Munich Field Trip - November 2006

Sunday 5 November

I have to confess to a sneaking feeling of regret at missing the celebrations at home on 5 November. However the sheer impressiveness of the mineral show went some way to making up for it.

The fair filled three large halls in the new Munich exhibition complex on the site of the old airport at Riem, easily reached by Munich’s superb public transport system.

The first sight to greet us at the entrance was a display of dinosaur skeletons from the Saurier Museum in Aathal, Switzerland. Museum founder Dr Hans-Jakob (Kirby) Sibel gave us a short talk about the collections, which contain some 300- 400 objects, self-collected from the Upper Jurassic Morrison Formation near Howe Ranch in the Big Horn Mountains, Wyoming, USA, where he has been excavating now for 15 years. This is thought to have been an oxbow lake or blocked river, into which large numbers of dinosaurs were washed down. These include the most complete Allosaurus ever found, with 95% of its skeleton, and baby sauropods, one of which is the only one of its age group ever found. The museum attracts 80,000 visitors a year, which over time has added up to over a million visitors, and one new exhibit is added annually.

We then made for the special exhibition of masterpieces, which contained some of the most magnificent mineral specimens from several collections. It was decided that anyone who wished to meet should come back to this stand on the hour at 12 noon, 2 pm, 4pm and 5pm.

We then moved on to the stand of the Bayerisches Geologisches, where Dr Stephan Wambler and Dr Georg Buettner told us about the history and activities of the Service since its foundation 150 years ago by Karl Guembal. The Service has been incorporated in the state environmental service, which is unsettling for the geologists as it is now just one of 11 departments instead of an independent organisation. There are several divisions, including mapping, hydrogeology, raw materials, soil protection and hazard prevention. It was one of the first geological services to produce its information on CDROM, and it stocks an impressive range of free leaflets and books and maps at prices which, compared to those charged by BGS, are excellent value.

Turned loose, we all separated and roamed the halls. The sheer quantity of goods on display was almost intimidating, as was the knowledge that at least some of the exhibitors were suspected of having counterfeit specimens for sale. There was even a stand devoted to advising how to tell the difference between real and fake fossils. Literally hundreds of stands were selling mineral specimens and amber jewellery, and a more select band had tools and equipment, books and mineral artefacts.

Most of the group left the exhibition at 4 pm. The diehards stuck it out until 5.30 pm and promptly got on to a train going in the wrong direction, the theory being that as it was only going one more stop, then coming back again, we would be assured of a seat.

Dinner had been booked in the Weisses Brauhaus, where some of us ate well and some less well. Afterwards a group headed for the famous Hofbraeuhaus for a drink and some oompah music and jollity. Yes, I know it’s a tourist trap, but I enjoyed it in spite of that. On the way home some of us, warmed by the wine and beer, discovered just how cold and uncomfortable are the backs of the 500 or so lion statues decorating the city!

I asked participants what their main impression was of the day, and these are some of the replies:

Alan: The most interesting thing was the fossils, but I was a bit disappointed by the Swiss dinosaurs.

Andrea: My stromatolite, the Bundenbach fossils and the food!

Ann: Getting back through the barrier without a pass! So many people - and lots of children.

Anne: Sensory overload. - loved the rhodocrosite. Also the stand where you bought a geode and then the guys split it open in front of you.

Brigitte: The new discovery of emeralds in China, and the finder being on the stand - even though they’re not as good as the Colmbian ones.

Christine: The amount of amber on sale - it was very hard to decide, but I bought quite a lot!

Dave: Nervousness, then relief when everyone took to it like a duck to water.

Dee: Managing to walk away from a Moroccan dealer without him chasing me.

Eileen: Watching the geodes being cut open, and the children getting interested in cleaning the fossils. Also the wide range of things on sale - from €1 to €6000

Heather: Getting a menu in English!

Helen: the trip leaders’ knowledge and the diversity of the exhibitors. Also the masterpieces and watercolours. All a bit mindblowing

John: I like the food!

Mike: Haggling unsuccessfully for a trilobite this big - started at €120 and got down to €80, but I only wanted to pay € so I walked away.

Neil: Sore feet! The masterpieces were incredible.

Ole: Great books on the geology of Bavaria

Steve: The sheer size of the exhibition was really good.

Quote of the day, overheard in the Hofbraeuhaus: "A coffee?! You’ll get lynched if you ask for a coffee in here!"

