Messel Pit Fossil Site

Discover the major stages of Earth's history

UNESCO World Heritage

Messel Pit Fossil site by Messel Pit Fossil SiteUNESCO World Heritage

A trove of fossils of outstanding universal value

Messel Pit is the richest site in the world for understanding the living environment of the Eocene, between 57 million and 36 million years ago. In particular, it provides unique information about the early stages of the evolution of mammals and includes exceptionally well-preserved mammal fossils, ranging from fully articulated skeletons to the contents of stomachs of animals of this period.

Early morning view on oil shale by Messel Pit Fossil SiteUNESCO World Heritage



48 million years ago the Messel Pit (close to a coastline of an ocean on the northern hemisphere of our Earth) came into existence by a maar volcano eruption in a landscape consisting of granitic rocks of the Odenwald mountains. 

View Messel Pit by Messel Pit Fossil SiteUNESCO World Heritage

It created a very deep crater that eventually filled with water and a lake in a subtropical geographic area came into existence. Organisms settled within the lake, at the border of it and eventually into the surrounding forest when it recovered from the eruption. 

Oil shale landscape by Messel Pit Fossil SiteUNESCO World Heritage

In the middle of the 19th century this area of Germany was discovered and identified as an oil shale area.

Oil shale by Messel Pit Fossil SiteUNESCO World Heritage

The site was exploited for petrol production up to 1971. Mainly the products went into the oil lamp industry.

Oil shale and tree by Messel Pit Fossil SiteUNESCO World Heritage

After this industrial phase, a courageous fight by residents and scientists against a future use of this open air quarry as a waste disposal site took place and finally came to an end on 9th December 1995 when UNESCO accepted this site as an outstanding universal fossil site with earth history witnesses of Eocene time and inscribed it as Natural World Heritage site.

Oil shale and fish fossil by Messel Pit Fossil SiteUNESCO World Heritage

Fossils of extraordinary conservation status, especially complete skeletons of mammals, but also birds, fish, reptiles, amphibia, insects, skin, tissue and stomach contents etc were found inside the oil shale, an algae mud, that filled up the former lake.

Morning dawn in Messel Pit by Messel Pit Fossil SiteUNESCO World Heritage

Scientific investigations up to today prove the uniqueness of the fossils, also permitting an interpretation for a subtropical rainforest environment around and inside the former crater lake and having this site as a unique window into the Eocene rainforest environment. 

Early morning view on oil shale by Messel Pit Fossil SiteUNESCO World Heritage

They represent the development of a high diversity of species after a global catastrophe happening about 18 million years before the volcanic eruption. 

Butterfly on oil shale by Messel Pit Fossil SiteUNESCO World Heritage

As the Messel Pit is the former site of an oil shale mine, the land surface has been significantly disturbed. Paradoxically, if there had been no mine, the scientific values of the property would have never been discovered. 

Little ringed plover by Messel Pit Fossil SiteUNESCO World Heritage

The oil shale hides a wealth of excellently preserved fossils whose diversity and quality is simply unparalleled. 

View on first plants by Messel Pit Fossil SiteUNESCO World Heritage

Inscribed in 1995, Messel Pit Fossil Site was the first Natural World Heritage site of Germany.

Odonata by Messel Pit Fossil SiteUNESCO World Heritage

A 22.5 ha buffer zone surrounding the property was defined in order to strengthen the integrity of the property and support its effective protection and management.

Visitor Center by Messel Pit Fossil SiteUNESCO World Heritage

Today the site is a research area and guests get access across a visitor centre at the southern rim of the former open air quarry.

Visitor Center by Messel Pit Fossil SiteUNESCO World Heritage

Three museums present fossils in the Senckenberg Museum in Frankfurt/Main, Hesse State Museum in Darmstadt and in Messel, about 4 km away from the site. The visitor centre directly next to the World Heritage site demonstrates the spirit of the site itself in about seven exhibition rooms in a holistic and artistic way. Disabled visitors can use it easily. The design makes it a communication platform for people from all over the world to exchange and sow peace at this unique site.

Crocodile found in Messel Pit Fossil Site by Messel Pit Fossil SiteUNESCO World Heritage

Criterion (vii): Messel Pit Fossil Site is considered to be the single best site which contributes to the understanding of the Eocene, when mammals became firmly established in all principal land ecosystems. The state of preservation of its fossils is exceptional and allows for high-quality scientific work.

Earth history witness of Eocene by Messel Pit Fossil SiteUNESCO World Heritage

Propalaeotherium, Messel Horse Skeleton.

Credits: Story

This exhibit was created by Grube Messel: www.grube-messel.de/
More on Messel Pit Fossil Site and World Heritage: whc.unesco.org/en/list/720
Photos: Messel Grube; Inge Hoffmann; Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural Museum, Frankfurt/Main, Germany / PM Studios, D. Pfingstmann

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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