The Mystery of the Eocene’s Lethal Lake

  • Published on: 17 July 2018
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    In 1800s, miners began working in exposed deposits of mud near the town of Messel, Germany. They were extracting oil from the rock and along with the oil, they found beautifully preserved fossils of animals from the Eocene. What happened to these Eocene animals? And why were their remains so exquisitely preserved?

    Two additional notes!
    -At 00:56, we incorrectly labelled a Darwinius fossil as Thaumaturus. Thaumaturus was a fish and the fossil we show is definitely not a fish.
    -Also, an additional image credit is required: Dmitry Bogdanov illustrated the fish we used to show scavengers.

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    Kling, George W., et al. "The 1986 lake nyos gas disaster in cameroon, west Africa." Science 236.4798 (1987): 169-175.
    Vaselli, Orlando, et al. "The “evil’s winds”(mazukus) at Nyiragongo Volcano (Democratic Republic of Congo)." Acta Vulcanol 2003 (2002): 14-15.
    Zhang, Youxue. "Dynamics of CO2-driven lake eruptions." Nature 379.6560 (1996): 57.
    Storch, Gerhard, Bernard Sigé, and Jörg Habersetzer. "Tachypteron franzeni n. gen., n. sp., earliest emballonurid bat from the Middle Eocene of Messel (Mammalia, Chiroptera)." Paläontologische Zeitschrift 76.2 (2002): 189-199.
    Franzen, Jens Lorenz, Christine Aurich, and Jörg Habersetzer. "Description of a well preserved fetus of the European Eocene Equoid Eurohippus messelensis." PloS one 10.10 (2015): e0137985.
    Franzen, J. L. "Exceptional preservation of Eocene vertebrates in the lake deposit of Grube Messel (West Germany)." Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B 311.1148 (1985): 181-186.
    Lenz, Olaf K., et al. "New palynology-based astronomical and revised 40 Ar/39 Ar ages for the Eocene maar lake of Messel (Germany)." International Journal of Earth Sciences 104.3 (2015): 873-889.
    Joyce, Walter G., et al. "Caught in the act: the first record of copulating fossil vertebrates." Biology Letters 8.5 (2012): 846-848.
    Vitek, Natasha S., et al. "Exceptional three-dimensional preservation and coloration of an originally iridescent fossil feather from the Middle Eocene Messel Oil Shale." Paläontologische Zeitschrift 87.4 (2013): 493-503.
    Koenigswald, Wighart V., Andreas Braun, and Thekla Pfeiffer. "Cyanobacteria and seasonal death: a new taphonomic model for the Eocene Messel lake." Paläontologische Zeitschrift 78.2 (2004): 417-424.
    Pirrung, Michael, G. Buchel, and Wolfgang Jacoby. "The Tertiary volcanic basins of Eckfeld, Enspel and Messel (Germany)." ZEITSCHRIFT-DEUTSCHEN GEOLOGISCHEN GESELLSCHAFT 152.1 (2001): 27-60.
    Franzen, Jens L., et al. "Complete primate skeleton from the middle Eocene of Messel in Germany: morphology and paleobiology." PLoS one 4.5 (2009): e5723.
  • Runtime : 8:34
  • dinosaurs dinos paleo paleontology scishow eons pbs pbs digital studios hank green john green complexly fossils natural history germany messel eocene Lagerstätte darwinius mammals birds turtles bats cyanobacteria bacteria lake Lake Nyos mazukus carbon dioxide stratification limnic eruption fur feathers algae shale oil siderite messel pit


  • AdlockHungry
    AdlockHungry   5 days ago

    Hey, it just occurred to me to ask. I’m sure I’m not the first to wonder how the aquatic species like fish and turtles continued to occupy the lake. Is it likely the “Evil Winds” did not usually occur across the entirety of the lake or would those animals repopulate via tributaries and/or short over land portages in the case of say, frogs or turtles?

  • Armie of One
    Armie of One   6 days ago

    My hypothesis was confirmed as soon as he described the manner and extent of the deaths! Thanks Eons!

  • Bismuth LD
    Bismuth LD   1 weeks ago

    I wonder if the fish in the lake kept dying with each event, making the lake sterile, then giving way for new kinds of fish to show up every time an animal deposited fish eggs there.

