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One of the best fossil sites in the world is a former mining site in Germany. It preserves an exceptional record of an Eocene ecosystem, including thousands of exquisitely preserved fossil specimens. This episode, we discuss the history and discoveries of The Messel Pit.
In the news
Giant lacewing larvae stalked Jurassic waters in Mongolia
First fossil evidence that leaves could fold shut as early as the Permian
Giant and tiny theropod dinosaurs have diverse growth strategies
This ankylosaur had a surprisingly bird-like throat structure
An Extraordinary Pit
The Messel pit is a famous fossil locality in Germany, preserving many thousands of exceptionally well-preserved plant and animal fossils from the early Eocene, 47-48 million years ago. At that time, the pit was a large maar lake – a volcanic crater that filled in with water – surrounded by a near-tropical dense forest. The sediments that collected in the deep, oxygen-poor waters of the lake eventually became a deposit of oil shale filled with fossils.
The first significant fossil discovery recorded from the Messel oil shale was the skeleton of an alligator-relative (Diplocynodon) excavated in 1875, but for many years, the fossils were not considered the main attraction of the site. Instead, the oil shale was a valuable mining resource. Before mining operations ended in the 1960s, millions of tons of rocks were removed from the Messel Pit. In 1995, the site became designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its “outstanding universal value” as a resource for understanding Earth history.
The Fantastic Fossils of the Messel Pit
Some incredible Messel Pit discoveries:
Evidence of fungus-infected “zombie” ants
Turtles fossilized in the act of mating
Pregnant horse fossil
Structural coloration in fossil bird feathers
Bird gland preserved as soft tissue, including lipid molecules
World’s oldest fossil python
Live birth in a fossil snake
Three-in-one fossil: bug inside lizard inside snake
The fabulous fossils of Messel
The evolutionary secrets within the Messel Pit
The Messel Pit – UNESCO
The recolonisation of volcanically disturbed Eocene habitats of Central Europe (technical, open access)
And just for good measure
Exquisitely Preserved Fossil Snakes of Messel (technical, open access)
If you enjoyed this topic and want more like it, check out these related episodes:
- Episode 14 – The Gray Fossil Site
- Episode 89 – The Burgess Shale
- Episode 103 – The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum
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