A museum and prehistoric immersive attraction, is all about bringing the history of life on Earth and the evolution of our planet itself to a broad public. GONDWANA - Das Praehistorium recreates the sights, sounds and smells of ancient worlds in a series of elaborate environments populated with highly convincing robotic animals and rich plant life.
Welcome to Gondwana - Das Praehistorium
Tropical primeval forests, deserts, frozen forests, shallow seas and deep oceans: in a period spanning hundreds of millions of years, landscapes have been in a process of continual change. So too has life on earth. In the course of 4 billion years, it has adapted time and time again, and has survived major crises and turning-points, in the process of becoming what it is today.
For almost three-quarters of life's history, microorganisms were the sole biological shapers of the environment. What we now regard as familiar ecological communities have at many times been quite different in their composition. Time and time again, similar environmental conditions have brought forth similar forms of life.
Showing all this, and creating a tangible experience of prehistory is the purpose of das Prähistorium. It shows that prehistoric times were more than just those of the giant dinosaurs.
Argentinosaurus huinculensis, the "Argentinean lizard" was named after the city of Plaza Huincul, close to which the fossilised remains were found. At the time of the dinosaurs, this area was a dry, sparsely vegetated landscape. The rivers only ran seasonally or after storms and the animals roamed the wide plains in small herds, browsing the crowns of the scattered trees.
From the preserved bones of the Argentinosaurus, scientists were able to reconstruct the full size of the animal: at a length of around 40 m and a shoulder height of 8 m it was one of the largest land animals that has ever lived. Argentinosaurus belonged to the giant herbivorous dinosaurs, the sauropods, specifically the titanosaurs. The bones were discovered in 1989 and were described scientifically for the first time in 1993 by the palaeontologists Rodolfo Coria and José Bonaparte. Professor Coria oversaw the construction of the skeleton in the Praehistorium in person. It is the first skeleton of Argentinosaurus outside America.
Ornithocheirus (which means "bird hand") was a very large pterosaurian with a wingspan of up to 12 metres. Despite its size, it was relatively light at a weight of approx. 80 kg, due to its hollow, lightweight bones. Ornithocheirus fed on fish. By utilising thermals for flying, it was able to cover large distances relatively easily and had a worldwide distribution.
Entrance Film: Evolution 3D
English translation of the movie.
From 700 to 500 million years ago: Life is getting larger
The end of the Precambrian marked the beginning of "visible life" on earth. Up until this point, for almost 3 billion years, life had been microscopically small, even in its first multicellular forms. But now larger organisms developed. At first they were still soft-bodied, and have therefore scarcely left any fossil evidence behind. Yet, about 500 million years ago, during the Cambrian period, animals began to develop shells and skeletons, so fossils become much more common from then onwards. Assuming many forms and lifestyles, life now conquered all the habitats in the ocean.
At the start of the Cambrian: Did life really "explode"?
From the start of the Palaeozoic era, the number of fossils discovered rises abruptly. Sedimentary rock from that time already shows evidence of all the main animal groups known today. However, it is doubtful whether this is due to an explosive development of multicellular organisms. Probably the most important developmental stages had taken place long before, in the Precambrian. Yet, due to their “soft bodies”, the Precambrian ancestors of the later, “hard-part-bearing” organisms left no traces in the sedimentary rock.
Ediacara: Mysterious macrofossils
The oldest macrofossil remains discovered to date take their name from the Ediacara Hills in Southern Australia. They stem from the late Precambrian period, about 600 millions years ago. Their habitat was the sandy floor of a shallow sea. It is still not known to which animal or plant group these strange structures belonged. The "Ediacara organisms" still had no shell or skeleton. Their impressions in the sandstone only came about because a thick bacterial crust formed over them after they died.
8 Charniodiscus concentricus
At first, only a circular disc of Charniodiscus was found in the area of Charnwood Forest in England. On better-preserved finds, it was later recognised that the disc-shaped structure in the rock had originally been a round, bulbous holdfast. This was joined above to a frond, similar to that of today’s sea pens. The Charniodiscus organisms were anchored in the sediment and fed by filtering microorganisms and organic particles from the water with their "frond".
8 Charniodiscus concentricus
At first, only a circular disc of Charniodiscus was found in the area of Charnwood Forest in England. On better-preserved finds, it was later recognised that the disc-shaped structure in the rock had originally been a round, bulbous holdfast. This was joined above to a frond, similar to that of today’s sea pens. The Charniodiscus organisms were anchored in the sediment and fed by filtering microorganisms and organic particles from the water with their "frond".
9 Spriggina floundersi
With its long segmented form, Spriggina has generally been placed close to the early annelids or arthropods. Others see the frond of an organism like a sea pen in this imprint fossil. The species name "floundersi" is derived from the name of the original find, the Flinders Range in Southern Australia.
Cyclomedusa, like Charniodiscus, is a circular imprint fossil from the Ediacaran group of related species. The small central circle and the concentrically arranged lines around it were at first interpreted as the print of a jellyfish. But nowadays the fossil is believed to be the print of an anchoring body to which an as yet unknown part of the organism was attached.
11 Mawsonites spriggi
Mawsonites spriggi is named after Reg Sprigg, who discovered the Ediacara fauna in Australia, and in honour of the Australian Antarctic researcher and geologist, Douglas Mawson. The roundish imprint is differentiated by smaller round semicircles. The fossil has been interpreted variously as a jellyfish impression, the imprint of a holdfast, the cast of a burrow or a large microbial colony.
12 Anomalocaris 1
The arrival of the great predators
Animals were now developing harder skins, either by growing it thicker or through depositing minerals in their skin. Predators developed tools to catch, bite or crush a protective covering. The first predators soon became very large, such as Anomalocaris from the Cambrian Burgess Shale in British Columbia. Their prey species attempted to protect themselves from attack by developing weapons for defence or a thick armour. In order to cope in this increasingly complex environment and to recognise dangers in time, animals began to develop eyes and other more highly developed sense organs.
13 Anomalocaris 2
Translated literally, Anomalocaris means "anomalous shrimp". The creature’s different parts were at first not recognised as belonging to the same animal and were described under different names. Anomalocaris was one of the largest predators in the Cambrian period, with a length of over 60 cm – with some estimated to have been up to 2 metres large. Common earlier reconstructions (reproduced in this model) show Anomalocaris as an animal that swam by using the flexible side lobes of its broad segments. We now know that Anomalocaris had segmented legs, in other words, it was a "normal" arthropod and not a strange, legless primeval monster.
