The previous post about the Juramuseum was full of fish, although it did end with a few higher vertebrates. All flattened, though. This time, there’ll be more higher verts, and the spineless stuff will be in 3D! Let’s start with more dinosaurs, theropod dinosaurs to be precise. However,
so please be patient and watch this space next Wednesday Also, there is this German tapewormword Kulturgutschutzgesetz lurking at the end of the title. Thus beware!
This is a close-up of the skull of Juravenator starki (click to embiggen this and other images). It is an amazing little beast, and I love the teeth. But let me progress to what you likely are really waiting for: the Eichstätt specimen of Archaeopteryx lithographica!
This specimen is very small, and has an extremely good head, of which I have an extremely bad close-up photo:
For the sake of completeness, here’s the counterslab, too.
Knowing the Berlin specimen so well I was struck by three things right away: how dark the Eichstätt specimen’s limestone slabs are, how small the animal is, and how little the Juramuseum has done to make it stand out in the exhibit. It is just one of many specimens in a part of the exhibit that deals with birds and flights. There are a bunch of simple push-button experiments that try to explain how wings and feathers work in flight, there’s this display of different feather types:
and there are a bunch of models of the in vivo look of extinct dinobirds, too. Including a really huge one:
I didn’t take a pic of the label, thus I have no idea if this is supposed to be a Phorusrhacid or (more likely) Gastornis, and it is impossible for me to tell from the model. I’ve seen skeleton (casts) of terror birds and the Messel monster before, many times, and the always look amazingly big. Still, this model, which for once is not completely drab or exceedingly colorful, makes their size so much more real, especially the huge head and the sturdy feet – way cool!
Other models include Sinosauropteryx prima, Caudipteryx zoui and a Confuziusornis, all of which are also shown as casts. One can quibble about the feathers and colors and all of each of these, but overall I have seen much worse many times. These all do not look freaky.
Same goes for the inevitable model of Archaeopteryx.
Overall, it is a very nice exhibit about flight and volant and non-volant dinosaurs, but after being exposed to the Naturkundemuseum Berlin’s “Federflug” special exhibit it all looked a bit dull and grey. I guess there are two main reasons for this difference. One is that the MfN exhibitions team is just absolutely awesome. They can take anything and give it that noble, serious, quiet look that makes you feel it is special while making you focus on it. A far cry from the oh-so-common lights&sounds attack you experience especially in US museums. Eichstätt has that feel, too, just not at the top-of-the-league quality I am used to from Berlin. The other factor is probably as important, and quite mundane: money! While Berlin is horribly underfunded for a big Western natural history museum, there is always enough funding available to optimize the looks of exhibits. In any case, the Juramuseum Eichstätt is cool as is!
Now, I promised you fans of spineless stuff that there would be 3D spineless stuff. Here you go!
This is, a guess, the standard fossil associated with Southern Germany: an ammonite. In fact, it is a steinkern (literally: stone core), or natural cast of the inside of the shell, and even I with my long-forgotten haphazard training in ammonite taxonomy (I did study at Tübingen!) can tell it belongs into the Persisphinctoidea, by the splitting ribs and the constrictions (one is well visible on the lower right). In fact this is a Lithacoceras aff. ulmensis. If you have ever collected fossils in the White Jurassic (limestone deposits of the latest Jurassic) of the Swabian Alb mountains you know these small to mid-sized shells only too well. Preservation as natural casts is the norm, and sometimes the suture pattern is pressed into the steinkern (top part of above specimen), too. The sutures is nothing but the negative of the contact area between the outer shell and the partitions between shell chambers. It plays a huge role for taxonomy.
In the Solnhofen Limestone deposition was very slow, and most fossils are therefore flattened, but the trough in which the layered limestone was deposited lay between small reefs. And in these we find 3D preservation, sometimes of incredibly good quality. The specimen above and those below come from a dolomitized reef in the Steinberg mountain near Großmehring, and the dolomitization has ruined the corals so they cannot be determined. The steinkerns, though, as exquisite.
A bunch of steinkerns of marine snails (Purpuroidea gigas, Pleurotomaria and I believe another Purpurodiea). And, below, a couple of Cossmanneas.
An almost-Nautilus! Pseudaganides belongs in a sister group to modern-day nautilids.
Let’s have some clam chowder: Isoarca explicata
Pinna. They often get quite big. I have one from near Dotternhausen that is some 20 cm long.
Pterocardia corallina. The left one is a steinkern, whereas the right one is preserved with its shell.
Paradiceras aequivalve. A clam that lived in places with stronger currents than the reef-dwellers shown above. Its thick shell anchored it well.
Now, before we get to the brachiopods and corals, there is something I must comment on. Currently, the German government is trying to develop a law to protect (national) cultural heritage. It is called Kulturgutschutzgesetz. That is, at first glance, an excellent idea! The law is supposed to make it much harder to sell art and archaeological artifacts of dubious provenance. Considering how much stuff is being smuggled out of Iraq and Syria and sold on the black market I believe it is high time that we force dealers to provide paperwork to show specimens are legal – period!
However, as is all too often the case, the German government and its entire executive support in the form of federal ministries and federal departments of all kinds makes the same uneducated stupid mistake so many laypeople make: they apparently believe that palaeontology and archaeology are the same discipline! And so the smart people working there actually made the law apply to palaeontological collections and specimens, too. Without, may I add, do the usual and ask palaeontologists to comment on the proposals! OOPS!
