some oases in these mountains are home to an ancient tradition of growing useful plants, including date palm cultivation and horticulture. Horticulture gave rise to local vegetable varieties that cope particularly well with heat, drought, and probably also with the relatively high sodium carbonate content in some soils. These varieties have now largely disappeared, as fruits and vegetables are today mostly grown from hybrid seeds found on the global market. Such hybrid plants are more susceptible to pests and diseases under the extreme environmental conditions of the Central Sahara, “requiring” the use of pesticides and sometimes artificial fertilizers. Many gardeners have adjusted to working with seeds from the global market. Others continue to save seeds from the few older varieties they can still gather, or use those of resilient vegetable and fruit varieties from biodynamic cultivation that have been cultivated within the framework of projects. These diverse approaches offer an ideal field for researching how plants are adapted by people to grow in extreme climates. Using different crop varieties as examples, we will, together with the gardeners as citizen scientists, ethnographically investigate local strategies of selection, crossbreeding, evaluation, and seed-saving in the hyper-arid environments of the Central Sahara. The obtained findings from the present can contribute to a better understanding of processes in the millennia-old history of the domestication of agricultural plants.





Upcoming Events


Impact of Agricultural Practices on Pollinators, Pollination, and Food Production in Cameroon