The meteorite is made of styrofoam, cardboard and paste.

Nonetheless, the object that taxidermist Benjamin Frenzel built can glow and sparkle - just like its fatal example, about 15 kilometers in diameter, which hit the earth 66 million years ago.

Frenzel gave his three-meter-tall model of the famous Chicxulub meteorite a rugged surface and coated it with a multi-layered papier-mâché skin.

Between the top layers is the electrics that make the chunk glow, while garden torches add the final, dramatic touch.

The styrofoam dummy that now hangs in the foyer of the Zoological Museum in the Center for Natural History (CeNak) is reminiscent of a natural disaster of global proportions.

The impact was most likely responsible for the fact that countless species became extinct at the end of the Cretaceous Period - including the undisputed rulers of the Mesozoic, the dinosaurs.

Taxidermist Benjamin Frenzel builds a glowing model of the Chicxulub meteorite

Source: Richard Hansen

It is no coincidence that the cosmic floor beneath the museum ceiling marks the starting point of the special show “Eocene.

At the beginning of our world ”.

Because the disappearance of the dinosaurs heralded a new era in which today's flora and fauna developed.

With the entry into the Eocene (period within the Paleogene from 34 to 56 million years before our time), life on earth had recovered.


“Smaller animals within the groups of birds and mammals survived the meteorite impact.

They could now begin to become more diverse, ”explains Ulrich Kotthoff, head of the Geological-Paleontological Museum at CeNak, who curated the show together with the zoologist Viktor Hartung.

Museum offers an online tour and a look behind the scenes

Because the university, to which the museums belong, will remain closed for the time being due to the pandemic, the virtual accompanying offer has been designed to be particularly interesting.

From April 8th, the curators can be seen on an online tour of the show.

In addition, short films were made behind the scenes about the complex preparations for the exhibition.

They show how experimental taxidermists, artists, designers and exhibition designers approached a primeval era.

The hand-painted globes by the illustrator Andrea Thiele, for example, provide information about the location of the continents and the vegetation of the planet at that time.

“In the Eocene, everything appears green, while I see many color contrasts on today's maps,” says Thiele, who can create the illusion of ups and downs with a brush.


The blue-green earth of that time had an unusually warm and humid climate, which favored the diverse development of life.

The poles were ice-free and the sea level was 50 to 100 meters higher than it is today - Hamburg was an island in the predecessor of the North Sea at that time.

"Europe and the Middle East consisted of a group of larger and smaller islands, almost like Indonesia today," explains Hartung.

The primitive horse also lived in Germany

In Germany, which was roughly on the same level as Sicily, crocodiles, snakes and monkeys lived in a tropical jungle.

One of the richest sites for fossil animals from the Eocene is a former volcanic lake: the Messel pit near Darmstadt.

The numerous finds from the Messel shale also include mammals, including primates, bats and the ancient horse Propalaeotherium parvulum, which was roughly the size of a domestic cat.

“Fossils are showcases into the past,” says Kotthoff.

At the same time, the following applies: Only research translates what fossil evidence of life reports.

The scientists have given shape to the giant ratite Gastornis, which is now extinct, by combining bone finds from Europe, America and New Zealand.


For the exhibition, the head taxidermist Matthias Preuss is editing the 3-D print of such a digitized reconstruction.

He carefully sanded and painted the bones made of plastic layers and assembled them in his workshop in such a way that a natural-looking skeleton of the bird was created.

Amber, the fossil resin of tropical forests that is particularly common in the Baltic region, can open another window into the past.

Fortunately for paleontology, 50 million years ago the sticky substance sometimes included small animals, which were thereby preserved in every detail.

The show shows examples of so-called inclusions in front of illuminated walls and presents models of arthropods that were made by the Hamburg designer Julia Stoess on a 100 to 1 scale.

For example, she created the model of an extinct pseudoscorpion based on examples that are alive today.

A print-ready template is filled with synthetic resin and colored with airbrush technology;

with its handcrafted bristles and scales, the creature from the spider class looks terrifyingly real.

Because arachnids have very specific demands on their environment, they provide paleoclimate research with valuable information on climatic conditions in the Eocene, explains Kotthoff.

Findings about current climate change can also be derived.

The amber forest comes to life in the museum

Matthias Preuss is again responsible for an ant route that runs directly over a resinous tree trunk in the museum.

"The aim here is to show how insects are trapped in the tree sap and then later become fossils," says the taxidermist.

The giant ant is a cast of a real animal, and Preuss took the original tree from the local coniferous forest.

The show not only makes the jungle around Lake Messel imaginable, but also the prehistoric amber forest, the exact location of which is still unclear.

When designing the presentation, the main thing was to "visualize the current state of research", explains the exhibition designer Julia Pawlowski, who worked closely with the scientists.

She designed the thematic complexes of the show richly and colorfully, with three colors predominating: the jungle section is green, the amber section is red.

The blue area tells of the disaster after the Chicxulub impact.

The global mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous Period was the fifth in the history of the earth: at the end of the Permian Age 252 million years ago, up to 95 percent of all animal species disappeared from the planet.

The sixth great extinction of species is occurring in our present, because as the world population increases, the pressure on natural habitats increases.

“Studies predict that up to a million species will become extinct,” says CeNak boss Matthias Glaubrecht.

"Only if we give other species more space and give it back will this be stopped."

Until January 23, 2022 in the Zoological Museum.

Digital opening: April 8, 4 p.m., www.cenak.uni-hamburg.de/ausstellungen/museum-zoologie/eozaen