14 Spiny plankton (Acritarchs): Small things matter
Spiny plankton (Acritarchs):
Small things matter
The most minute marine plankton, enlarged more than ten thousand times in this model, have always been at the beginning of the food chain. Even at the beginning of the Palaeozoic, enormous quantities of the minute organisms were floating in the oceans. When plankton dies, the oxygen in the water is quickly used up, because bacteria soon break down the dead biomass. Poisonous hydrogen sulphide is formed in the seawater and on the seabed. Throughout the history of the earth, such times of oxygen deficiency have been the cause of significant crises in the evolution of life.
Acritarchs are a very old group of fossils. They have been found in rocks dating back over 2 billion years. The fossils are well-preserved because they had a very resistant membrane. Being planktonic organisms, which drifted freely and rapidly in seawater, Acritarchs are distributed all over the world and serve as guide fossils to determine the relative age of rocks. Mass outbreaks of marine plankton (plankton blooms) often resulted in fatal oxygen deficiencies in the water. Acritarchs were only approx. 0.01 to 0.05 millimetres in size. The model here is enlarged about 100,000 times.
Stromatolites are thin-layered limestones which were formed by the activity of blue-green algae. The oldest of these biological structures are almost 3.5 billion years old. Stromatolites were abundant and widely distributed throughout the whole Precambrian. But they were also found in more recent periods, such as the Permian or Triassic. A well-known present-day occurrence of typical stromatolites is at Shark Bay on the west coast of Australia. Crusts and mats of blue-green algae also covered and cemented the surfaces of sandy and clayey seabeds as microbial "biofilms".
Additional search words: stromatolites, cyanobacteria
The imprints in the sandstones containing the "Ediacara" fauna often seem to resemble jellyfish. For a long time they were indeed interpreted to be just that. Nowadays it is no longer believed that these are really imprints of jellyfish. Jellyfish are not easily preserved due to their softness and their high water content. Being preserved in coarse sandstone would only be expected if a thick microbial coating had formed over the body of the jellyfish, like a kind of “death mask”. Nevertheless, coelenterates and their jellyfish members must have been very abundant at this time, because they are one of the oldest and simplest structural forms of multicellular animal life.
18 The Silurian: diversity of life in the sea
From 440 to 410 million years ago
The Silurian: diversity of life in the sea
Deep, muddy ocean floors, the open sea, the shallow waters of the continental shelf: everything was teeming with life. Highly developed invertebrates lived here, including gigantic cephalopods. Armoured fish and the first sharks populated the oceans. Extensive coral reefs grew in the clear blue shallow seas at the equator. The surface of the land and the continents, however, was still bare and barren. Only a few lichens and mosses grew there. Yet colonisation of the land by vascular plants and animals was imminent.
19 Why do continents move?
Why do continents move?
Around 450 million years ago, the position of the earth’s continents is becoming increasingly easy to locate. From this point onwards, throughout the millions of years of the earth's history, they are drifting and moving across the globe. This led to frequent changes in the oceanic currents and the climate. These kinds of changes can be accurately followed by means of rocks and fossils. The basic idea that continents drift over the surface of the earth was developed by the geophysicist Alfred Wegener. Current plate tectonic theory assumes that giant global plates are moved across the surface of the earth, carrying the continents with them. The driving forces in this are slow currents in the earth's mantle.
20 Coral reefs of the Palaeozoic
Different from today
Coral reefs of the Palaeozoic
Very extensive coral reefs grew in clear shallow seas in a tropical equatorial climate. Their remains are now to be found in Sweden and, somewhat later, during the Devonian, also in Germany. Compared with the present day, however, these reefs consisted of different organisms. The corals were different from those nowadays; there were considerably more sponges and a different fauna living on the rocky coral foundations. Like today’s reefs, the reefs in the Silurian were species-rich "tropical forests of the sea" and sensitive, delicate ecosystems. Subsiding ocean floors, pollution from mud, extensive silting-up or oxygen deficiency have repeatedly led to large areas of reef dying.
21 Rugose coral colony
In addition to solitary corals, in the reefs of the Palaeozoic, there were also those that formed colonies. Like the solitary corals, these also belonged to the Rugosa. The colonies could grow to over a metre in height.
22 Rugose solitary corals
The name "rugose" comes from the Latin word "rugae", and refers to the conspicuous transverse wrinkles in the walls of these corals. Rugose corals grew in the Palaeozoic. They were constructed differently in many ways from today’s corals, which first appeared at the start of the Mesozoic. Solitary rugose corals could grow very large, with heights up to 20 cm. Whereas the larger solitary corals nowadays often occur in deeper and darker areas of the ocean, outside the actual reefs, in the Palaeozoic, they were common inhabitants of the shallow ocean reefs.
Favosites were also an important component of the reefs in the Palaeozoic. The nodular colonies consisted of tightly packed angular pipes. As they grew, the lower, no longer inhabited areas were sealed off with "floors". It is not certain whether coral polyps inhabited the tubes of the favosite skeletons, or whether the favosites, like the stromatoporoids, were sponges.
Stromatoporoids developed a nodular calcium substrate as a basic skeleton. Only the top few millimetres of this nodular calcium structure were alive. Previously placed in the broader alliance of corals, stromatoporoids are now considered to be sponges. The stromatoporoids, rather than the corals, were the most important reef builders in the Silurian and Devonian, particularly in those areas characterised by strong wave action and water movement. Stromatoporoid calcium skeletons grew very slowly: one nodule probably took 500 to 1000 years to develop.
25 Predatory sea giants
In sheltered bays and broad reef lagoons in the Silurian era lived the predatory sea scorpions. Growing to lengths of almost 3 metres, they were the largest arthropods that have ever lived. Equipped with claws and trapping devices, these creatures were dangerous predators. By closing the gills underneath their body casing, they were also able to spend a certain amount of time outside the water. However, unlike the later terrestrial animals, the eurypterids always had to return to the water.
The eurypterid (= sea scorpion) Mixopterus had enlarged hind legs that formed broad swimming paddles and its front extremities had developed into a bizarre trap, guarded by spines. It swam or walked on the seabed near the shore and hunted trilobites, molluscs, worms and possibly also fish. Mixopterus was one of the largest and most scorpion-like eurypterids known.
27 The Devonian: life moves onto the land
The Devonian: life moves onto the land
After massive mountain-building episodes, the shallow seas of the Silurian became high mountain ranges, giant river deltas and wide tidal plains. In the hot equatorial climate, shallow pools and coastal swamps often dried out. In this kind of environment, the organisms able to survive were those that could protect themselves from drying out or were able to travel further to other water bodies. Starting at the water's edge, low-growing lawns of plants conquered the land. These were soon followed by the arthropods and later, in the Upper Devonian, the vertebrates. At the end of the Devonian era the first forests had appeared and damp, swampy low-lying areas were inhabited by amphibians, arachnids, millipedes and the first insects.
