Category Archives: GERMANY

This 48-Million-Year-Old Fossil Has an Insect Inside a Lizard Inside a Snake

Fossil of a beetle inside a lizard inside a snake – an ancient food chain

Paleontologists have uncovered a fossil that has preserved an insect inside a lizard inside a snake – a prehistoric battle of the food chain that ended in a volcanic lake some 48 million years ago.

Pulled from an abandoned quarry in southwest Germany called the Messel Pit, the fossil is only the second of its kind ever found, with the remains of three animals sitting snug in one another.

Earlier excavations have revealed the fossilized stomach contents of a prehistoric horse, whose last meal was grapes and leaves, and pollen grains were identified inside a fossilized bird. Remains of insects have also been detected in a sample of fish excrement.

Grube Messel

We have been lucky to glimpse such a primordial food chain of the snake, that ate a lizard, that had previously treated itself to a beetle, and ended up in a volcanic lake of the time. It is uncertain how the snake died.

Perhaps the snake’s body fell dead close to the shores of the lake before the waters claimed it. It had died there not more than 48 hours after its “last supper,” scientists say.

“It’s probably the kind of fossil that I will go the rest of my professional life without ever encountering again, such is the rarity of these things.” Such are the words of Dr. Krister Smith, a paleontologist at the Senkenberg Institute in Germany who took charge of the fossil analysis.

According to Dr. Smith, the almost entirely preserved snake was recovered from a plate found in the pit back in 2009, and the discovery soon turned out to be groundbreaking. Smith remarks, “we had never found a tripartite food chain–this is a first for Messel.”

Dr. Smith and Argentine paleontologist Dr. Agustín Scanferla used high-resolution computer imaging to identify the taxonomy of the snake and the lizard, however, they were unable to name the beetle, the least preserved of the three.

Palaeopython fischeri, exhibited in Naturmuseum Senckenberg, Frankfurt am Main, Germany

The snake, measuring some 3.4 feet in length, was identified as Palaeophython fischeri, a species which belongs to a group of tree-dwelling snakes that was able to grow to more than 6.5 feet in length and is related to today’s boas.

The preserved sample from Germany was only a juvenile, an assurance being not only the shorter length but also its food choice, the lizard. Adult boas are known to opt for bigger animals.

The lizard would have measured nearly eight inches and a clear hint for paleontologists that it was inside the snake’s body was that the snake’s ribs overlapped it.

It is an example of the now extinct species Geiseltaliellus maarius, a type of iguanian lizard that inhabited the region of what is now Germany, France, and Belgium. Messel has been the site that has provided some of the best-preserved samples of this lizard species.

What’s also interesting is that, even though lizards are known for shedding their tails when under threat, this one has kept it despite falling prey to the snake.

“Since the stomach contents are digested relatively fast and the lizard shows an excellent level of preservation, we assume that the snake died no more than one to two days after consuming its prey and then sank to the bottom of the Messel Lake, where it was preserved,” explained Dr. Smith.

Fossil of Palaeopython in the Naturhistorisches Museum Wien

This is a rare type of fossil, but it’s not the first instance in which a fossil has simultaneously exposed three levels of an ancient food chain. According to National Geographic, in 2008, a fossil dated at more than 250 millions of years old depicted a shark that had devoured an amphibian that had previously consumed a spiny-finned fish.

Both these findings are precious as they reveal significant details on how food chains functioned. In the case of the snake fossil, it is interesting that the lizard had eaten a beetle.

Before that, scientists didn’t know that the Messel lizard liked to dine on insects, as in previous digs they had been able to identify only remains of plants in fossilized lizard bellies. In the case of the shark, it was revealed that amphibians consumed fish before becoming a menu item to the fish itself.

‘Oldest Roman library Discovered Beneath German City’ unearthed by Cologne archaeologist

‘Oldest Roman library Discovered Beneath German City’ unearthed by Cologne archaeologist

A team of archeologists who digged near the church of Antoniter, a Protestant church in the center of Cologne, Germany, found a puzzling discovery.

Beneath the foundations of the church were Roman walls—Cologne (then called Colonia) was founded by the Romans in 50 AD—with a series of niches measuring about 31 inches by 20 inches.

