The quaternary paleontological research focuses on the reconstruction of the organisms and the ecological conditions during the global climate fluctuations of the Ice Age era (during the past 2.6 million years).
The central working areas of the Senckenberg Research Station for Quaternary Paleontology include studies of the biodiversity and the evolutionary changes of Quaternary animal and plant communities in key regions of Eurasia and North America. These aid in the reconstruction of paleoecosystems, the natural climate variability, and the increasing influence of humans.
The research is conducted within the framework of the sections “Quaternary large mammals,” “Quaternary small mammals,” “Quaternary macrofloras,” and “Quaternary microfloras,” in conjunction with international working groups. Extensive fossil and data material regarding new research approaches is generated by current area excavations, drilling campaigns, and expeditions. The studies of the Quaternary flora and fauna reveal clear connections between climate variability and regional or superregional biodiversity.
Due to the scientific dispute that raged from 1696 to 1704 between W. E. Tentzel (1659-1707) and the Collegium medicum in Gotha, more than 300 years ago Thuringia became the focus of attention of the scientific world at that time. Back then, large bones discovered in the Pleistocene travertines of Burgtonna were correctly recognized by Tentzel as the remains of fossil elephants. He vehemently defended this opinion against the then customary interpretation of fossils as “quirks of nature.” During the 19thcentury, the first significant collections of Quaternary fossils originated in Weimar, in particular from the fossil sites in the city’s immediate vicinity at Süßenborn, the Belvederer Allee, Taubach, and Ehringsdorf. These discoveries were processed by renowned paleontologists of the time such as Fritsch, Pohlig, Weiss, Wiegers, Wüst, Soergel, and others.
In the 1950s, the Research Group for Quaternary Paleontology at the Museum of Pre- and Early History in Weimar, led by H.-D. Kahlke (1924-2017), maintained and expanded the collections of Quaternary Paleontology materials from Thuringia that existed at the time. The establishment of the Institute of Quaternary Paleontology in the year 1962 represented a major milestone. The institute was tasked with the scientific analysis of the fossil material under integration of international working groups and with conducting ongoing research excavations. Since 1963, the institute has hosted six international Quaternary-paleontological congresses, and since 1965, it published seven, in part multi-volume, monographs about important Quaternary fossil sites in Thuringia. Some of these were issued as part of the institute’s own publication series, Quartärpaläontologie (Quaternary Paleontology). This raised the classical city of Weimar to new renown in the international world of natural sciences as well.
From 1992 until 1999, the institute was temporarily affiliated with the Institute of Geosciences at the Friedrich-Schiller University in Jena. During this time, Volume 1 of the monograph on the Lower Pleistocene fossil site Untermaßfeld was published in the monograph series of the Roman-Germanic Central Museum in Mainz (R.-D. Kahlke et al. 1997), which was followed by two additional volumes in 2001.
On 1 January 2000, the Quaternary Paleontology in Weimar became part of Senckenberg. In addition to creating two new sections, the technical equipment underwent significant improvements. Optimal accommodations for the collections and the establishment of modern working and laboratory rooms were made possible by the remodeling of a building complex next to the historic Jakobskirchhof in Weimar. The move into the new quarters took place in 2005. In honor of the paleontologist Wolfgang Soergel (1887-1946), who was born and worked in Weimar, the main building was christened the “Wolfgang-Soergel-Haus.”