The first draft of the law, the second version of which by now has passed the cabinet(!), was so monstrously stupidly written that it actually forbade preparing fossils by defining them as unalterable Nationales Kulturgut (national cultural heritage) while still in the ground – provided they are either scientifically important or worth or more 50.000 €.
A twist I especially like – a particularly idiotic twist, too – is that depending on how you read the law some fossils would become cultural heritage because of scientific importance, which might be determined how? It is left open for debate in many cases. So one could interpret the law to mean that a fossil that was not cultural heritage becomes cultural heritage a posteriori because someone publishes a paper on it. A paper that may be based on data obtained by destruction of the fossils, which now a posteriori would become illegal and punishable by law.
Granted, that requires a pretty weird interpretation of the law, but until the courts decide on such matters you can’t be sure what’s gonna happen. Same for a fossil that, hypothetically, you sell while still in the ground, and that you sell for less than 50.000 €, and that nobody ever publishes on – is it now NOT national cultural heritage? Even if it is another Archaeopteryx? Idiots abound in certain Berlin circles…
A key problem with the law is that it does not do what, for example, Bavarian state law does: distinguish between opera and res. Opera is an opus – an object created by man. Res is a thing. If you define unprepared fossils as natural heritage (treat them as res), and prepared fossils as works of man, and differentiate the protection of the two, you avoid a hell of a lot of problems that you get when you merge the two into one category. An ammonite that has been prepared so it can be used for science, a meteorite that has been cored and thin-sectioned, and so on – these are clearly specimens that must be protected differently from the gazillions of microorganisms making up limestone that you could but nearly never do analyze.
Another issue is the incredible amount of paperwork that natural history collections will face with regards to loans, de-inventorying and other totally normal collection activities.
Oh yeah, and did I mention that you’re supposed to provide documentation of the provenance of cultural heritage specimens? That’s another good idea, but you have to do it retroactively back to 1992!
Yes, you read that correctly: retroactively back to 1992! Bought an ammonite at a fair in 1998? Well, please do contact the dealer-whose-address-you-never-had and ask him for documentation! What the goddamned freakin’ fuck????????? Until our beloved government starts handing out time machines this is utterly impossible! It is also a very unusual shift of the burden of proof: suddenly and retroactively, you need to prove that you own a fossil legally, instead of someone else having to prove that something about it is fishy.
Jeez, I get too worked up about this. I even can’t be sarcastic anymore. Let me get to one more key point and finish this. Why do I mention all this in the context of the Juramuseum? Because one area that the law – even before it has been finalized! – is having a massive impact on is the private collectors’ scene. Particularly, due to the wonderful German federal system creating wide variation between states, particularly to Bavarian private collectors. Bavaria, I do not need to remind you, is the state the Solnhofen Limestone deposits happen to occur in. What’s going on there is rather depressing and scary: private collectors, uncertain about how their fossils will be treated, have started pulling loaned specimens from museums!
This and other links below go to German language articles. These are must-reads for Germans, and all others should spare themselves the misery. So please be glad I am not linking English versions😉
Now, the Juramuseum is lucky. As opposed to some other museums, notable the famous Bürgermeister Müller Museum in Solnhofen, most of its specimens are not loans, but are owned by the Bavarian state. For example, all he wonderful invertebrates from the Steinberg shown above and below were collected and prepared by one Heinz Haberl. Mr. Haberl started collecting in the quarry in 1972, and has given the many wonderful fossils to the Juramuseum as a gift. They are now owned by Bavaria, and thus not in any danger. They are – and this is a prime example of the importance of private collectors to science in Germany – the means by which scientists were able to time the quarry’s sediments to ca. 151-152 million years before present, i.e. upper Kimmerridgian to lowest Tithonian age, and thus slightly older than the Solnhofen limestone. Without Haberl’s diligent collection and preparation of ammonites, this dating would not have been possible at this accuracy.
This is just one of very many examples of laypeople helping science. There’s millions more. And all that is threatened in the future and also partly in the past (remember 1992?) by a sorry excuse for a draft of a law. Read, if you can bear it, a lawyer’s comments prepared at the request of the Mineralientage München. Admittedly, this is a brief written at the behest of a party with a special interest – but even if one takes that into account, it is still scary.
The German Palaeontological Society has some harsh words for the new proposed law (PDF download). I couldn’t find an English version, and believe me – unless you are German, you really do not with to delve into this any more. If you are German, though, consider contacting your political representatives and giving them an earful. The Swiss and Austrian Palaeontological Societies have joined the German one in the above-linked statement, by the way – they are equally appalled. By the way: Austria managed to write a 7-page law to coply with the EU directive. The German draft is 156 pages long.
So, per angusta ad augusta: let’s see some more beautiful fossils while we still can! Here’s some brachiopods from the Steinberg.
and a sea urchin – a rather blurry picture, just to prove they were there.
The corals of the reef at the Steinberg were all rather ruined by dolomitization. Some of them still look pretty, but for science they are not that useful For one thing, you can’t determine the species.
It speaks volumes about Mr. Haberl and many other collectors that their specimens found their way into public exhibits, either as long-term loans or gifts. And not only the top, most beautiful or most scientifically publishable specimens, but also the more mundane fossils that should be collected and preserved for completeness sake. Science is about being doggonely thorough, not about glitz. And there are very many private collectors out there who understand this, and live by it. The proposed Kulturgutschutzgesetz is a kick into their faces as much as it is one into the face of thousands of scientists. I really hope that the law dies a quick and timely death, so that in about a year I can blog here about the many other museums in the Solnhofen area without having to show you a lot of photos of suddenly bare walls.😦