  • oldedude51
    oldedude51   2 weeks ago

    No mystery here. In central Africa, there are a number of lakes which will periodically erupt, due to the build-up of gases from rotting vegetation, spreading deadly gases (chiefly CO2 and methane) and smothering to death everything in the vicinity (not just wild animals, but also people and their farm animals living near the lake). These are called "Limnic Eruptions" and have occurred in modern times, obviating any need for guesswork (e.g., Lake Monou in 1984 and Lake Nyos in 1986). A secondary effect of such an eruption is to send great clouds of silt, from the lake bottom, welling up into the water. That silt will then rapidly settle, covering anything which died and sank in the lake in short order. That silt will, ultimately, compress into very fine grain lithographic stone, which is excellent at preserving precisely the kind of detail seen in the fossils described. The fact that the Germans were mining this lake for oil is the final key - oil and gas are natural products created by rotting and compressed vegetation. No mystery at all, folks, just a great opportunity for studying the past.

  • opnwndo
    opnwndo   2 weeks ago

    Gas from the bottom of the lake, add more dead and it bappens over and over.

  • Turtle Wolf
    Turtle Wolf   2 weeks ago

    Uh, or the great flood? What? Too afraid to consider other options? I'm sorry, I thought you said you were a scientist. My mistake.

  • Jake Ryker
    Jake Ryker   3 weeks ago

    The earliest known fossilized turtle porn~Oogway: Back in my day, we didn't have the internet! We fapped to fossils~

  • mr. 100 ups in 60 god

    Funny how past tech could actually "could" save the human race, Imagine regulations that forced people to use every used resource, Kinda like native bioped species!!!😆

  • Alfredo Ronco
    Alfredo Ronco   1 months ago

    Is it me or does he talk like a doctor sus book

  • 5thGen
    5thGen   1 months ago

    This guy is way better! The other one talks fast and has a annoying voice!

  • The Hiking gamer
    The Hiking gamer   1 months ago

    Some mammoth just passed by and dropped a huge fart, killing everybody in his wake. They then sunk at the bottom of the lake, and that's it.

  • Sachin Raghavan
    Sachin Raghavan   1 months ago

    I hate that animals have to go extinct, I wish all of them could co exist forever.

  • Flint Pet
    Flint Pet   1 months ago

    I didnt know that my country is so fossil rich.

  • Pete 952
    Pete 952   1 months ago

    No chance this could happen at a Drumpf rally? Just sayin...

  • Dodo Bird
    Dodo Bird   1 months ago

    Germans were evil even before there were germans

  • rent a shill
    rent a shill   1 months ago

    descendants of those turtles could have evolved into intelligent life only if they didnt die

  • karljo mata
    karljo mata   1 months ago

    Those turtles died having sex and became fossils, earliest screenshot ever made.

  • timomonochrom
    timomonochrom   1 months ago

    I live near this site. In my childhood we had to go there over and over again when my partner had guests over that haven’t seen the grube messel yet 😪

  • Yakarot Sennin
    Yakarot Sennin   1 months ago

    Another cool name for it would be, Dead Man’s Lake

  • Cap G
    Cap G   1 months ago

    Turtles are freaks. They really said screw it if we dying we might as well die doing something fun

  • nyangata
    nyangata   2 months ago

    That intro got less and less family friendly...

  • Takeshi Nakagawa
    Takeshi Nakagawa   2 months ago

    Well, that's went from trash to treasure at the end! 😄

  • Josh Jordan
    Josh Jordan   2 months ago

    I want to hear about ant and wasp evolution

  • DJ4NTI
    DJ4NTI   2 months ago

    "aand turtles were having turtle sex.." WOWOWOWOW!

  • Thomas The Metriacanthosaurus Nerd

    eocene of europe writh with mammals ruled by planocraniids and sebecosuchians in the forms of the three metre long Boverisuchus and the equivalently sized if not potentially bigger sebecosuchian Iberosuchus, very interesting video love it. question when the co2 death waves happened how did any of the aquatic animals still carry on living in the lake especially the fish?

  • Thomas Kaba
    Thomas Kaba   3 months ago

    In August 2007 I worked there in the excavations. Mostly I found fossils of tropical leaf, crocodile poo, very well preserved garpikes, frogs (or toads), one turtle, one bat and a lot of bugs... It was very exciting. I would recommend every student of geosciences to do some fieldwork there. The Senckenberg Institute and the Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt always need students to help at the excavation between April and October. The payment is good (at least at the Senckenberg Institute) and it is a good experience to watch through a geological window back in time... Very similar to the Messel Pit is The Geißeltal Pit near Halle/Saale with Fossils from the same period.