Initially, archaeologists thought that the niches used to host statues. But soon enough it became evident that they must have served some other purpose.

archaeologists discovered a Roman-era structure with mysterious niches near a Protestant church in Cologne, Germany.
Archaeologists discovered a Roman-era structure with mysterious niches near a Protestant church in Cologne, Germany.

“It took us some time to match up the parallel—we could see the niches were too small to bear statues inside,” Dr. Dirk Schmitz, an archaeologist at the Roman-Germanic Museum of Cologne told The Guardian.

After more research, Schmitz and his team noticed how the niches were similar to those found in Roman-era libraries such as the 117 structure discovered in Ephesus, Turkey.

They concluded that the niches served as “cupboards for scrolls” and that the building used to be a library containing an estimated 20,000 scrolls.

archaeologists discovered a Roman-era structure with mysterious niches near a Protestant church in Cologne, Germany.
The niches are similar to those found in the Roman-era library discovered in Ephesus, Turkey.

According to the area excavated so far, the library used to measure 65 feet by 30 feet and was probably two stories tall—a monumental building for Roman times.

Its location, right in the center of the city, provided further evidence about the nature of the building.“It is in the middle of Cologne, in the marketplace, or forum: the public space in the city center,” Schmitz told The Guardian.

“It is built of very strong materials, and such buildings, because they are so huge, were public.”

Archaeologists unearthed a Roman-era library in the heart of Cologne, Germany.

Roman-era libraries are rare finds for archaeologists, making this an important discovery.

As Schmitz explained, it is probable that Roman towns had libraries but they are not usually part of excavations’ findings, partly because there is no distinctive sign that can identify a building as a library.

But what made a difference this time was the presence of niches in the walls.

“If we had just found the foundations, we wouldn’t have known it was a library,” Schmitz added.

“It was because it had walls, with the niches, that we could tell.”

An archaeologist finds 100’s of silver artifacts from the reign of Viking ruler Harald Bluetooth

An archaeologist unearths 100’s of silver artifacts from the reign of Viking ruler Harald Bluetooth, including 1,000-year-old coins, rings, and a Thor’s hammer

Hundreds of 1,000-year-old silver coins, rings, pearls, and bracelets are among treasures unearthed from the time of a legendary Viking ruler. Clues to the location of the haul were first discovered by two amateur archaeologists, a 13-year-old boy and his teacher.

The pair were looking for valuables using metal detectors when they chanced upon what they thought was a worthless piece of aluminium. Upon closer inspection, they realised that it was a shimmering piece of silver, and alerted experts to the find.

Further investigation revealed a trove believed to date to the era of King Harald Gormsson, who reigned from around 958 to 986 AD. Better known as ‘Harald Bluetooth’, his name lives on in the wireless technology standard named in his honour by its Swedish creators Ericsson. King Harald is also credited with unifying Denmark and introducing Christianity to the Scandinavian nation.

Researchers said that around 100 silver coins from the collection (pictured) are probably from the reign of Bluetooth, who was the king of what is now Denmark, northern Germany, southern Sweden and parts of Norway.
Researchers said that around 100 silver coins from the collection (pictured) are probably from the reign of Bluetooth, who was the king of what is now Denmark, northern Germany, southern Sweden and parts of Norway.

Experts uncovered the collection on the German Baltic island of Rügen, after a single coin was found in a field near the village of Schaprode by Rene Schoen and his student Luca Malaschnitschenko in January.

The state’s archaeology office then became involved, digging an exploratory trench covering 400 square metres (4,300 square feet).

This revealed the  entire treasure, which was recovered by experts last weekend. Researchers said that around 100 silver coins of the roughly 600 are probably from the reign of Bluetooth.

The pair were looking for valuables using metal detectors when they chanced upon what they thought was a worthless piece of aluminium. Upon closer inspection, they realised that it was a shimmering piece of silver, and alerted experts to the find (pictured)
The pair were looking for valuables using metal detectors when they chanced upon what they thought was a worthless piece of aluminium. Upon closer inspection, they realised that it was a shimmering piece of silver, and alerted experts to the find (pictured)

He ruled over what is now Denmark, northern Germany, southern Sweden and parts of Norway. Braided necklaces, pearls, brooches, a Thor’s hammer, rings and up to 600 chipped coins were found.

