Fossils are being unearthed from the sediments of a 48-million-year-old lake – a bituminous argillaceous rock called “oil shale” – which are in an excellent state of preservation. The Messel Fossil and Local History Museum has a large collection of animal and plant fossils from the Messel Pit, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and thus provides information about life in that age. Explanations are attached to the showcases and can be heard via the audio guide.
We owe many of the fossils and casts to the amateur paleontologists who searched for fossils in the pit in the early 1970s.
The research on the fossils is highly topical: At that time, Messel had environmental conditions that we will have in 50 years if we do not slow down climate change.
Messel was first mentioned in a document in the year 800 and was characterized by farming for centuries. Beginning in the 19th century, the sediments of the lake, which was formed 48 million years ago, were used industrially: in the cell walls of the dead algae in the lake, hydrocarbons were present as kerogens, from which mineral oil products could be manufactured. At that time, large industrial plants dominated the Messel Pit district. The plant with up to 800 employees gave the region bread and work for almost 100 years.
In the 19th century, the hunger for raw materials pushed clever engineers to build highly effective systems. In the 20th century, they supported those in power who were striving for self-sufficiency.