The origins of the Geology, Palaeontology and Mineralogy collections can be traced back to Johann Heinrich Merck (1741–1791), and date from the 1780s. Ludwig X, landgrave at that time, purchased Merck's estate in 1792 for his natural history collection. This was the basis for today’s exhibition.
In the palaeontological exhibition, the focal points of the collection are demonstrated based on fossils from the last 50 million years. The most significant vertebrate fossils in Darmstadt originate from the Palaeogene, Neogene and Quaternary periods of the Cenozoic Era.
In the geological exhibition, a block model explains the plate tectonics and a wall panel installation made of Odenwald rocks illustrates the rock cycle. The main emphasis of the room is an interactive scanner that explains the history of the Earth. At the same time the geological eras from Cambrian to Tertiary are each exemplified by reference to a single significant fossil. A rare rudist reef from the Oman is representative of the Cretaceous Period.
The Palaeogene–Neogene–Quaternary exhibition area is dedicated to fossil sites of different ages.
The “White River Badlands”, in North Dakota, USA, are 40–30 million years old. This area has been explored since the 1840s and is considered the birthplace of North American vertebrate palaeontology.
Approximately 32–30 million years ago there was an advancement of the sea in the Upper Rhine Graben. The “Rupelton” of the Unterfeld Clay Pit and the “Meeressande” of the Mainz Basin provide fascinating insights into the flora and fauna of the time.
Approximately 10 million years old, the “Dinotheriensande” deposits in Rhinehessen are known for their wealth of large mammal fossils from the trunked animal Deinotherium to the great apes. These river deposits are found on the Westhofen - Eppelsheim - Alzey - Bingen city line, thus outlining the meandering main course of the proto-Rhine. The habitat consisted of alluvial forests with patches of grass around the river and forests in the hinterland. The Höwenegg site, which is approximately the same age, belongs to the Hegau volcanic field at the southern edge of the Swabian Alb. Höwenegg has mainly yielded fossils that belong to the hoofed animals. It is best known for nearly complete skeletons of horse and antelope relatives.
The approximately 8–7 million year old fauna from Samos and Pikermi formed a characteristic organism community of different animals and plants. This so-called “Pikermian Biome” extended far beyond the Middle East to China and included Eurasian and African animals that lived in a woodland mosaic.
The “Mauerer Sande” originated from a former Neckar river bend near the town of Mauer close to Heidelberg. The “Mosbach Sande” are deposits of the Rhine and Main rivers near Wiesbaden-Biebrich. Both localities can be allocated to the Cromer warm period between approximately 621,000 and 475,000 years ago. The occurrence of the forest rhinoceros and elephants in Mauer's fauna indicates a climate of warm winters and rainy summers.
The “Rheinschotter” deposits in the northern Upper Rhine Plain combine sediments from the last interglacial-glacial cycle between about 130,000 and 11,500 years ago. The fauna includes woolly mammoth and woolly rhinoceros, forest elephant and forest rhinoceros, hippopotamus and water buffalo, bison as well as giant deer and is thus very varied.
An excursus involves trunked animals. They belong to an order with many fossil species that were distributed worldwide apart from Australia and the Antarctic. Trunked animals developed approximately 60 million years ago in Africa. Their tooth patterns - from cusps to enamel lamellae - make it possible to distinguish them from one another.