This trove is the biggest single discovery of Bluetooth coins in the southern Baltic Sea region and is therefore of great significance,’  lead archaeologist Michael Schirren told German news agency DPA.

The oldest coin found in the trove is a Damascus dirham dating to 714 AD while the most recent is a penny dating to 983 AD.

The find suggests that the treasure may have been buried in the late 980s – also the period when Bluetooth was known to have fled to Pomerania where he died in 987.‘We have here the rare case of a discovery that appears to corroborate historical sources,’ archaeologist Detlef Jantzen added.

Bluetooth, a Viking-born king turned his back on old Norse religion, but was forced to flee to Pomerania after a rebellion led by his son Sven Gabelbart.

He was the son of Gorm the Old, the first significant figure in a new royal line centred at Jelling, in North Jutland. The Trelleborg type of fortifications, built in a circular shape with a rampart and four gateways, date from his reign.

Better known as 'Harald Bluetooth', the Danish King's name lives on in the wireless technology standard named in his honour by its creators Ericsson. Mr Schoen digs out a silver necklace
Better known as ‘Harald Bluetooth’, the Danish King’s name lives on in the wireless technology standard named in his honour by its creators Ericsson. Mr Schoen digs out a silver necklace

A total of five are known to exist, located in modern Denmark and the south of Sweden. The expansion begun by Bluetooth in Norway was continued by his son Sweyn I, whose war with his father marked Harald’s last years.

After Sweyn conquered England in 1013 AD, his son Canute ruled over a great Anglo-Scandinavian kingdom that included parts of Sweden. 

Bluetooth, a Viking-born king turned his back on old Norse religion, but was forced to flee to Pomerania after a rebellion led by his son Sven Gabelbart. This aerial shot, taken by a drone, shows archaeologists searching for more treasure
Bluetooth, a Viking-born king turned his back on old Norse religion, but was forced to flee to Pomerania after a rebellion led by his son Sven Gabelbart. This aerial shot, taken by a drone, shows archaeologists searching for more treasure

Europe’s Oldest Battlefield Yields Clues to Fighters’ Identities in Germany

Europe’s Oldest Battlefield Yields Clues to Fighters’ Identities in Germany

After decomposition, the bones were somewhat jumbled by the movement of the river.
After decomposition, the bones were somewhat jumbled by the movement of the river.

Europe’s Oldest Battlefield Yields Clues to Fighters’ Identities: It was one of the biggest and most brutal battles in the Bronze Age. Now archaeologist has shed new light on the mysterious people who fought in the Tollense Valley 3,250 years ago.

A study of the skeletons at the sites in north-eastern Germany suggests that more than 2000 people were involved in the battle. And while experts are yet to pinpoint exactly where the fighters were from, DNA analysis suggests that it was a large, diverse group of non-local warriors.

The reason for the war on Europes oldest battlefield remains unknown. Since the 1980s, several pieces of evidence of a battle have been discovered in river sediment at the site, including daggers, knives, and skulls.

A skull with a bronze arrowhead in it was found at the Tollense site.
A skull with a bronze arrowhead in it was found at the Tollense site.

In 1996, an amateur archaeologist found a single upper arm bone sticking out of the steep river bank with a flint arrowhead embedded in one end of the bone. A systematic exploration of the site began in 2007 after archaeologist unearthed an enormous battlefield, as well as 140 skeletons and remains of military equipment.

These included wooden clubs, bronze spearhead, and flint and bronze arrowheads. Now, an archaeologist from the Lower Saxony State Office for Cultural Heritage have analyzed the remains to learn more about the peoples who fought in the battle.

According to Science, in the Bronze Age, Northern Europe was long dismissed as a backwater, overshadowed by more sophisticated civilizations in the Near East and Greece.

They believe the battle was of a scale up until then, completely unknown north of the Alps. It suggests more organizations and violence in the area than once thought.

Speaking to Live Science, Professor Thomas Terberger, one of the archaeologists working on the excavation, said: ‘We are very confident that the human remain is more or less lying in the position where they died.’

While 140 skeletons have been found, Professor Terberger stated that this is likely only a fraction of the men involved. He estimates that more than 2000 people were involved in the battle. He said: ‘This is beyond the local scale of conflict,’ suggesting that the battle went beyond neighbors.

