Messel Ausstellung

Permanent exhibition

Messel Pit

Fossil site of worldwide renown and a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site.

The so-called “oil shale” of the Messel Pit near Darmstadt contains particularly well-preserved fossils that offer unique insights into the European fauna and flora 48 million years ago.

The “oil shale” consists of solidified sludge that was deposited at the bottom of an oxygen-poor lake. The water was still, allowing everything that sank down in the lake to be covered by fine sediments without being damaged. Due to the poor mixing of the water layers and the resulting lack of oxygen that prevented the decomposition of the dead organisms that sank to the bottom, many details such as the stomach content or soft parts of vertebrates, tiny scales from butterfly wings, and plant cells were preserved. 48 million years ago, the area was dominated by a tropical climate, and the lake was even inhabited by crocodiles, along with numerous fish species. Many fossils of insects, bats, and birds that lived in the adjacent tropical rain forest have already been discovered here. This forest was also home to prehistoric horses that had toes with small hooves and fed on leaves and fruits.