This is a SUPERBLY PRESERVED example of an extinct fossil bowfin fish of the species Cyclurus kehreri (aka Amia). Cyclurus is a member of the Holosteans. It is complete with complete preservation of fins, skin and bones. You can even see tiny exposed teeth in an area of the jaw that has been uncovered. Every part of the anatomy shows remarkable relief and preserved detail. This specimen shows SUPERB natural color in the fossil with extensive preserved skin over the bones and spine. The fin rays are present with nice detail in some regions. We acquired the specimen only partially prepared and we completed the preparation in our lab. Only a clear preservant was applied to the fossil once prepared. Plate is resin like all Messel fossils. This is an excellent value in a fine quality Messel fish considering the scarcity of quality AUTHENTIC specimens available on the market.
The Messel Pit was originally mined for its bituminous shale and this oil shale was actively dug from 1859 to 1971. After mining operations ceased in 1971, the German government considered filling the open pit mine with garbage and converting the site to a waste dump despite the knowledge of its fossils. Fossils had been well-known from the Messel site with the first fossil found in 1875 of a well-preserved crocodile and despite the local governments' desire to destroy the site, serious scientific excavations had been taking place there since the early 1970's. Fortunately, the scientific community was successful in saving the Messel Pit and German legislation was enacted in 1991 and in 1992 to protect it as a national monument. Later, in 1995, the Messel Pit gained its UNESCO listing and international prominence and protection.
The site is so rich in a unique array of preserved fauna that it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995 and is now internationally protected. The UNESCO program aims to catalogue, name, and preserve sites around the world of remarkable cultural or natural importance for the common heritage of mankind. The majority of sites protected under UNESCO are cultural, not natural sites like Messel so its inclusion as a world "treasure" underlines its value and importance to both paleontologists as well as fossil collectors.
The fossil deposits at Messel date back to the Middle Eocene Period ( Geiseltalian Period) or 50 million years ago. The site was a former lake during this time. The surrounding shore region is believed to have been subjected to periodic poisonous gas attacks emerging from the lake bed due to tectonic activity explaining the abundance of well-preserved terrestrial vertebrates near the original lake shore. The lake was also a deep body of water with nearly zero turbidity at the lower strata. This deeper part of the lake was also anoxic, that is, it had little to no dissolved oxygen so it could not support any aquatic life-forms that needed to breathe underwater. This unique set of circumstances meant that any fauna that died in the lake and sunk to the bottom would not have readily decomposed, been disturbed by predators or scattered by water currents. Combined with very low rate of sedimentary deposition resulted in the extraordinarily well-preserved fossils that are found now.
The Messel flora and fauna represent the finest examples preserved of this period ever discovered. The quality of preservation is astonishing ranging from preserved soft body tissue and stomach contents of many vertebrate specimens to preserved distinct metallic colorations in its insect fossils. Whole skeletons are found perfectly articulated and complete with dark regions of preserved hair, feathers and skin. Original complex prehistoric chemical compositions of the deposit are also still intact allowing scientists to study these "chemical fossils" and thereby reconstruct the paleoecology and paleobiological processes of the site 50 million years ago! The rich array of specimens includes 40 new species comprising rare mammal (both ground-dwelling and avian), fish, insect, amphibian, reptile and plant remains. The photos below show some of the amazing examples that have been found in the Messel shale.
PREPARATION TECHNIQUE OF MESSEL FOSSILS:
Since the oil shales from Messel are fragile and difficult to stabilize in the conservation of the fossils found there, the most common technique for extracting and presenting these fossils is by embedding the fossil in plastic resin on one side for a stable backing. When the fossil is discovered in the field, resin is mixed and poured over the exposed layer. The entire fossil with its reinforced resin backing is then removed from the ground and brought back to the lab where it is flipped over and prepared from the rock side which was the former layer facing down. The preparation is done very carefully with manual tools and in some cases, light air abrasives. The surrounding rock is removed to expose the layer holding the fossil and if done carefully, soft body tissue and other delicate features can be found preserved intact. The resin is either colored or left natural and the fossil is stabilized with a clear preservant to prevent damage to its fragile features now that they are fully exposed.
The images below showcase some of the spectacular actual specimens excavated from the Messel Pit that now reside in the Senckenberg Natural History Museum in Frankfurt, Germany - protected by copyright