28 Plants conquer dry land
The greening of the continents
Plants conquer dry land
In the Silurian and at the start of the Devonian period, plants had developed that were very well adapted to life in the shallow water of the intertidal zone, the temporary pools and the wide floodplains. With a breathable outer skin as protection against drying out, a system of vessels to transport water and nutrients and sufficient stability, they were able to colonise the land ever further and more permanently. These first land plants still had only small leafless shoots. They grew in carpets along the banks of waterbodies. But competition for sunlight soon forced them to grow higher and broader than their neighbours. By the end of the Devonian, the small early ferns had been replaced by broad-crowned forest trees.
Taeniocrada was an early vascular plant (a plant with a vascular bundle to transport water and nutrients). With its presumably very flexible shoots, it lived submerged in shallow water. In times of low water, its vast stands covering wide areas of mudflats, similar to today’s eelgrass, dried out temporarily. These dense and extensive “underwater meadows" became the first, very shallow coal beds in the history of the earth.
Drepanophycus was an early land plant which, at around one metre in height, could become very tall. The spiny outgrowths on its thick shoots contained vascular bundles and these "spines" therefore represent the first true leaves. Drepanophycus grew beside Zosterophyllum and Taeniocrada, forming lawns on deltas and tidal mudflats in the Lower Devonian, but already growing on slightly drier land.
Zosterophyllum grew with the lower parts of its shoots submerged and just the tips with the sporophores above the water’s surface. During the Lower Devonian period, the plants formed wide and dense meadow-like stands on flat tidal plains and on deltas in today’s Rhineland.
32 Hornstone (chert) from Rhynie
These rocks, consisting of quartz or chalcedony, contain very early silicified populations of primitive vascular plants. The deposit, which is world-famous amongst palaeontologists, lies close to the village of Rhynie, north-west of Aberdeen in the Scottish Highlands. It was discovered in 1912 and continues to be investigated from different angles to this day. The silicification is thought to have been caused as a result of deep cracks with volcanic hot-water springs, similar to the Yellowstone National Park in America. In addition to the early vascular plants, fungal hyphae, lichens, algae, mites, crustaceans insects and early arachnids have been preserved in all their anatomical details.
33 The first amphibians
Fins become legs
The first amphibians
On the extensive alluvial plains of braided rivers in the “Old Red Continent” in today’s Baltic and in Greenland, lungfish developed into amphibians. The bony structure of their strong fleshy fins was transformed into load-bearing front and hind legs, which were stably attached at the shoulder and pelvic girdles. The five-rayed hands and feet of land vertebrates were formed from the fish fins via many-fingered intermediate limbs. This transformation, which was initially developed for walking on the bottom of shallow waterbodies, was also useful for the journey onto land.
34 Fish in the Devonian
Fish in the Devonian
The Devonian fish fauna was primarily characterised by fish whose bodies, instead of having a calcified internal skeleton, were encapsulated in strong, thick, bony plates (known as "armoured fish"). These armoured forms were present both in the Agnatha (jawless fish) and the Gnathostomata (= fish with jaws), which in evolutionary terms are somewhat younger and more modern than the Agnatha. Sharks were already quite highly evolved in the Silurian and Devonian. In addition to armoured fish, lobe-finned fish (Sarcopterygii – these included crossopterygians and lungfish) were of particular significance because, in the course of the Devonian, they gave rise to the first tetrapods (= four-footed land vertebrates).
Bothriolepis was one of the most strongly armoured placoderms (= armoured jawed fish). Its pectoral fins were developed as spines, which were connected to the skull and thoracic shield via joints. On these they were able to “walk” as though on stilts. But otherwise Bothriolepis probably swam near the bottom of shallow lakes, rivers and coastal seas of the Upper Devonian era, moving forward by wiggling its lower body. It fed on small organic particles on the surface of the sediment and probably also on small bottom-dwelling animals.
36 Lungfish Scaumenacia curta
Lungfish, along with the crossopterygians, belong to the lobe-finned fish (= Sarcopterygii). Today’s lungfish tend to have only weakly developed fins. They survive periods of drought or of temporary oxygen deficiency by burying themselves in the mud at the bottom of waterbodies and maintaining a link to the surface of the substrate via an air tube. In the Devonian era there were also lungfish with sturdy fins, for example scaumenacia. It is probably from these forms, and not from the crossopterygians, that the first land vertebrates developed. Scaumenacia lived in shallow coastal lagoons in the Upper Devonian and fed mainly on smaller crustaceans.
Dunkleosteus was one of the giants among the early placoderms. Over 3 metres long, it had dangerous "fangs" at the front edge of its mouth. Further back in the oral cavity were toothed plates with which it was able to grind its prey. As with other placoderms, its upper body was enclosed up to the pectoral fins by a thick bony armour. Like today’s sharks, Dunkleosteus was an aggressive predator in the coral seas of that time. It seized fish and other prey using its toothed plates.
38 The Carboniferous: era of the swamp giants
From 360 to 300 million years ago:
The Carboniferous: era of the swamp giants
Extensive swamp forests in a hot tropical climate form the basis of vast coal deposits. In contrast to today’s forests, the forests of the Carboniferous period consisted mainly of tree-sized clubmosses, horsetails and ferns. The Carboniferous forests produced enormous quantities of oxygen, causing the oxygen content of the atmosphere to rise to over 35%. Some animals achieved gigantic sizes under these favourable conditions. Increasing numbers of plants and animals became more independent of water for their reproduction and adapted to drier regions outside the swamps. The first conifers and the first reptiles are examples of this.
39 Carboniferous giant trees
Not much wood
Carboniferous giant trees
Tree trunks in the Carboniferous were constructed quite differently compared to present-day tree trunks. The trunk of the clubmoss trees in the Carboniferous (Lepidodendron, Sigillaria) consisted predominantly of bark, the woody component in the centre of the trunk being small and thin. The trunks of the tree ferns were formed from a densely consolidated network of aerial roots. Although there were also true woody trees, they were far less common than in our forests today. The clubmoss bark trunks, in particular, decayed faster than woody trunks and left deep cavities in the ground, which later filled up with sand. Most tree trunks we know from the Carboniferous are really sandstone infills of such cavities.
40 Leaf frond of a pteridophyll (= "fern leaf")
The Carboniferous forests were densely colonised by fern-like plants. In addition to true ferns, there were also seed-bearing plants that were very similar to true ferns on account of their fern-like leaf fronds. In these cases, their fossils can only be distinguished if they have seeds or sporangia. On the damp floors of the open forests grew small herbaceous ground-covering ferns.
Lepidodendron, also known as "scale tree", is a tree-sized member of the clubmoss family (clubmosses are plants that reproduce by means of spores, like ferns and horsetails). The “scales” are leaf scars, which formed diagonal lines on the trunk. The tree could grow up to 35 metres tall, and its crown had narrow, needle-shaped leaves, which, like the roots, had forked divisions. Lepidodendron was an important and abundant tree in the swamp forests of the Carboniferous.
