UNESCO World Heritage in Germany
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»Grube Messel«

World Natural Heritage since 1995


On its Berlin meeting in December 1995 the UNESCO World Heritage Comittee has inscribed the pit at Messel as 16th German site to the World Heritage List.

The oil shade open-pit mine »Grube Messel« near Darmstadt is a site where 49 million years old fossils of the Eocene epoch have been discovered. The oil shade is a solidified lake-bottom mud containing clay and organic materials. This sedimentary rock is deposited between granite bedrock blocks in a fault-bounded graben which is about 1,000 m long, 700 m wide and 200 m deep. Because of its structure it was protected from erosion until mining began in 1884. The removal of material decreased in 1962 and stopped entirely in 1971.

After private collectors started to explore the pit for fossils in an unlimited basis, the Senckenberg Museum and other institutions began in 1975 to excavate the site scientifically.

Plans to establish a central waste and refuse dump at the pit were abandoned in 1990. In 1991 the State of Hessen bought the site for 32 million Deutsch Mark and »Grube Messel« was declared a cultural monument.

The fame of Messel is especially attributable to its ancient horses. By means of their distinctive teeth they can be classified without doubt in the well-known evolutionary series of the early horses. More than 40 skeletons of stallions, mares and foals have been discovered, the mares often pregnant.

Horse Propalaeotherium parvulum (39 kB JPEG)

Propaleotherium parvulum had a shoulder height of only 30-35 cm and P. hassiacum was about 55-60 cm high. Both had four hooves on the front legs, thee hooves on the rear legs. Much rarer is the horselike Hallensia matthesi, the ancient tapir, Hyrachyus minimus and the bulky Lophiodon , a leef-eating swamp dweller, which became extinct more than 40 million years ago.

Beside the horses there were lots of other fossils, e.g. of crocodiles, bats, snakes, turtles, and others.

Finds from Messel are in the Senckenberg Museum at Frankfurt/Main and in the Hessisches Landesmuseum at Darmstadt.

...more about Messel Pit...

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Last update: 14 Sept 2003 - If you have any comments or questions, please contact me:

Wolfgang M. Werner wmwerner@web.de