Messel Pit Fossil Site
The Messel Fossil Site (German: Grube Messel) is an abandoned oil shale open-cast quarry situated approximately 9 km northeast of Darmstadt, exposing bituminous clay stones (‘oil shale’) across an area of about 40 hectares. The oil shale was deposited at the bottom of a volcanic lake during the middle Eocene epoch, about 48 million years ago. Messel represents a unique archive in Earth’s history and is inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1995.
The range of Messel fossils are unique; particularly in their faunal and floral diversity and preservation quality. For instance, plant fossils have been found with intact flowers and fruits, or insects still showing iridescent colours. Further finds include ancient and modern bony fish, frogs and frog spawn, tortoises, lizards, crocodiles, and snakes. Bird fossils range between hummingbirds to specimens almost two metres in size. Further findings include spectacular mammals, from primitive marsupials and bats to prosimian primates and anteaters. Finally, the most famous Messel fossils: relatives of today’s horses.
Due to the near-perfect conditions during fossilization, Messel specimens often hold microscopic details including preserved skin structures, hair, feathers, or even the stomach content. Considering that in most fossil sites only teeth or fragments of jawbones of vertebrates are commonly preserved, Messel offers tremendous opportunities for paleontological research. Here, plants and animals can be studied in their coexistence, allowing to reconstruct their ‘place’ within a snapshot of a prehistoric ecosystem.
The exhibition attempts to capture the entire Messel species spectrum in its beauty and breadth. In addition, it conveys impressions of the former habitat as well as important information about the origin of this unique fossil deposit. Thus, the exhibition offers the opportunity to understand how an ecosystem functioned during this extraordinary time. According to current climate models, large parts of the Earth could experience conditions similar to those in the Eocene in the next two centuries.