Sigillaria belongs to the clubmoss family and was probably the most common tree in the swamp forests of the Carboniferous, apart from Lepidodendron. The leaf scars on its trunk ran in straight vertical rows. Sigillaria had one, two or four tufts of leaves and grew up to 30 metres in height.
Cordaites were not spore-bearing plants, but plants that already reproduced via real seeds. They had trunks like conifers but, unlike the latter, long strap-shaped leaves. Cordaites trees could grow to over 20 metres in height. In the wet swampy areas of the Carboniferous forests they are thought to have produced stilt roots, similar to mangroves.
Calamites were members of the horsetail family with tree-like proportions. Reaching 12 metres in height, they grew in dense reed-like stands on the banks of lakes and rivers and in wet areas in forests. Their actual trunks are rarely found as fossils, but their pith cavities filled up with sediment, which then fossilised.
45 Giants of the swamp forest
Primitive dragonflies and millipedes
Giants of the swamp forest
The swamp forests of the Carboniferous were home to giant arthropods. Among the flying insects, the ancestors of dragonflies in particular attained enormous wingspans. On the ground crawled millipede-like arthropleurids, the largest terrestrial arthropods that have ever existed. Scorpions of this period grew to over 30 cm in length. The high oxygen content in the air favoured this giant growth. However, these dimensions probably reached the peak of what is possible: any larger and the arthropods would no longer have been able to fly, walk or even just breathe through their system of branching tubes. In addition to the giants, there were also many small scorpions, mites, spiders and insects. Just as today, the complex forest ecosystem would not have been able to function without them.
46 Arthropleura armata
With a length of up to 2.5 metres, the arthropleurids were the largest articulated terrestrial animals that have ever lived. Outwardly they resembled large millipedes with their numerous identical segments. Whether they really were millipedes is not certain, since not enough is known about the structure of their legs or the mouth region. The arthropleurids were probably inhabitants of the open floodplain.
47 Carbon, coal and climate
Greenhouse or cold store?
Carbon, coal and climate
During photosynthesis, living plants take carbon dioxide out of the air and release oxygen. When the plant dies it would normally be completely decomposed and returned to water and carbon dioxide. But in the formation of peat and coal, this decomposition does not take place and the carbon is stored in the earth's crust over long periods of geological time. As a result, the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide is increasingly removed from the atmosphere and the climate cools down. The opposite effect is being produced nowadays, because we are bringing the long-buried coal (and crude oil) reserves back to the earth's surface and burning them. The stored CO2 returns to the atmosphere and becomes the cause of global warming and climate change.
48 Annularia stellata
The delicate branches and leaf whorls of Annularia are imprinted as a tightly pressed, dark film of coal on the claystone. These are the leaves of the large horsetail family (Calamites) from the Carboniferous period. The sediments from which the stone developed were laid down under deeper layers of water than the coal beds themselves. Very oxygen-deficient conditions prevailed at the time of deposition. Aerobic bacteria (those breathing oxygen) were therefore unable to decompose the plant remains which had fallen into the water. This is why the plants have been preserved so well and complete in these rocks.
This large piece of coal comes from a coal seam of more than 1 metre thickness. As a result of the formation of numerous thick beds like these, large amounts of carbon were stored in the upper layers of the earth's crust and carbon was continuously removed from the atmosphere. Over the course of time, the once loose and cavity-filled plant material was turned to coal as the plant remains became more densely pressed together and the cavities filled with a thick humic-acid gel. The result of these processes was an impervious rock, often with a tar-like sheen.
50 Fossil animals
Many more plant remains than animal fossils have been found over the course of time in the coal layers and their neighbouring rocks. The abundance of humic acids often destroyed and dissolved animal remains and, in addition, many animal fossils in the coal are harder to recognise than macro-remains of plants. Despite this paucity of finds, we know that there was rich animal life in these forests and swamps: molluscs and crustaceans in the water; insects, arachnids and millipedes on the land. The bones of vertebrates were mostly dissolved by the humic acids and have only been preserved in a few localities. Sometimes the vertebrates left footprints and trails in the muddy, marshy ground.
51 Wings of a cockroach
Cockroaches and, in particular, their resistant wings, are the most commonly found insect remains in the coal. Because they are fossils that are relatively abundant and have characteristic features, which are easily identifiable, they are used as guide fossils to determine the relative age of rocks.
The swamp lakes, pools and rivers in the extensive swamp-forest plains were habitats for the first freshwater mussels. Most of these probably lived flat on the muddy bottom of the waterbodies. Sometimes entire rock strata were formed from their shells, for instance if there were very large colonies of these mussels at one location, or if many of their shells were washed up together.
Many different kinds of crustaceans lived in the swampy forest lakes of the primeval Carboniferous forests. Clam shrimps (= Conchostraca) were present in especially large numbers. They often formed mass colonies in shallow pools, which were liable to dry out quickly. Their shells, of only approx. 2 to 3 millimetres size, then completely covered the bedding planes of the lake deposits.
54 The Permian: deserts, salt and ice
From 300 to 250 million years ago:
The Permian: deserts, salt and ice
The great land areas joined together forming a gigantic supercontinent (Pangaea). In the interior of this enormous landmass, the climate became extremely hot and arid. Deserts and semi-deserts developed; shallow seas evaporated gradually and left behind large salt deposits. Meanwhile, at the earth's South Pole, a cold polar climate prevailed and thick ice layers formed. Animals and plants of this period adapted to cold and arid conditions. Coniferous trees and reptiles conquered the hot and dry regions. Reptiles, which already resembled mammals in many of their characteristics, lived in the cool polar climate in the southern hemisphere.
Every eight minutes you can witness nature at its most brutal in this Permian canyon. Please wait for eight minutes, and remain calm as this unforgettable natural drama unfolds around you.
55 Floods in the desert
Floods in the desert
In deserts it only rains occasionally and at irregular intervals. But when there are storms, the dry valleys are transformed within seconds into torrential flood channels, even far away from the actual area of rainfall. The flood waters often flow through narrow confined rocky canyons. But as soon as they reach the open plain, they spread their load of debris in broad fans of sediment across the landscape. These "sheet floods" leave behind thick layers of coarse rubble ("fanglomerate") as was the case in the Saar-Nahe basin during the Permian.
56 Fanglomerate: alluvial fan conglomerate from the Permian.
After sudden torrential downpours, when semi-liquid sheet floods laden with mud and boulders churn their way through the dry regions, they leave behind heaps of coarse debris in large alluvial fans. The geological term for these rocks is "fanglomerates", after the fan-shaped appearance of these alluvial deposits. They are common in the Permian layers of the Saar-Nahe basin and are evidence for the large number of these short-lived sheet-flooding events at the time.
