Last week, Tatjana and I departed on a long-awaited day-trip to Ingelfingen, located about half-way between Stuttgart and Nurnberg. Our destination: the Muschelkalk Museum Hagdorn. Muschelkalk is shell limestone and timewise refers to the middle Triassic. There were too many impressions and discoveries to put them all here, so I’ve selected a few highlights here. If you’d like a higher resolution of any of the specimens, contact me below.
(edit: opened up the fold for easier access)
The region represents a fossil belt of sorts, with important fossils not only from the Triassic, but other geologic periods as well. It’s also a reputable wine belt, and the vineyards were an abstract visual pleasure along the way. We took off in the middle of a snowstorm. Perfect museum weather.
For an outsider such as myself – unfamiliar with the region and unfamiliar with paleontology, it takes time to appreciate the workings and interconnectedness spanning the various participants of this field. There are the industrial interests of stone quarries, the passions of fossil collectors, the diligence of scientists and the subsequent mixture of all these that results in the museum. The result that the public at large sees is a cleanly rendered illustration of a long extinct plant or animal, at best coupled with an explanation of what what we are seeing tells us about us and the planet we live in. The truth is much less placative, much more diverse, and much more interesting…
The Hagdorn museum very successfully reveals the existence of this wealthy differentiation, planting the knowledge of long lost ecosystems with the rocks that can be found outside. And it does this with surprisingly little text. (Potential foreign visitors should note that the texts are all in German at the moment, but this is planned to change – and I’ve volunteered my services in this undertaking.) The combination of photographs, illustrations, models and fossil exhibits is carefully balanced and concisely informative.
This clarity is continued throughout the museum’s lighting concept. The museum is beautiful. It celebrates the ancient wooden beams of the historic building it’s in, and is lit with understatement. Except for key moments such as the fish above, the lighting recedes into the background until you ask yourself why all the exhibits are so clearly legible.
Here some further impressions:
The first floor covers the aquatic ecosystem, from mussels, starfish, sea cucumbers and sea lillies to aquatic reptiles such as Simosaurus, nothosaurs, placodonts (cyomodus) and icthyosaurs. Upstairs, there trip continues with archeosaurs such as Batrachotomus, as seen above. This exhibit is typical for the museum… wonderfully laid out, so that the structures and relationships are either clear or clearly alluded to. One species is presented in one space with a wealth of various fossil elements and explained via concise skeletal reconstructions, illustrations or sculptures, while text on the window fills in general knowledge about the animal. Labeling isn’t complete, yet an informed layperson such as myself found my way about just fine.
I’d been warned that its a “collector’s museum” with many overlapping examples. My impression was the opposite… each fossil was displayed within the context of an animal specimen or ecosystem (or both) and I kept catching myself wishing that the dusty side wings of the Berlin Naturkunde museum would be likewise refreshed.
top: Psephoderma; above: Callisomordax and Trematolestes
A personal point of interest was gerrothorax, as I’ve been trying to create a life construction, and now can re-approach the task with a skeletal reconstruction. But what’s one highlight among so many? The museum is populated by fantastic specimens from the region. Dr. Hagdorn’s own collection forms the cornerstone of the museum, with objects such as Gerrothorax contributed by the renowned collector Hubert Dona. Since last year, Werner Kugler’s private collection expands the museum with its considerable scope.
Tatjana and I had an unfair advantage in that the director and initiator Dr. Hagdorn showed us around in person, an honor that was particularly rewarding in getting an impression of the ecosystem surrounding cronoids, or sea lillies. The fantastic specimens are made all the more interesting by the stories of their discovery and discussions of their L-systems-like growth pattern.
If you should be in or around southern Germany, make sure the Museum is on your agenda. If not, watch the museum’s website and keep it in mind should you ever travel through. Most importantly, if you have the good fortune to live in an area with so much to offer, make sure to take part in local efforts to display and communicate them. I am in awe of Dr. Hagdorn’s accomplishment. To initiate and populate a museum as a community service is in itself a Herculean effort, to do so with a minutely researched knowledge of the content is another, and to put it all together with such a fine grasp of exhibit design and is quite simply remarkable.
Thanks to Hans Hagdorn and his wife Karin for their hospitality and inspiration!
ps. I’ve been swamped with work lately, hope to continue with other personalities form the region. Drop a note of encouragement if you’d welcome this.