Palaeontology & Historical Geology

History of the division

The collection of minerals and fossils by Johann Christian Senckenberg 1763 is forming the roots of the division. This collection was highly appreciated by Johann wolfgang von Goethe in 1816 and donated to the Senckenbergische Naturforschende Gesellschaft in 1817. The mineralogical and petrographical collections formed the major focus of the next decades. But soon, palaeontological material also gained importance in collection and exchange, for some time especially due to the activities of Eduard Rüppell (1794-1884). Due to the scientific work of Eduard Rüppell and Hermann von Meyer (1801-1869), the palaeontological collections became famous worldwide and a Palaeontological Section was founded in 1861 by Otto Volger (1822-1887). 1874 was the year for the foundation of a Geological Section and the separation of a Zoo-Palaeontological and a Phyto-Palaeontological Section (the latter was re-included under palaeontology still in the 19th Century).

Palaeontological Research at Senckenberg in the 19th Century was almost completely focussed on vertebrates. Today vertebrate palaeontology is done in the Divisions for Messel and Quarternary Palaeontology/Palaeoanthropolgy, and in the Sections for Mammalogy and Ornithology. Starting with the activities of A. v. Reinach (1842-1905) and F. Drevermann (1875-1932) and forced by R. Richter (1881-1957), the Division for Palaeontology and Historical Geology focussed on the Palaeozoic of the Rheinisches Schiefergebirge, especially the Devonian of the Eifel. With Willi Zegler (1929-2002), the division became one of the leading centers for conodont research. As a result of Devonian research at Senckenberg, the Lower-/Middle-Devonian boundary was defined by a Global Stratotype Section (GSSP) in the Eifel.

The geoscientific sections of the Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg were for the first time united under the roof of a Palaeozoological-Geological Division by Drevermann when a university was founded in Frankfurt in 1914, and some of the institutes including geology/palaeontology were jointly run by Senckenberg and the university. In the succeeding area of Rudolf Richter, the abbreviated name “Geological Division” became common use. In 1984, Messel research was included in the division, but became an independent division later (1992). A new Section “Historical Geology and Facies” was founded within the division in 1996, and the Palaeobotanical Section was transferred to the division in 2005.

Independent from the geological and palaeontological sections, there was a Mineralogical-Petrographical Section existing at Senckenberg until the 1920ies. Later, no further curator for these collections was hired and the material was administrated together with the palaeontological collections.

With the foundation of the new Section Meteorite Research, the subject of the inorganic processes of rock formation were strengthened. The large meteorite collections of the Max Planck Institutes in Mainz and Heidelberg were given to this section on the basis of a permanent loan.