57 Dimetrodon: Early solar collector and “two measures of teeth”
Dimetrodon: Early solar collector and “two measures of teeth”
As widely known as it is bizarre, the Dimetrodon, lived in the Lower Permian period in hot, dry semi-deserts in today’s North America. Features in the skull (the position of the temporal openings) and the different-sized teeth make it into a reptile with characteristics similar to mammals. With its large and strong teeth it was also a dangerous predator. The bony spines on its back supported a “sail” made from skin. This functioned as a kind of solar collector for the animal, to speed up raising its body temperature in the morning, after the cold desert night.
Diplocaulus, also known as "boomerang head" because of the distinctive shape of its skull, was an amphibian. Around one metre in length, this creature lived as a bottom-dweller in lakes, rivers and streams in the Permian. It fed on fish and probably also mussels and other invertebrates.
60 Mass extinction
The Permian-Triassic boundary
At the end of the Permian, over 80% of the animal and plant forms died out. The seas were just as much affected as the continents. The major turning point took place in several phases, it was therefore not the result of a single, short-term or catastrophic event. In all probability, widespread intense volcanism and climate change led to the food chains collapsing. The composition and character of the animal kingdom changed dramatically: this was the end of the Palaeozoic era and the start of the Mesozoic.
During the Upper Permian, small reptiles lived in the extensive fluvial landscapes of the southern hemisphere, which showed many body features similar to mammals. Many had fur and were therefore well adapted to life in the extremely cold polar winters. In the following Triassic period, the first real mammals developed from these mammal-like reptiles.
Thrinaxodon belonged to the Cynodontia, a group of successful predatory therapsids. It was about 50 centimetres long and a very fast predator. In many of its features it already came very close to later mammals. These animals lived from the Upper Permian and into the Lower Triassic in fern- and horsetail-covered swamps, in what is now Africa and the Antarctic.
63 Deltavyatka vjatkensis or Pareiasaurus
Pareiasaurus was a slow-moving reptile, up to 2.5 metres in length and of substantial build. The species was exclusively herbivorous and lived in the Middle Permian in Africa, and in the Late Permian also in Europe and Asia. The hides of these animals were often thick and armoured, and they bore spines and knobs particularly on the head, and bony protective plates on the back of the neck.
64 The Triassic – arrival of the dinosaurs
From 250 to 200 million years ago
After the major turning point at the end of the Permian, the character of the animal kingdom underwent a radical change. The huge supercontinent of Pangaea began to break apart. The landscape, at first still desert-like, later became covered with shallow seas and enormous swamps. These were inhabited by a wide range of reptiles, the first dinosaurs and large amphibians. Also developing around this time – still very small and inconspicuous – were the first mammals.
65 Reptiles everywhere
...Water, land and air
The Triassic was a time of particularly diverse evolution in reptiles. A vast variety of forms colonised habitats in the sea, on land and also in the air. Also among these were the first dinosaurs. Although not yet as large as they became later, in the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, they still represent the beginning of the long reign of the dinosaurs, which lasted until the end of the Cretaceous.
Pachypleurosaurs were mostly small aquatic reptiles from the Triassic period. They evolved from small land-dwelling reptiles and are thought to be on the evolutionary path leading to the plesiosaurs of the Jurassic and Cretaceous, which were much better adapted to life in the water than the Triassic nothosaurs, to which the Pachypleurosaurus belongs. Pachypleurosaurs lived in the bays and coastal regions of the sub-tropical Triassic seas, where they hunted fish. The oil shales of Monte San Giorgio in Ticino are famous discovery sites of well-preserved skeletons.
67 Podopteryx (Sharovipteryx)
Podopteryx, also known under the name Sharovipteryx, means "foot wing". This creature was one of the first gliding reptiles arising in various forms during the Permian and Triassic periods. In Podopteryx, the flying membrane was extended between its body and hind legs, which were stretched out to the side (hence the name). In flight, the animals resembled delta-wing gliders. On the ground, Podopteryx was probably able to run well and fast on its hind legs. However, it could not actively fly upwards, but first had to climb up trees, using its sharp claws, and then jump downwards from a height to glide.
68 Giant amphibians
In swamps and floodplains
The Triassic marks both the pinnacle in the development of Stegocephalia ("roofed head") amphibians and their demise. These large and ancient forms were already present in the coal forests of the Carboniferous and had always been inhabitants of the great swamps and damp floodplains. With the end of the Triassic, Stegocephalia disappeared almost completely. The evolutionary connection to our present-day tailless and tailed amphibians is not known.
Skull of a large amphibian from the Temnospondyli (also Labyrinthodontia, Stegocephalia). These large amphibians lived in swamps, shallow lakes and river deltas during the Upper Triassic period. With body lengths of about 5 metres, Cyclotosaurus and its closely related forms were the largest amphibians that have ever existed. They were sit-and-wait predators in the swamp lakes and rivers. On land they were not able to walk very well and moved slowly.
70 Chirotherium barthi
Chirotherium is known as "hand-beast", after the similarity of its footprints to hands. The "thumb" is actually the outward-pointing smallest (5th) toe of a reptile foot. From discoveries of bones, pseudosuchians (= false crocodiles, animals which look like running crocodiles on their long legs) are nowadays regarded as the producers of the Chirotherium tracks. Chirotherium lived in hot, dry desert regions in places with sufficient water. It left its tracks in the damp sandy areas around small desert oases in the Lower Triassic period.
Coelophysis was an early theropod (predatory) dinosaur. A lightly built, agile, flexible and fast runner, it lived in the warm humid coastal forests of North America in the late Triassic. Although it was relatively small, when hunting in a pack it could threaten even much larger and stronger predatory dinosaurs. In 1947, numerous complete skeletons were found close together at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico: a once-in-a-century find, from which the skeleton shown here also comes. It is thought that the animals at this discovery place died of thirst at a watering hole that was running dry, having initially crowded together by the muddy, almost dried-up pools.
The name Eoraptor translates literally as "dawn hunter". It was an early, rather small predatory dinosaur, which walked on two legs. Eoraptors lived during the Upper Triassic in the river valleys of what is now South America. The roughly knee-high animal stands near the beginning of the evolutionary line of dinosaurs and their division into major groups. Eoraptor was a fast runner and captured its prey using its teeth and claws.
73 Thecodont (Euparkeria sp.)
Euparkeria was a "thecodont", in other words, it belonged to a large, very diverse group of early reptiles in the Permian and Triassic periods, which includes the ancestors of crocodiles as well as dinosaurs. Euparkeria, which have been found in Africa and Russia, were about 50 centimetres long carnivores. When hunting or when threatened, it was able to raise itself up on its hind legs, allowing it to move much faster than when walking on four legs.
