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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 29/October 1886/German Paleontological Museums


THE Germans have many excellent paleontological museums, in which the fossil records of the ancient history of their country are preserved and arranged in regular and proper order. Each of these museums, besides its general character, is distinguished by special features illustrating the more salient peculiarities of the local geology.

Besides its general museum, in which are collected the products of different countries, Stuttgart possesses a geological and paleontological hall devoted especially to the fossils of Würtemberg. This local collection, under the direction of Professor Oscar Fraas, is justly held in high repute, because in it can be followed from age to age the paleontological history of one of those countries in Europe which have been best studied. Here are especially to be seen those wonderful reptiles that lived on the continents during the Triassic epoch: the tosaurus, the zeuglodon, the mastodonsaurus and the metopias, permit us to form some kind of an idea of the curious appearance of the fauna of that epoch. The Stuttgart Museum is also one of those in which the has is best represented; and it contains the Holzmaden collection, which is celebrated for its entire skeletons of reptiles. M. Fraas had the kindness a few Tears ago to conduct me to the locality of the fossils and show me the condition in which they were discovered. They were generally incrusted by the rock, and only bulges were perceptible, which taught nothing to the untrained eye. But my guide was able to divine where the head, the limbs, and the tail could be found, and could even tell me what kind of an animal was concealed in the stone. Those complete skeletons which adorn many museums are brought out by the skillful use of engravers' tools. The Stuttgart collection contains several icthyosauri with their young within their bellies. As a rule, the head is turned toward the anus, as with other vivipares; but I saw one fossil containing two young turned toward the head, and another that had six, turned in as many directions. Is it supposable that the icthyosaurus had sometimes one young one, like the salamander, and sometimes several, like the viper and the slow-worm?

Munich has several important collections under the care of Professor Zittel; that of ammonites, for instance, which is said to be the most complete in existence, and the series of admirable preparations of fossil sponges, the skeletons of which M. Zittel has isolated by steeping them in acidulated water. I was pleased to see there the Pikermi fossils which Wagner first made known. But the principal curiosity of the Paleontological Museum of Munich is the collection of lithographic stones from the oölite of Solenhofen. If we have to go to Stuttgart to study the trias and the lias, it is to Munich we must go to admire the oölite. All geologists are aware that the Solenhofen stones were originally mud deposited on a shore where the inhabitants of the sea and of the continent met. In this mud the most diverse and most delicate beings of the oölite have been preserved with a wonderful perfection. There are to be found in it acalephs, a multitude of crustaceans, insects that have preserved the reticulations of their wings, their feet, and their antenna?, and ammonites with their aptychus, and fishes in course of transition from the ganoid to the teleostean state. Here especially we come to study flying reptiles. They present themselves in all positions. We can see here also the little compsognathus which, long before the discovery of entire iguanodons in Belgium, enabled us to understand the gait of those dinosaurians. The paleontologist might dream, while contemplating this collection of beings, that he could imagine himself in the midst of the secondary period almost as much as if it were still with us; and after seeing it we may readily believe that the day will come when our successors shall have a clear idea of the grand history of past ages.

Vienna, which has long been famous for its life and gayety, has become a splendid city, with its fortifications replaced by spacious boulevards, adorned with gardens, handsome houses, and palaces. Science is destined to profit largely by these transformations. On one side of the Hotel de Ville has been built the elegant Parliament-House, and on the other side, as a pendant to it, the Palace of the University. A little way from the Parliament-House, opposite the Imperial Palace, have recently been completed the Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Natural History. The University and the Natural History Museum are thus in the finest quarter of the city.

