Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum Frankfurt

Palaeontology and Historical Geology
Sections Staff History Location

After moving all collections to a new building, collections are again accessible from mid of 2019 onwards.

The department’s research is focused on the development of the System Earth from the very beginning of planetary formation until today. It is thus primarily part of the research area biodiversity and earth system.

The studies focus on particular time periods, which are based on the one hand on collection core areas and on the other hand on the research expertise of the section heads. The extensive and, in some cases historical, reference collections allow comprehensive data acquisition that would not be possible with current sampling only. These archives are invaluable for research and form an essential basis for further interpretation to the point of developing abstract models.

The department focuses on two major subject areas:

1) Organismal and Ecosystem Evolution during the Pre-Quarternary


Periods prior to human influence provide important clues for understanding current and future developments of the system Earth. The department’s research is aimed at processes and interactions from selected periods of pre-quarternary earth history, whose biotic and abiotic conditions are not directly comparable to current conditions. Due to the existing collections and the expertise of the involved scientists, these periods are the Paleozoic and the Tertiary.


2) Formation and Development of planetary bodies – Early Earth

meteorit research

As all the planetary bodies in our solar system, the earth was formed from material of the solar nebula. The earth’s formation occurred in three major steps: 1.) agglomeration of µm to mm-sized aggregates to m- to km-sized planetesimals 2.) accretion of moon- to mars-sized embryos through collision of planetesimals 3.) formation of the earth and other terrestrial planets through collisions of the embryos. The last step led to the internal differentiation of the Earth into core, mantle and crust as well as the formation of the atmosphere and the oceans. Unfortunately, these processes are difficult to deduce from rocks of the Earth’s crust, since movements of the tectonic plates constantly destroy the crust. Meteorite research provides a detailed understanding of the chemical and dynamic development of planetary bodies in the early phase of their formation. Accordingly, the central research question is: From the formation of the earliest aggregates to the accretion and differentiation of planetary bodies – mechanisms, time scales, spatial relations, chemism, mineralogy and alteration.