74 The Jurassic: era of the giants
From 200 to 145 million years ago
The Jurassic: era of the giants
During the Jurassic period, the dinosaurs reigned supreme both in the oceans and on land. Ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs swam in the open sea while colonies of pterosaurians crowded the rocks of the tropical lagoons. In addition to the giant dinosaurs, there were many smaller species, the smallest of which were about the size of a chicken. Many of these small dinosaurs also had feathers, and from these the birds evolved later in the Jurassic. Globally, the Jurassic marked the beginning of the formation of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The face of the earth as we know it today began to emerge slowly.
75 Torpeoes of the oceans
Torpedoes of the oceans
Dinosaurs that had become adapted to life in the ocean were particularly abundant, large and varied in form during the Jurassic. However, viewed over the entire history of life, they were not the only vertebrates to return to living in the water. Because swimming and life in the water has similar functional demands, their evolution demonstrates well how different groups of vertebrates developed similar features with the same function. A striking example is the transformation of legs into flippers and fins. This often involves an increase in the number of fingers and toes, but also the number of individual finger joints in the bone structure.
76 Thalassiodracon hawkinskii
Thalassiodracon, the "sea dragon", was a 1.2 to 2 metre long pliosaur; in the wider sense it therefore belongs to the plesiosaurs, which lived in the seas of the Jurassic and Cretaceous and had streamlined, long-necked bodies with limbs that were transformed into broad swimming paddles. In comparison with the later plesiosaurs, the pliosaurs had somewhat shorter, more thick-set necks and a sturdier head. The pliosaurs were very successful and powerful marine predators. They could overpower sharks, squid, ichthyosaurs and even plesiosaurs.
77 Ichthyosaurus intermedius
The actual genus Ichthyosaurus was somewhat smaller than Stenopterygius, but in other respects outwardly very similar. They have been found, along with Stenopterygius, at the famous Holzmaden Lagerstätten in Baden Württemberg, as well as in England, North America and Greenland. The nostrils of the ichthyosaur were located high up in the skull, near the eyes, which allowed it to breathe by merely lifting its head a little above the water surface. Stomach contents and fossilised droppings show that the ichthyosaurs fed mainly on fish.
Stegosaurians, which could grow up to 9 metres in length, belonged to the ornithischians or "bird-hipped” dinosaurs. They were herbivores and were particularly abundant and varied in the Upper Jurassic. When stegosaurians were attacked, they could defend themselves effectively with their tail spikes. The plates were covered with thin, strong living skin and are thought to have assisted in regulating body temperature. Stegosaurs lived in small groups in dry forest areas where they fed on ferns, cycads and branches of coniferous trees. It is thought that they swallowed stones as gastroliths to help break down their food.
Allosaurus was 12 metres long and stood almost 5 metres high. It was probably one of the most fearsome predators in the Upper Jurassic. In search of dinosaur prey, it roamed the wide plains and open Araucaria forests. Although of a strong and powerful build, with a large thick skull, Allosaurus was not particularly heavy. Its skull, in particular, had large, window-like openings in the bone – a structural principle that combined the stability of a skeleton with a lightweight construction.
80 The dinosaur giants
Why such enormous size?
The dinosaur giants
With lengths of over 40 metres, almost 10 metres at shoulder height and a live weight of 100 tonnes, the dinosaurs included veritable giants. In order to achieve these dimensions, the animals had to grow rapidly and without interruption for their entire lives. Whether this size helped them to maintain a favourable body temperature, whether their food or digestion made these kinds of dimensions necessary, or whether their sheer size protected them from predators, there is probably no simple reason, but a combination of factors which lead to this "gigantism".
Apatosaurus is the currently accepted name for the animals formerly called "Brontosaurus", which were found in the Upper Jurassic in North America (Colorado, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming). The creature was probably able to stand on its hind legs in order to browse on the branches and twigs of its food trees. Apatosaurus could deter predators effectively with whip-like lashing of its tail. The thigh-bone displayed here has been gnawed by the teeth of Allosaurus. Apatosaurus grew up to 21 metres long, with a more heavy and compact build than its close relative, Diplodocus. Its feet beneath the heavy body had thick wedges of cartilage, like those of today’s elephants, in order to distribute the massive weight more evenly and to cushion the pressure and shock.
Camarasaurus, like other enormous sauropod dinosaurs, roamed in herds across the humid tropical plains of the Jurassic period in what is now North America. Using its spatulate teeth, the animal grazed on herbaceous plants such as horsetails and ferns near lakes and in the swampy plains, but also fed on the higher branches of coniferous trees. Its forelegs were longer than its hind legs, giving the animal a sloping back, similar to present-day giraffes. With a length of 18 metres, the Camarasaurus was not quite as long as the Apatosaurus, which lived around the same period and in the same area.
83 Solnhofen Lagoon
A tropical paradise by the sea
The Solnhofen Lagoon
During the Upper Jurassic, large colonies of pterosaurians lived along a rocky shoreline, from which they ventured across the water hunting for fish. Dinosaurs of the genus Compsognathus, often scarcely larger than a chicken, roamed the coastal forests and rocky lagoons. Archaeopteryx, the "first bird", launched its glides from the high branches of the trees near the shore. The fine-grained limestone of Solnhofen, Bavaria, allows us unique insights into the world of this tropical coastline.
84 Pterodactylus spectabilis
Pterodactylus (= “wing-finger”) is known from the Upper Jurassic in Africa and Europe. Its jaw and teeth show the characteristics of a fish-eating species. Pterodactylus had a wingspan of around 75 cm and possessed, like other pterosaurians, a lightly built skeleton of hollow bones, which reduced its weight and thereby helped it to fly. Pterodactylus probably glided by utilising thermals near the water surface of the tropical seas and captured fish by swooping onto the water.
Compsognathus was a relatively small and nimble bipedal dinosaur belonging to the coelurosaurians. These were lightweight and agile hunters. Compsognathus lived on small wooded islands and banks of tropical lagoons of this period and hunted mainly small reptiles. In illustrations, Compsognathus is usually portrayed with a "naked" dinosaur skin. However, larger, closely related animals found recently in China have been shown to have had feathers. It is therefore possible that Compsognathus also had feathers, although no evidence of this has yet been found with any of its skeletons.
86 Archaeopteryx lithographica ("Eichstätt specimen")
Archaeopteryx lithographica is probably one of the most famous fossils that has ever been found. Its plumage, imprinted on the fine-grained Plattenkalk rocks of Solnhofen and Eichstätt, gave it the appearance of a very early bird, which still showed coelurosaurian reptilian characteristics in its skeleton. For a long time, Archaeopteryx was considered to be a classic "missing link", a transitional form between reptile and bird. Recently, however, Archaeopteryx has been viewed more as a feathered dinosaur, which did not yet have any of the typical bird characteristics.
