I guess there are very few places in the world as famous among palaeontologists as the Hauff museum, except really huge, all-encompassing Natural History museums. Solnhofen comes to mind, but that’s not a museum, that’s a Lagerstätte and several museums, and some of the most famous finds are elsewhere.
Similarly, Holzmaden is only one place on a huge Lagerstätte, and there are many musuems with excellent specimens (and a lot of them) from it – but the Urwelt-Museum Hauff has a special place among them. First and foremost about covers it. Yes, research happens elsewhere, and it is well possible that the Posidonia Shale collection of the SMNS, maybe even that of Tübingen, surpasses Hauff in sheer numbers and excellence, but the Museum Hauff is the place founded by Bernhard Hauff – the Bernhard Hauff (I’ll show you later why he is so special)! Add to that the fact that with some 1000 square meters of exhibition space it is the largest private Natural History museum in Germany – and it deals only with the Posidonia Shale!
The Hauff mascot on the sign at the entrance is an iconic Steneosaurus bollensis specimen, but you will not find it at the Hauff museum. Here it is – photo taken in the staircase of the Palaeontological Collection and Exhibition of the Department of Geosciences of Tübingen University. I passed it every day for years while pursuing my Diplom (+/- Masters) in Geosciences and my Doctorate.
The genus and species have seen a lot of taxonomic chaos, just have a look at the Paleobiology Database page on it. By now, a lot of taxa have been lumped and things have quieted down a lot.
The Urweltmuseum Fischer is clearly a quarry company’s show of cool fossils they happen to have found, with some small attempts to pretty it up. In contrast, the Urwelt-Museum Hauff, despite practically identical origins, is a full-blown museum, with a thought-through pedagogic concept. And, quite obviously, it cost a lot more money, attracts more visitors, and generally caters to a different audience than Fischer, which has a certain emphasis on the for-sale fossils. A huge part of the difference is that the Hauff museum has a purpose-built building, and has been designed to look nice. My palaeo-geek heart started beating faster outside already where some models are shown, but I’ll cover those exhibits another time. Today, let’s start our tour with the silhouettes stuck to the windows at the entrance – the type normally shaped like a bird of prey and intended to keep birds from crashing into the glass.
Welcome to the Jurassic Sea! This museum will show you all that lived in it, and all that fell into it, too.
Inside past the cash desk you immediately step into a large room with a cafeteria on the right and…. this:
(this is looking back at the entrance; I know what right and left are. Note Eric Snively getting a closer shot of the Hybodus.)
The Hauff museum is full of fossils, but also of some very nicely done life reconstructions. Here, you can see a model of
Hybodus hauffianus, a selachiform shark. Hybodontiformes are easily recognizable by their two back fins having a big bony spike at their fronts. Usually, teeth, spikes and a small assortment of other tiny bones, along with (in case you find a male) a pair of claspers is all you can find. Not so in the Posidonia Shale. Here, you get every tiny little bit, stomach content, plus sometimes soft tissue remains. Check out the fins behind the head in this awesome specimen, which is exhibited right under the life model. Two close-ups:
But…..this specimen is not an original. That’s at the SMNS; the Urweltmuseum Hauff has only a copy. An excellent at that, but the fact that two prime specimens belong to the collections of the two big palaeontological research institutions in the area already tells you a bit about what makes Hauff special: there always was an excellent and tight working relationship with local scientists. Bernhard Hauff was for example working closely with famous Stuttgart curator Eberhard Fraas (him of Gigantosaurus in Tendaguru).
Because it is a nice model, and because I am quite partial to the little shark food, the belemnites (the rostra of which you can see in the close-up of the stomach region above) that accompany the shark model, I’ll give you a few more views.
The models do not simply float in space. They hang above a large area where the Lias ε’s rocks are reproduced as a stepped-back quarry wall, to show the lithology and typical fossil content. The rocks vary in the amount of carbonate they contain, how regular their bedding is, and whether life at the ground was possible. Some layers show extensive arthropod burrows and are names Seegrasschiefer – all wrong: neither are they schists, nor is the pattern on them caused by seagrass.
Overall, the rock layer are all well banked and greyish in colour. Thicker and tougher layers contain more carbonate, and are less well layered. They sometimes contain carbonate concretions almost big enough to contain a whole fish. Carbonate-poor layers are tied to an anoxic sea floor, finer lamination and good conditions for soft tissue preservation. Next post we will look at the sequence and the fossils in a bit more detail.