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Comprehensive overview of the geology and paleontology of the "Messel Pit" can be found in new book
Skeleton of the “Hessian” prehistoric horse Propalaeotherium hassiacum. Scale: 10 cm. Photo: Senckenberg.

FRANKFURT.- Turtles that died while mating, more than seventy prehistoric horses, colorful iridescent insects, over 100 different plant genera, or “Ida,” the juvenile primate: The fossil specimens found at the World Heritage Site “Messel Pit” are globally unique. In the new Senckenberg book “Messel - An Ancient Greenhouse Ecosystem” that was published today, 28 international scientists offer insights into this outstanding fossil site on more than 350 pages.

The Messel Pit almost ended up as a landfill – and Dr. Stephan Schaal, head of the Department for Messel Research at the Senckenberg Research Institute and Nature Museum was among those who fought for the preservation of this unique fossil depository. “It is unimaginable what treasures we would have lost if the plans for a landfill had been pushed through 30 years ago! We pay a heartfelt tribute to all our comrades-in-arms who fought for its preservation and helped to keep this ‘window into geological history’ open for researchers and the public – honorary and volunteer fossil hunters, hundreds of interns, technical assistants and preparators as well as countless international researchers,” acknowledges Schaal in the preface to the new book.

Following the publication of Senckenberg’s first Messel book (Messel – A Window into the History of the Earth and Life, 1988), thousands of additional exciting discoveries were unearthed at the fossil site and published in hundreds of scientific papers. These new results, together with much improved analytical methods since that time, were the reason for the new Senckenberg book. “Since Messel has gained a worldwide reputation by now, particularly in scientific circles, it seemed appropriate to simultaneously publish an English edition of the book,” adds paleoherpetologist Dr. Krister Smith.

When the first fossil – a crocodile – was discovered in 1876, there was no indication that the open-pit oil shale mine in the Hessian community of Messel would one day become such a significant World Heritage Site. About 100 years later, Senckenberg commenced its research activities at the Messel Pit. Since July of 1992, Senckenberg also assumed control of the mining operation and founded the Department for Messel Research.

“The numerous, exceptionally well-preserved Messel fossils offer insights into an approximately 48-million-year-old ecosystem. At that time, the area was dominated by a greenhouse climate with high carbon dioxide levels, heavy precipitation, and a mean annual temperature of about 18 degrees – a condition that we are currently approaching once again due to the man-made climate change,” explains Schaal.

To date, the fossil site has yielded representatives of all major vertebrate groups as well as insects and plants – and scientific extrapolations suggest that it holds many yet undiscovered species. It can be assumed that several future generations will be kept busy exploring the fossil site.

“In the coming year – after a two-year hiatus – we hope to be able to resume or excavation activities in the Messel Pit,” offers Schaal as a preview.

A comprehensive overview of the geology and paleontology of the Eocene habitat can be found in the new Senckenberg book “Messel – An Ancient Greenhouse Ecosystem” that was published today. On more than 350 pages, 28 renowned researchers inform the readers about the origin of the Messel crater, color preservation in fossils, the Messel gecko, the evolution of echolocation, the ancestor of the hummingbirds, headless ant eaters, novel methods for analysis and preservation, the world-famous prehistoric horses, and much more. Over 390 illustrations (mostly in full color) not only make this book a standard volume for scientists but also paint a vivid picture of the bygone Messel world for fossil lovers and interested amateurs alike.

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