Senckenberg Natural History Collections Dresden

Palaeobotany

History of palaeobotanical research in Dresden

It was not until 1994 that the Museum of Mineralogy and Geology established an independent section of Palaeobotany. Before that, this discipline was a part of the Department of Palaeontology. Based on its terms of its focus, the department went through several changes in research and collection development. In the 19th century the palaeontology polymath Hanns Bruno Geinitz set up the Department of Palaeontology. His main fields of research were the floras and faunas of the Central German Permo-Carboniferous and the Central European Cretaceous. Whereas at the beginning of the 20th century, Karl Wanderer turned to Quaternary palaeozoology, and for the past five decades, the main focus had been on Tertiary palaeobotany.

After almost three centuries of the collection history of the Dresden Natural History Collections, Geinitz (1814-1900) was the first Palaeontologist at the Museum. Nevertheless, the history verified through items and catalogues of the Palaeontology collections reaches back to when the Museum of Natural History had been founded in 1728. In the mid-18th century petrified woods, such as the famous “Versteinerte Eiche”, (“Petrified Oak”) of Chemnitz, and the “Raumeria” of Ledncia (Poland), as well as the “Kräuterschiefer” (“Herbal shales”), recovered from the bituminous coal mines of Saxony, have been incorporated into the collections first. The study of those plant fossils inspired Christian Friedrich Schulze – a pharmacist from Dresden – to write his publication “Kurze Betrachtung der Kräuterabdrücke” (“A short observation of herbal compressions”). Today he is considered a pioneer of scientific palaeobotany.  The oldest separate inventory has been written by Christian Heinrich Eilenburg in 1757.

raumeria  kräuterabdruck
Cycadeoidea ("Raumeria") reichenbachiana, petrified Bennettites trunk, Lednica, Poland, Lower Cretaceous, year of access: 1753 Neurocallipteris neuropteroides, leaves of an extinct seed plant, Zwickau, Saxony, Permian, year of access: 1753

 

It was Geinitz who brought an enormous boom to the location of Dresden concerning the scientific discipline of palaeobotany. His exploratory urge to palaeontologically investigate all stratigrafic units that exist in Saxony has led to very large collections as well as to the publication of several extensive monographs about the Cretaceous and Permo-Carboniferous flora and fauna of Saxony. Within a short period of time, Geinitz and the Dresden palaeontology thus became world-famous. In 1849, when the building “Dresdner Zwinger” caught fire, a large part of the inventory was destroyed, and the palaeontological collections suffered a considerable decline.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the museum had been without a palaeobotanist for more than 50 years. However, during that time the teacher Hermann Engelhardt (1839–1918) and the doctor Paul Menzel (1864–1927) collaborated closely with the museum, committing their work to the Tertiary vegetation. After Menzel’s death, the museum purchased substantial parts of his plant fossil collection, namely approximately 11,000 specimens from the Tertiary formation of Northern Bohemia. Franz Kirchheimer (1911-1983), also kept in close contact with the museum. Through its connections, he could work on the carpoflora of Wiesa near Kamenz (Saxony).

Through the employment of the palaeobotanists Hellmut Jähnichen (curator 1954-1956) and Harald Walther (curator of palaeobotany 1962-1994) the expansion of the collection and the palaeobotanical scientific work eventually could be resumed and intensified. Due to the presence and extensive mining of lignite coal in Central Germany, Walther focused his work on Tertiary palaeobotany which still remains the section’s main field of study.

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