Apeman and ‘walking with beasts’ palaeontology

This video is called Evolution, Amber and the Eocene.

Among the small temporary exhibitions in the natural history museum is one about Eugène Dubois.

Dr Dubois was born in 1858 in the Netherlands; the exhibit commemorates that he was born 150 years ago.

He became famous as the discoverer of the ‘apeman’ Homo erectus (see also here) in Indonesia.

On 7 July, a much bigger exhibition commemorating Dr Dubois will start in the museum.

A big temporary exhibition right now is about the Messel quarry in Germany, famous for its Eocene fossils.

About 47 million years ago, what is now the Messel quarry was a volcanic lake, surrounded by sub-tropical forests. As there was no oxygen in the deeper layers of the lake, animals and plants sinking to those levels fossilized well.

The palaeontological research at Messel is the scientific base for much of the first part of the BBC TV series Walking with Beasts, about the evolution of life in the Cenozoic.

That research was also the basis for much of the BBC Internet game, the Evolution game. In that game, you started during the Eocene as a small early primate. Then, depending on choices you as a player made on eating various kinds of food, moving to different environments, evading predators, etc., you (or at least, your offspring) could evolve into a human or another primate species living presently. I tried hard to be good at the game. However, mysteriously, I never managed to evolve beyond the Miocene era. Then, as a Proconsul or something, I typically would be unable to get enough food; and I would die. Probably, something was wrong in the design of the game. At the moment, you cannot play it at the BBC site anymore. That’s a pity, as in itself it was interesting.

At the Messel exhibition, looking at the fossils behind glass, I recognized quite some animal species from the Evolution game. Including the small early relative of the horse, Propalaeotherium. The early rodent Ailuravus. Kopidodon macrognathus, also a tree dwelling mammal. Another forest dweller, Heterohyus nanus.

Marsupials, today only living in Australia and the Americas, then also lived in Europe: Peradectes was found at Messel.

The most often found mammal fossils of Messel are bats; eight species have been found so far.

Nine fish species have been found; most of them ‘primitive’ bony fish, related to the gars and bowfin of today, now confined to the Americas. It is possible for exhibition visitors to touch the (replica) bones and scales of well preserved Messel gar and bowfin specimens.

So far, six species of crocodiles; and other reptile species like snakes, lizards, and tortoises.

Over 50% of the insect fossils of Messel are beetles.


8 thoughts on “Apeman and ‘walking with beasts’ palaeontology

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