After rejecting plans to create a landfill at the Messel pit in 1990 and purchasing the former pit mine in June 1991, the state of Hessen decided to engage the Senckenberg Nature Research Society ( SGN ), with its special expertise at Messel, as the operator of the former mine. One year later, on June 24, 1992, the Hessen state government and SGN signed a contract concerning the maintenance of the Messel pit as a unique fossil site. From July 1, 1992, SGN became the operator of the Messel pit under regulations specified by federal mining law. The state and the federal government financially support the operation through the Senckenberg Research Institute.
Starting in 1983, this house, rented from YTONG AG, served as the Senckenberg outpost at the Messel pit. In 1992, SGN bought the house, through the years converting it into a research station. The station now comprises preparation facilities, including a wet laboratory (see below), an X-ray laboratory, office space for the technical and scientific workers, a presentation and meeting room, a caretaker’s apartment, and a lounge and bedrooms for interns.
The research station is the workplace for the staffs of Preparation and Excavation (Work Group 1, see below) and Messel Geology (Work Group 2).
Work Group 1: Excavation and Preparation
Excavation plans must be made known and excavation permits applied for at the beginning of each year. The digging season of the various institutes begins in April or May and ends in October or November. In these paleontological excavations, oil-shale blocks are separated at their natural fissures and removed by means of wedges, hammers, and shovels. Plastic plates protect this water-containing stone material from drying out in the sun.
More on the allocation of intern positions …
Since the water-containing oil-shale would fall apart if allowed to dry out in the air, fossil specimens need to be embedded in a different substrate, and thus transferred. A specimen – the perch Palaeoperca proxima shown here, for example – is first prepared on one side, which is then covered with artificial resin. After this artificial substrate hardens, the other side of the specimen is prepared. This preparation technique is known as the artificial resin transfer method.
What is so quickly explained in theory requires in practice days or even weeks, depending on the size and state of preservation of the fossil. In this photograph, the preparator is using fine metal needles to prepare a small mammal. She is monitoring each of her movements through a stereomicroscope so that even the most delicate bone structures can be prepared without being damaged. One side of the fossil has already been prepared and the oil-shale replaced by a synthetic resin substrate.
More about preparation techniques and other Messel themes can be found in the 24 HTML presentations on the accompanying CD of the new Courier volume focusing on the Messel fossil site (Courier Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg Volume 252). There are 13 scientific articles (an electronic book in PDF) on the geology and paleontology of Germany’s world natural heritage site of Messel, plus 8 short articles about digital material – including the new Messel map, a popular science presentation of various X-ray techniques, and current literature on Messel, as well as
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