The origins of the Palaeontological Collections trace back to the Darmstadt naturalist Johann Heinrich Merck (1741–1791). In 1792, Landgrave Louis X acquired this estate for his natural history cabinet, laying the foundation for today's collection.
The Paleontological Exhibition presents fossils from the last 50 million years, reflecting the focus of the collection. The exhibition area "Paleogene - Neogene - Quaternary" presents fossil sites of different ages.
Significant vertebrate fossils originate from the approximately 10 million-year-old ‘Dinotherium Sands’ of Rhine-Hesse, a deposit of the ancient Rhine near Alzey. Here, a wealth of large fossil mammals can be found; from the primeval elephant Deinotherium to great apes. These deposits trace the meandering course of the ancient Rhine between Westhofen, Eppelsheim, Alzey, and Bingen. The habitat consisted of alluvial forests with grassy river banks and forests in the hinterland.
The term ‘Dinotherium Sands’ is credited to the paleontologist Johann Jakob Kaup (1803–1873). The inspector of the Darmstadt natural history cabinet, along with the geologist August von Klipstein, had excavated the upper skull of a Deinotherium in the area in 1835. Kaup's descriptions of this and many other mammals contributed to the increasing importance of the Darmstadt collection. In 1854, Kaup acquired a famous American fossil in London: the skeleton of a Mammut americanum. Peale's Mastodon had caused a great sensation in Philadelphia in 1801 as the first mounted skeleton in the USA.
Other well-known fossils in the collection come from the Rhine’s gravel deposits ( ‘Rheinschotter’) of the northern Upper Rhine Plain. These deposits encompass sediments from the latest glacials and interglacial periods between circa 130,000 and 11,500 years ago. The finds include diverse fauna species such as woolly mammoth and woolly rhinoceros, forest elephant and forest rhinoceros, hippopotamus and water buffalo, bison as well as giant deer. The Crumstadt forest elephant certainly is one of the collection’s highlights: a witness of the last interglacial period (Eemian).