To understand more about the fighters, the researcher conducted a chemical analysis of the skeletons, looking for elements like strontium, which can leave a geographically specific signature in bones.

While the results showed that the fighter was a large, diverse group of non-locals, the archaeologist was unable to pinpoint specifically where they were from.

An analysis of the skeletons at the site in north-eastern Germany suggests that more than 2,000 people were involved in the battle
An analysis of the skeletons at the site in north-eastern Germany suggests that more than 2,000 people were involved in the battle

The analysis did suggest that many of the fighters came from the south – either southern Germany or Central Europe – a find that was in line with many pieces of evidence discovered at the site, including Central-European arrowheads and pins.

The fighters closely resembled the slain soldiers discovered in a nearby mass grave at Wittstock, dating back to 1636. While this is more recent than the battle at Tollense, Professor Terberger believes that it could have some important parallels for the Bronze Age.

In the battle at Wittstock, soldiers were known to come from all over Europe. If the fighters at Tollense were also multi-ethnic, it might mean ‘these were the warrior who was trained as warriors’, rather than locals, according to Professor Terberger.

One key question that remains to be answered is the motivation behind the battle. The researcher now hopes to look to the wider landscape near the battlefield to look for answers.

The Tollense River was known to be an important route for north-south trade, and the battle took place beside a bridge connecting two sides of the river.

Professor Terberger said: ‘It was probably an important crossing in the landscape.’ The time when the battle took place was also right in the middle of a huge cultural shift in Central Europe, as people arrived from the Mediterranean. Professor Terberger added: ‘It is not by accident that our battlefield site is dating to this period of time.’

1,900-Year-Old Roman Village unearthed in Germany

1,900-Year-Old Roman Village unearthed in Germany

The public watches as students dig for artifacts within the remains of a 1,900-year-old Roman fort that once quartered 500 troops in what is today Gernsheim in Germany.
The public watches as students dig for artifacts within the remains of a 1,900-year-old Roman fort that once quartered 500 troops in what is today Gernsheim in Germany.

The remains of a 1,900-year-old Roman fort that once quartered 500 troops in what is today Germany were discovered by archeologists.

The fort was found in the town of Gernsheim, which sits along the Rhine River in the German state of Hesse. Researchers knew the area was the site of a village during the first to third centuries, but otherwise, the region’s history during the Roman occupation is largely unknown, dig leader Thomas Maurer, an archaeologist at the University of Frankfurt said in a statement.

“It was assumed that this settlement had to have been based on a fort, since it was customary for the families of the soldiers to live outside the fort in a village-like settlement,” Maurer said. Until now, however, no one had found that fort. 

Military rediscovery

During an educational dig in the area, Maurer and his colleagues uncovered postholes that once held the foundations of a wooden tower, as well as two V-shaped ditches, which were a common feature of Roman forts of the era.

A unit of 500 soldiers, known as a “cohort,” was stationed at the fort between about A.D. 70 and A.D.120.Fortunately for modern-day archaeologists, the last Romans to leave the fort destroyed the place on the way out, filling in the ditches with rubbish.

This rubbish included “box after box” of ceramic shards, which can be dated to pinpoint the time of the abandonment of the fort, said Hans-Markus von Kaenel, a professor at the Goethe University Institute of Archaeology.”We really hit the jackpot with this excavation campaign,” von Kaenel said in the statement.

Roman history

A brick fragment stamped with the sign of the 22nd Roman Legion, an elite unite from the late first century.

Researchers have been able to piece together a broad history of the Gernsheim region from a scattering of archaeological finds there.

The Romans built the newly discovered fort around A.D. 70 as a jumping-off point for control of areas east of the Rhine, according to von Kaenel and his colleagues.

The area was an important transportation hub, with roads branching off to access the borders of the Roman Empire. There may have also been a harbor on the Rhine at the time, though that has yet to be verified, Maurer said.

The modern expansion of the town paved over many suspected Roman sites, but Maurer, von Kaenel and their colleagues managed to secure permission for a dig on a vacant double lot near where Roman-era finds were discovered in the 1970s and 1980s. This lot turned out to hold the remains of the long-lost fort.

A brick fragment found at the site identifies the troops quartered at the fort as members of the 22nd Legion, an elite unit from the late first century. Researchers also found a large horse harness pendant used by Roman cavalry.