Messel Fossils from Germany

Normal fifty million year old vertebrate fossils are teeth and scraps of bone. Complete skeletons are great rarities. Messel goes far further than supplying skeletons. It provides feathers and fur. With some specimens, the bodies are surrounded by a so called Hautschatten ('skin shadow'). This dark area preserves impressions of plumage on birds and the individual hairs of mammals. The wing membranes and details of external ears are known from bats. This incredible detail was the work of helpful bacteria, who were able to survive at depth without oxygen. They consumed the organic material and kindly traced its outlines with themselves.

Fossils from this location are limited to those currently on the market or in private collections.  Collecting in this pit has been restricted to Universities and Museums.  No private collecting is or ever will be permitted again.  These are INCREDIBLY RARE fossils!!!

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Understanding Messel Fossils and their Preparation:

Location Messel: Excavation site

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.

Location Messel: Preparation (transfer method)

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.



Location Messel: Preparation of Lepticidium (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.