Ann Burgess

Archaeopteryx and all that

Tuesday 7 November

Our first stop was a visit to the Jura Museum Eichstaett where we were introduced to Dr Guenther Viohl who was to be our guide to the fossils of Solnhofen for the next two days. He was the director of the museum until his retirement two years ago. The museum used to form the natural history collections of a theological seminary where biology (!) and natural sciences were part of the curriculum until 1968. It is housed in the magnificent Willibaldsburg, a castle standing proudly on a hilltop overlooking Eichstaett.

The Archaeopteryx specimen in the Senckenberg Museum, Frankfurt
The Archaeopteryx specimen in the Senckenberg Museum, Frankfurt

Here we were able to view our first "real" Archeopteryx, having already seen the excellent copy of an original housed in the Bavarian Palaeontological Museum in Munich. This was the first 'missing link'which Darwin predicted in his Origin of Species (1859) and an example of this fossil was found in 1861. This organism is a "dinosaur with feathers" and indicates a transition from dinosaurs to modern birds. The exhibit here was excellently displayed giving comparisons with all the other examples. Dee Edwards had already shown us how we could tell an original by the dentrites growing out from the fossil which would be extremely difficult to copy in such intricate detail. (The copy might be worth even more than the original).

There were also a number of excellent exhibits of other fossils which had been found in the Solnhofen quarries. A novel feature of the museum was the aquarium where comparisons could be made between the "living fossils" and their long dead ancestors. The corals growing were absolutely stunning and the visit was worthwhile for these alone.

On our way to Solnhofen for lunch and our next visit we passed some outstanding examples of Germany's serious efforts to use alternative energy. The south-facing roofs fairly bristled with solar panels.

The London specimen
The London specimen

During the afternoon we visited the Buerger-Meister-Mueller Museum in Solnhofen. Here the exhibits were absolutely mouth-watering and there were many covetous looks at the beautifully preserved fishes, crustaceans and cephalopods and a general feeling that our own purchases at the Munich Fossil and Mineral Fair were rather insignificant by comparison. The finds in Solnhofen include fishes, jelly-fish, ammonites, insects, including a magnificent dragon-fly, shrimps, crabs, plants, sea urchins, star fish and sea lilies. Another good original example of Archeopteryx was on display as well as a fragment. We also saw an exhibition for one of the uses of the limestone found in the Solnhofen quarries. The stones were so thick (about 5-8 cm) and regular that they were used for lithographical printing during the 18th and 19th centuries. Some of the Admiralty charts that we still use may have been printed using limestone slabs from Solnhofen.

Eileen A Lawley

Wednesday 8 November

After seeing all those wonderful fossils, the next day we learnt why so many had been so well-preserved in this small area. During the Upper Jurassic, 148 Ma, the arrangement of the continents was quite different from today and this area of Bavaria lay close to the Tethys Ocean, between Europe and Africa at 25 and 30 degrees latitude in a much warmer climate, probably in an area of lagoons containing salt water.

Guenther pointing out the flinzen and faeule at the Maxburg quarry
Guenther pointing out the flinzen and faeule at the Maxburg quarry

The excellent preservation of the fossils was due to their rapid burial in finely-grained limestone sediment undisturbed by predators or burrowing organisms. This indicated a rather hostile bottom environment with sudden storm surges producing a profusion of fine limestone fragments which rapidly buried any organisms unfortunate enough to be caught up in the storm. So everything that fell into the lake, including casualties of the storms from the surrounding land area and islands, was fairly rapidly covered by limestone. Strata only a few cm thick can be traced for many km. At Maxburg quarry, which we visited during the afternoon quarry we saw that several layers of "Flinzen" consisting mostly of limestone only a few mm thick were separated by "Faeule" layers which were thicker and more irregular and contained more clay and mud mixed with the limestone. The quite different texture of the "Faeule" is because they were terrestrial sediments entering the lagoons from the land, maybe as a result of violent storms.

We stood back and studied the layers, reflecting that most of the geological time represented by the sequence lay in the gaps between the layers, the long quiet periods without storms when no sediment was laid down. Although it looked to be a gentle process of sed imentation, catastrophism seemed to be the cause of the formation of the layers rather than gradualism.

We had our own chance to search for fossils in the Schernfeld quarry by splitting the limestone fragments lying around the quarry, so it was hammers and chisels to the fore. We found an abundance of fish coprolites and nearly everybody found a sample of Saccocoma tenellum (a crinoid) with which to weigh down their luggage. Andrea also found a specimen of Mecochirus longimanatus (a shrimp) and we were able to purchase other fossils of fish, shrimp and insects from the quarry workers. We also collected examples of dentrites that we found fascinating and very beautiful, so more weight for the rucksacks.