87 The Lower Cretaceous: tropical swamps and polar night
From 145 to 100 million years ago
The Lower Cretaceous: tropical swamps and polar night
The Lower Cretaceous was a time of large climatic contrasts on a global scale. In today’s Europe, large herds of iguanodons roamed through hot tropical swamps. Towards the South Pole, meanwhile, a cold polar climate prevailed. Alongside the dinosaurs, birds and mammals continued to evolve. In the plant kingdom, the first angiosperms appeared. South America and Africa, once united in the supercontinent of Gondwana, separated from one another. From then on, the two continents continued to drift in the direction of their present-day positions. In this process, the South Atlantic gradually opened up.
88 Feathered dinosaurs and birds
Feathered dinosaurs and birds
Feathers developed from narrow stalk-like or hair-like reptilian scales. There were many types of dinosaurs with feathers, especially among the smaller ones, and even some of the large dinosaurs had feathers in their juvenile stages. Initially, the feathers functioned as insulation and protection against the sun. Often they were particularly long on the front and hind legs, and were soon used to assist in gliding. This then led to active flight in birds. The birds of the Lower Cretaceous period were much more varied and more "modern" in some characteristics than their Upper Jurassic ancestor Archaeopteryx.
Confuciusornis is probably the most common fossil bird from the by now world-famous Jehol Biota in China, discovered in 1993. Confuciusornis is thought to have lived in large flocks on the shores of lakes. Its bone structure would probably not have allowed it to actively fly upwards, but only to glide downwards from a height, helped along by wing beats. The animals of the Chinese Jehol Biota presumably fell victim to volcanic ashfall. Having been rapidly covered with fine ash they were preserved in even the most minute detail of their plumage.
90 Anhanguera blittersdorfi
Anhanguera was a pterodactyloid (= short-tailed) pterosaurian with a wingspan of 4 to 5 metres. It lived during the Lower Cretaceous in today’s Brazil. The fossils stem from limestone of the Santana formation there and were extracted as bones and complete skeletons using acid. Anhanguera flew low above the surface of the sea and fed on fish. It is still uncertain to what extent these and other pterosaurians walked on two legs when on land, or whether they also employed the claws on their wings for quadrupedal movement, in other words, moved in a four-footed "waddle" using the claws on their folded-in wings.
91 Pterodaustro guinazui
Skull of the Pterodaustro (= "southern wing"), named after its occurrence in the Lower Cretaceous of South America (Argentina). This pterosaur was conspicuous in that it had long, narrow, bristle-like teeth in its beak. These were used for fishing and sieving small organisms out of the water (e.g. small crustaceans). Pterodaustro had a wingspan of about 1.3 metres; the skull was up to 23 cm in length, of which the large beak alone accounted for 20 cm.
92 Iguanodon orientalis
Iguanodon was one of the first ever dinosaurs to be described and is also one of the best known. As far back as the early 19th century, the physician and naturalist Gideon Mantell recognised the reptile nature of the first dinosaur bones, found in England. He called the animal Iguanodon (= iguana teeth). Herds of these animals roamed the tropical, green and swampy terrain of the Lower Cretaceous and often left tracks across large areas. They fed on ferns, cycads and conifer branches. The find at Bernissart in Belgium is particularly famous: the bones of more than 30 specimens were discovered close together here in 1877. The skeletons are now in the natural history museum in Brussels.
93 Ice forest at the South Pole
Ice forest at the South Pole
During the Lower Cretaceous, a cold climate and long polar nights prevailed in what is now south-eastern Australia. The polar ice cap was not far away. Amazingly, some dinosaurs and large amphibians became adapted to life in these cold climatic zones. They survived the cold seasons mostly in a state of torpor in which their body functions and growth were temporarily slowed down. But there were also some species that remained permanently active during the polar winter.
94 The Upper Cretaceous: life advances
From 100 to 65 million years ago
The Upper Cretaceous: life advances
An extreme greenhouse climate during the Upper Cretaceous period led to intense warming. Due to global changes in the ocean currents, the seawater repeatedly became low in oxygen. Gondwana drifted further and further apart and the southern oceans became increasingly wider. The dinosaurs continued to be the dominant vertebrates on land and in the sea. The angiosperm flowering plants started to spread rapidly and became dominant. In addition to the more advanced flowering plants, the evolution of grasses led to the vegetation on land acquiring an increasingly familiar and modern-day appearance.
95 Dinosaurs: a long farewell
Dinosaurs: a long farewell
Having dominated the earth for more than 150 million years, the Upper Cretaceous spelled the end for the dinosaurs. The number of species declined further and further. The horned dinosaurs were conspicuous forms of the late Cretaceous, among them the well-known Triceratops and large predatory dinosaurs such as Tyrannosaurus rex. The great asteroid impact at the end of the Cretaceous period caused massive changes to the environment and habitats. But it only affected the last representatives of the once thriving and diverse community of dominant reptiles.
96 Tyrannosaurus rex
The most well-known predatory dinosaur, with a body length of up to 12 metres and a height of over 6 metres, lived in the Upper Cretaceous period in today’s North America and Asia. It was probably a quick and agile predator, which would pounce unexpectedly on its prey, for example, duck-billed dinosaurs. Due to its size and aggressiveness, it may also have been capable of stealing prey from other predators. Some specialists also believe that Tyrannosaurus scented out and fed on carrion. Tyrannosaurus are thought to have lived in small herds in the open landscapes of the North American Upper Cretaceous.
97 Protoceratops and Velociraptor
This remarkable find of two skeletons dates back to the Late Cretaceous period in Mongolia. It documents the battle for life and death between these two dinosaurs. The Velociraptor has sunk its dangerous claw between the ribs of the Protoceratops. The Protoceratops defends itself by biting its opponent's upper limb.
Horned dinosaurs as a group developed relatively late in the Upper Cretaceous. Protoceratops and its relatives were early horned dinosaurs, which were slightly smaller and had less well-developed horns than the later horned dinosaurs (Ceratopidae). Many finds of fossilised eggs and complete clutches of up to 18 eggs belong to Protoceratops. Some of the oblong eggs of about 20 cm in length still contain remains of the embryos of these animals. Around 2 metres in length, Protoceratops roamed the swampy terrain of the Upper Cretaceous in search of the plants it fed on.
In addition to the small carnivores, the coelurosaurians and the large predators (the carnosaurians), there was a group of medium-sized carnivores, the deinonychosaurians (= "fearsome claw lizards"). The Velociraptor, made famous by the movie Jurassic Park, belonged to this group. In contrast to how it was depicted in the film, it is now believed that Velociraptor had feathers. With a length of around 1.8 metres, this doubtless very quick and agile dinosaur was quite small, but was a serious opponent on account of the large sharp claws on its hind feet. When hunting in packs, Velociraptors could also pose a threat to the large horned dinosaurs.
