Lignite (brown coal)

Through out-gassing of methane on the ocean floor about 65 million years ago much greenhouse gas reached the atmosphere. Gigantic sub-tropical forests developed – from them were formed the lignite deposits that we still use today. In the forests in the middle of Europe lived elephants, ancient horses, giant snakes and crocodiles. The strong CO2 extraction by plants fostered the continuous cooling of the climate. These and other factors led to an ice age about 2.6 million years ago.

Palm leaf remains: Subtropical plants thrive during the time of the lignite coal in many places in Germany.


The mastodons were predecessors of the elefants. Many species of this group also lived in Germany. Their teeth are designed for the crushing of leaves. Todays elefants, in contrast, feed above all on grasses and have smooth, striated grinding teeth.



In Messel by Darmstadt oil shale was mined from 1885 to 1962. This was heated – the oil was collected and distilled. In the shale were found many unique fossils. They are 50 million years old and stem from a time when the pit was a deep lake in a subtropical forest. Some of the fossils were collected, most dissapeared in the ovens. Altogether in Messel 1 million tons of crude oil was produced, the equivalent of 5 full oil tankers. Today the Messel pit is a “World Natural Heritage”.

Chapter 10