The magnificent dendrite flooring of the Langenaltheimer quarry
The magnificent dendrite flooring of the Langenaltheimer quarry

On our way to the next stop, we also passed a series of rock formations called, aptly, the Twelve Apostles. These are the remains of reefs formed by sponges and microbial mats during the Cretaceous when shallow seas covered the area. The softer rocks covered the area. The softer rocks between the reefs have eroded away to leave the Apostles standing as isolated white outcrops.

In the afternoon we visited the quarry at Maxburg and also the Langenaltheimer Haardt quarry, the site of four Archeopteryx finds. We saw the Turkish quarry workers sorting out the stones and very hard work it looked to be. Guenther took a broom and cleared the dust off a very fine example of dentrites on the floor of the quarry a few sq m in size so that the photographers could all rush in. Some of us would have liked to take this home to lay in the floor. It would become a very interesting talking point.

All in all a very busy two days. We saw a lot and learnt a lot and now have a much better understanding of the sedimentary processes at work during the closing stages of the Jurassic in Bavaria. I shall continue to look at the beautiful pictures that we have for a long time to come.

A beautiful fish pecimen in the Buergermeister-Mueller Museum, Solnhofen
A beautiful fish pecimen in the Buergermeister-Mueller Museum, Solnhofen

As a postscript, Neil and I called in at the Senckenberg Museum, Frankfurt, on our way back to the Netherlands. There we saw the 10th Archeopteryx specimen that has recently been found. It is on display in the museum until it goes to America. We felt that we had become quite expert in recognising the dentrites and Saccocoma tenella on the same slab as the fossil so we were quite convinced that it was not a copy. The museum will be very sorry to see it go. It is now our aim to go "Archeopteryx spotting" in Berlin and Haarlem as well.

Eileen A Lawley

Noerdlingen and the Ries Crater

8-9 November

The Reis crater was created as a result of an asteroid impact about 14.5 million years ago. The crater is approximately 25km in diameter and 600m in depth. Noerdlingen is a walled medieval town lying South West of the centre of impact on the central crater rim.

Sunset over the river of the crater
Sunset over the river of the crater

Our first experience of the Ries crater occurred as we travelled towards Noerdlingen from Solnhofen. There was a sudden change in topography as we drove over the rim and into the crater. The weather was perfect and some of the party were trying desperately to photograph the sun going down over the rim. Mine were unsatisfactory as are most sunsets taken from moving coaches.

Last time we visited this area the coach was too high to go through any of the 4 gates into Noerdlingen and we did a circular tour looking for a break in the fortifications. This time Manfred (our driver) had no problems. There was not much opportunity for sightseeing as darkness descended. Not to be missed, though, is Daniels tower situated in the centre of the town. Fashioned from locally quarried suevite, there had been some fears for its safety following reports that suevite contains diamonds. However, as the tower, allegedly contains only 600-900g of diamonds, the biggest being 0.5mm, I suspect it is safe from the jewellery business.


Next morning there was some time to wander round the town before meeting at the Rieskrater Museum. Here, we were privileged to be given a guided tour by Dr. Michael Schieber, Director of the museum.

The exhibits were excellent. There was a topographic map of the area enabling us to orientate ourselves. Michael pointed out that the crater rim was lower in the Northwest. A suggested explanation being that this was the direction of impact. Other geologists have evidence for other directions though, so the debate continues.

A short film demonstrated how planets were formed and the impact of meteorites. There was also a display of meteorites found locally. Bavaria seems to have more than its fair share but this may just reflect the enthusiasm of the local collectors and geologists.

Michael explained how moist air flows into the crater and is forced to rise forming clouds at the crater rim. We were able to see this phenomenon later when out in the field.

Moon rock
Moon rock

The star of the show was a small piece of Moon rock, cosseted in a glass dome, thus protected from the Bavarian environment. A series of cartoons demonstrated the probable sequence of events during the formation of the crater. This can be summarised as follows:

1. An asteroid roughly the same size as the walled city of Noerdlingen travelling at a velocity of more than 20km per second collides with the earth surface.
2. The asteroid penetrates into the basement ejecting affected material and vaporising both rock and meteorite. A temporary crater approx. 12km in diameter and 4km deep is formed.
3. After 2 to 4 seconds, the compressed rock from the bottom of the crater springs back. Material is thrown up and a cloud rises up to a height of about 30km.
4. Upward movement ceases and material falls forming suevite. The rim collapses creating a shallower crater with a greater diameter. After about 8 minutes, leaving a "smoking gun" effect. The maximum range of ejected materials is that of Moldovites which have been found up to 400km away.

