An amazing abundance of fossils in a bygone lake in Germany hints at the debt humans owe to animals that died out 48 million years ago.
In the middle of a forest about 20 minutes from the city of Darmstadt in central Germany is a decommissioned strip mine half a mile wide. Today scrubby bushes cover the bottom, where dirt paths wind past rainwater ponds filled with bright-green algae. A gaping 200-foot-deep gouge in the forested countryside, the Messel Pit doesn’t at first glance seem worth preserving, never mind visiting, but since 1995 it has been a Unesco World Heritage site, thanks to a series of unfortunate events beginning some 48 million years ago.
The world was a very different place then, during the period known to scientists as the Eocene.