Diaboloceratops was a ceratopsian which was found and described only recently. Its long spikes and horns on the skull make it unique among the horned dinosaurs (ceratopsians). The discovery shows how diverse the skull characteristics could be among the horned dinosaurs of the Upper Cretaceous. Like other horned dinosaurs Diaboloceratops was a herbivore.
101 Dracorex hogwartsia
Dracorex was a pachycephalosaurian (= "thick-skulled dinosaur"). The front of the skull was strong and powerful and covered with groups of spikes, in particular towards the back. Like other pachycephalosaurians, Dracorex is also thought to have lived on broad floodplains where it fed on leaves, stems, seeds and fruits and possibly also ate insects and other small animals from the ground.
102 The first grass and colourful flowers
The first grass and colourful flowers
The evolution and spread of the angiosperms in the Upper Cretaceous heralded a new phase in the development of the earth's vegetation. Although flower-like structures had existed previously, the vegetation only became truly colourful with the arrival of the angiosperms. In parallel with the flowers, the pollinators among the insects also evolved further. Grasses, too, became increasingly widespread. The fundamental change in the plant kingdom had repercussions for the herbivores and also encouraged the decline of the dinosaurs.
Mosasaurians were a group of scaled reptiles (Squamata = snakes and lizards), which were highly adapted to living in water. In particular, their streamlined form, the laterally flattened tail and the extremities, which were transformed into fins, were adaptations to the habitat of the Upper Cretaceous sea. Mosasaurus reached a length of 10 to 15 metres. It fed on fish, but also on pterosaurians, other marine reptiles and ammonites. Although the pointed teeth were good for catching and killing prey, they were not suitable for breaking it up, and prey had to be swallowed whole.
104 Saurolophus angustirostris
Saurolophus was a hadrosaurian (also known as “duck-billed dinosaurs” after the broad, flat snout which resembled a duck's bill). These animals had a broad bony crest on the front of their skull, which contained the nasal passages. It is possible that this enabled the front nasal area of the skull to be "inflatable", or the thickening functioned as a resonating chamber, enabling the animal to emit trumpeting sounds. Hundreds of closely-packed molars were used for grinding its food plants (ferns, conifer twigs, magnolias). The animal had long hind legs and short front legs. It is assumed that Saurolophus, like other hadrosaurians, normally walked slowly on four legs, but for more rapid movement could lift itself up onto its two hind legs. Its enemies were the large predatory dinosaurs, such as Tyrannosaurus.
105 Pachydiscus (Parapuziosa)
The find from Seppenrade in the Münsterland is the largest known ammonite ever (cephalopod, a relative of the present-day squid). It is preserved as a steinkern (an internal cast), and several specimens of different sizes have been found. Its shell was simple, flat and coarsely ribbed, and reached a diameter of up to 2.5 metres, including the only partially preserved living chamber of the shell.
Pachydiscus lived in the Upper Cretaceous sea, either as a bottom-dweller or swimming with a slow undulating movement, and is believed to have hunted other molluscs and perhaps also echinoderms and crustaceans.
106 The great impact: Geological witnesses to the event
The great impact:
Geological witnesses to the event
When a large celestial body hits the earth its impact leaves a deep crater behind. However, erosion ensures that these impact holes do not remain for long. Other evidence for such impact events is preserved for longer: the pressure wave creates microscopic deformations and cracks in the crystals. The high pressure allows minerals to form that would not otherwise be produced on the earth’s surface. In the deposits, both close to and further away from the impact, traces survive of the conflagration, storms and tsunami waves that accompany such impact catastrophes. Certain elements that are concentrated in celestial bodies (e.g. the element iridium), are further proof of such impacts.
107 Giants of Patagonia, Film
108 Globe: The situation today
The current distribution of oceans and dry land over the Earth came about only gradually. The contours, sizes and positions of the continents and seas have never been permanent, but are constantly changing. As you move from one period to the next, you will follow not only the development of life, but also the biography of Earth as we know it.
109 Globe: Silurian, approximately 435 million years ago
The great southern continent of Gondwana extends over the southern hemisphere and across the South Pole. Another continental mass, consisting of North America, Siberia and Baltica (Northern Europe), is to be found in the northern hemisphere. In the shallow seas covering large parts of this continent, the great reefs of this period, at this point still south of the equator, take shape.
110 Globe: Devonian, approximately 400 million years ago
The southern hemisphere is occupied by the great continental land mass of Gondwana. In the north, Laurentia and Baltica have now merged to form a single large continent. Their collision has created a great range of mountains, the Caledonian range. In this period, plants and animals cross the shallow coasts to colonize this northern continent.
111 Globe: Carboniferous, approximately 300 million years ago
Gondwana has now migrated from the south and collided with its large northern counterpart. In the process, a new range of mountains has been formed: the Variscan belt. The giant swamp forests of the Carboniferous grew in the wide valleys and low coastal foothills of this range.
112 Globe: Permian, approximately 250 million years ago
The Earth's continents have moved even closer together. They form a cohesive ancient continent: Pangaea. In the equatorial region, a hot and dry desert climate prevails on this supercontinent. The climate all over the Earth has however cooled appreciably since the Carboniferous. Deep glacial shields and inland ice now cover the South Pole.
113 Globe: Triassic, approximately 235 million years ago
The supercontinent of Pangaea still exists as a cohesive continental mass, but is slowly beginning to break up. On it, phases of desert, wide shallow seas and vast swamp landscapes alternate. Our Triassic primeval forest grew in a swamp landscape on the ancient continent of Pangaea.
114 Globe: Jurassic, approximately 150 million years ago
Pangaea is increasingly breaking up into subcontinents. The North American land mass breaks off from Gondwana. The early North Atlantic forces its way between North America and Africa, which at this point is still connected to South America. A further northern continental block, consisting of Europe and parts of Asia ("Eurasia"), is separated from North America by shallow seas.
115 Globe: Early Cretaceous, approximately 115 million years ago
The continents continue to move apart. South America has become almost completely separated from Africa. In the northern hemisphere, North America still faces Eurasia, at this time this is a place of giant tropical swamp landscapes. Towards the South Pole, a cold, polar climate prevails. Southern Australia is currently located here.
116 Globe: Late Cretaceous, approximately 80 million years ago
The South Atlantic has widened between Africa and South America. Large parts of western Eurasia (Europe) are covered by shallow seas. North America is a large continent, populated at this time by the familiar dinosaurs of the Late Cretaceous, such as tyrannosaurus and triceratops.