We were then shown into the back rooms, often the most interesting places for geologists at any museum. Here was the rock store of a 600m core taken in 1973. These were stored in one metre lengths- an amazing facility for research students. The diagram on the wall indicated where the core had been extracted and showed the megablock zone at the crater rim which was to be our destination after lunch.

When we emerged from the museum, the weather had deteriorated so our hopes for a simple sandwich consumed in the open air evaporated as we headed for a cosy café for lunch.

On returning to the coach, we were informed of a drama at the Gasthof. Someone, who shall be nameless, had not returned their room key as requested. For this crime, our driver and coach were held to ransom. The key had to be found before the coach could continue.

Quarry of Holhelm
Quarry of Holhelm

Our afternoon visit was to a megablock at the crater rim. We were fortunate to be able to see into the interior of one of these mega blocks as it has been partly quarried (Holhelm). I feel we were all impressed with the size of the megablock. This was roughly 2km long by 1km wide and 100m high. This was still the right way up but during the impact had been pushed up to the crater rim and then slipped back. We were informed that the bedding planes of the megablock bore no relationship to the regional dip. Note the prophetic sign. Situated at the top of the megablock were the Ofnet caves formed in the karst limestone. Here, skulls of Stone Age people have been found. These were mostly women and some were drilled suggesting a mystic ritual. The skulls are now located in the city museum along with "eye witness" accounts of witch-hunts in the area. It was here that another drama occurred. One of our party slipped and broke her arm. The efficiency of the Bavarian emergency services was experienced as the ambulance, the emergency Dr. and the fire brigade arrived to transport Brigitte to the hospital in Noerdlingen. Within a few hours her arm had been fixed and she was back on the coach heading for Munich and home in style the next day.

Roman farm-villa rustica
Roman farm-villa rustica

Those members of the party who took the short way down were able to view the Roman farm (Villa Rustica) at closer quarters.

Altenberg quarry
Altenberg quarry

Meanwhile, the rest of the party continued with the geology. Our next stop was the Altenberg quarry, colloquially known as Goat quarry, so named because the vegetation had been cleared by South African mountain goats. It was suggested that RIGs groups should purchase a herd of these animals for clearing sites in Britain. In the quarry, we were able to examine closely the structure of the suevite. It is a mixture of sediment and crystals combined with glassy particles of the melt. There was some debate as to whether it was sedimentary, igneous, or metamorphic. In fact all these processes went into the formation of this rock. The vesicles, we had been informed at the museum, contain Argon so the age of the impact crater can be determined.

On our return to Noerdlingen, we said Good-bye and Thank You to Michael for a most interesting day and also to Dave Williams and Dee Edwards. They were leaving us to pick up previously acquired Solnhofen limestone and to gain ideas for future field trips (We hope). Many thanks to all participants who contributed to such a successful trip.

Heather Rogers
Stephen Darlington

Dinosaur or Bird or Both?

Archaeopteryx lithographica

Apart from a broken arm the OUGSME trip to the Munich Mineral and Fossil Fair, Eichstätt and Nördlingen (4—10 November 2006) was a great success – thank you Mike! I was most impressed by the Archaeopteryx, well not because of its size. It is similar in size and shape to a magpie, with broad, rounded wings and a long tail. We saw different copies in museums: the Palaeontological Museum in Munich, the Jura Museum in Eichstätt and the Bürgermeister-Müller Museum in Solnhofen. We learned about the evolution of feathers and wings that eventually made flight possible and to perfection. We learned about the environment where it lived and died. The first discovery of Archaeopteryx in 1860 was only a feather, hence its name. Archaeopteryx is derived from Ancient Greek αρχαιος (archaios) meaning 'ancient' and πτερυξ (pteryx) meaning 'feather' (or 'wing'). The finding place is the Upper Jurassic period (Malm epoch, Kimmeridgian stage, 155-150 million years ago) of Bavaria - 10 specimens so far. Archaeopteryx is the earliest and most primitive known avian. Its feathers resembled those of modern birds but Archaeopteryx was rather different from any bird known today, in that it had jaws lined with sharp teeth, three 'fingers' ending in curved claws and a long bony tail.

Archaeopteryx is a bird because it had feathers and could fly. However, it retained many dinosaurian characters which are not found in modern birds, whilst having certain characters found in birds but not in dinosaurs.

The species Archaeopteryx bavarica is, of course, named after Bavaria, while the species Archaeopteryx lithographica is named after the limestone in which it was discovered. The stone is a smooth, fine grained limestone which was used in printing. The limestone formed on the bottom of a hypersaline lagoon and is quarried in and around the Solnhofen area.

Read more about the Archaeopteryx at

I look forward to the coming write-ups to appear in and on this Website.

Ole Nielson

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