The University building is nearly finished. It is a pleasure to be a student in such a palace. Professor Suess, an eminent savant and a member of Parliament, directs the geological collections; and another professor, not less accomplished, Professor Neumayr, the paleontological cabinets. The Museum of Natural History belongs to the court (Hof Naturalien Museum). The emperor has just put at its head M. de Hauer, who was formerly director of the Geological Institute. M. Fuchs is charged especially with the department of paleontology. I was told that the fossils would be separated from living species, as they were in the old museum, and that they would occupy six halls. The Hall of Vertebrates is adorned with mural paintings representing the landscapes of the different geological epochs, with their most characteristic animals and plants. These pictures are separated from one another by statues which have paleontological attributes. One figure holds an icthyosaurus, another the head of a dinotherium, another a part of Cervus megaceros, another the head of a unitatherium, etc. I only saw a few of the fossils, for they were all disarranged; but, among those which M. Fuchs was able to show me, I remarked skeletons of Ursus spelæus, a skeleton of Megaceros, and one of the quaternary goat, five specimens of the mastodon and dinotherium, and a series of vertebrates from Maragha in Persia, of the same age as those of Pikermi and those from Baltavar in Hungary which have been described by M. Suess. Besides these collections, I visited by the courtesy of M. Stur, the new director, the Geologische Reichsanstalt, which the fossils being arranged according to both the geographical and the geological order, is perhaps the finest collection of stratigraphic paleontology in Europe. Particularly to be admired are the ammonites from the trias of the Austrian Alps, respecting which M. de Mojsisovics has lately made some interesting publications.

I have not been in Pesth lately, but two learned Hungarian professors, MM. de Hautken and Szabo, have assured me that, since I last visited that city, its collections of geology and paleontology have become very important.

In Prague, Professor Fritsch conducted me to the place where the foundations of a grand Bohemian Museum of Natural Sciences have recently been laid. While awaiting the erection of this establishment, a special provisory hall of paleontology has been built near the old Bohemian Museum, and here Professor Fritsch has collected and arranged in gradation numerous very remarkable fossils. The immense collection of the Silurians, made by Barrande, and given by him to Bohemia, has been left in the apartments in the Chotek Gasse in which the eminent geologist resided. It is hardly possible to conceive of its richness in orthoceratites, cyrtoceratites, and trilobites. I saw an example here of the degree to which the love of paleontology may be developed, for in the more than humble rooms, where the eminent tutor of the Comte de Chambord passed most of his life, there are collections of primary fossils that cost enormous sums. Barrande was parsimonious toward himself, lavish to science. His collections are to be removed to the museum now in building. A young Czech professor, M. Novak, and a German geologist, Herr Waegen, distinguished for his works on the paleontology of India, are continuing Barrande's labors on the silurian formation of Bohemia.

Dresden, whose picture-galleries attract artists from all countries, has also greatly improved its galleries of geology and paleontology. Their director, Herr Geinitz, has arranged the fossils in geological order, so as readily to convey an idea of the history of past ages. The creatures of the Permian epoch are particularly well represented. No person has contributed so much as Professor Geinitz to the knowledge of that epoch, which was formerly believed to represent a moment of a slackening of the vital forces, but has furnished during several years past a multitude of fossil plants and animals.

Berlin has an entirely different character from Vienna. If we were living in pagan times, we might say that in Vienna they would raise statues in honor of Apollo, Minerva, and perhaps Venus, but in Berlin of Mars. Vienna is always panting for pleasures, especially the pleasures of the mind. Berlin, isolated in regions that the moraines of the glacial period left devastated, prefers the hard things of military life. But the government is interested in science as well as in military affairs, for it knows that intelligence makes strength. A large building has recently been erected in the Invaliden Street for the geological collections of which M. Hauchcome has charge, and another for the collections of agricultural arts in which M. Nehring has placed the curious quaternary fauna which he has described as the fauna of the steppes. Between these museums a grand Museum of Natural History is to be built. The university has excellent collections in geology in charge of Professor Beyrieh, and in paleontology under the care of Professor Dames. Among them may be seen the second specimen of the archæopteryx, which cost three thousand dollars. It has the advantage over the specimen in the British Museum of possessing a head, and of showing its fore-limbs, the fingers of which are not united as in existing birds. Professor Dames has recently published an interesting memoir on this curious creature.

I might also speak of Russia, where I saw fine collections of fossils at Dorpat, St. Petersburg, and Moscow; of Brussels, where the little Belgian state has made liberal expenditures for its iguanodons, mososauri, and hainosauri; and of Haarlem, in Holland, where the Jeyler Museum is being enriched every year with new paleontological curiosities; of Switzerland, which is not behind any country in the zeal with which it cultivates science; and of Italy, where science has its share in the revival which all departments of the intellectual life are enjoying. But I have said enough to show that paleontology is cultivated and held in high regard in Continental Europe, and that we Frenchmen also should not be indifferent to the questions of the origin and development of life.—Translated for the Popular Science Monthly from the Revue Scientifique.