August 21, 2009--
This newfound fossil in the Masillamys
genus--a group of extinct rodents with chisel-like incisors--is among the exceptionally well-preserved species recently unearthed from the Messel Pit, a paleontological site in Germany.
Although today Messel lies about 12 miles (20 kilometers) southeast of Frankfurt, around 47 million years ago the pit was at the same latitude as modern-day Sicily, where a wetter, warmer climate supported a rich diversity of plants and animals (see a map of Europe
Annual digs conducted by the Senckenberg Research Institute
in Frankfurt have uncovered thousands of fossils of primeval rodents, reptiles, insects, and hoofed mammals that lived in or around Messel during the Eocene epoch, about 55.8 to 33.9 million years ago. At that time the now grassy pit was a volcanic lake surrounded by dense forest.
Some of the artifacts are now on display at the research institute's museum.
Photograph courtesy Senckenberg Research Institute