Climate Powers - Driving Force of Evolution

Dramatic scenery - an encounter between mammoths and cave lions from 220.000 BP. (© LDA Saxony-Anhalt, photo: A. Hörentrup)


It is hard to find another region where so many windows into the past are opened by large-scale ground disturbances as in central Germany. The great treasure trove of fossils resembles a geological picture book and provides the opportunity to reconstruct former habitats and their inhabitants. In this context it becomes quite clear: over millions of years the diverse living beings were exposed to varying environmental conditions, influenced by a continual change in climate. Numerous natural processes and constellations led to varying degrees of climate change - in central Germany this caused conditions from subtropical heat to arctic cold. What brought about such extreme fluctuations in climate? And which strategies did creatures adopt in response? Is continual climate change the driving force of evolution and thus the basis of our existence? 

 

In order to answer such questions, the exhibition focuses on the evolution of mammals since the beginning of their ascent 65 million years ago. During this long period of time, the climate generally was much warmer than today and thus favoured the development of immense biodiversity. The evolution caused a permanent change in fauna and flora: species died out, others adapted, and new ones emerged. In the cooler periods and in particular with the beginning of the Ice Age, the former diversity disappeared - providing some creatures with the opportunity for special development culminating in our present flora and fauna. Thus, from the complex development of the primates, ultimately modern humans emerged. Their evolution can be traced from the early lemurs over 40 million years ago through the hominids to the formation of the first human species.

Unequal encounter of the special kind(s): Preparation of a Galago from the Central Repository of Natural Science Collections (ZNS) of the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg and a sabre-toothed cat found in Argentina from the Natural History Museum Vienna. (© LDA Saxony-Anhalt, photo: J. Lipták)
Some like it hot! - The land living crocodile from Geiseltal (Central Repository of Natural Science Collections (ZNS) of the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg) used to live in a subtropical environment. (© LDA Saxony-Anhalt, photo: A. Hörentrup)
Unpleasant contemporary of Homo erectus - a Giant hyaena in the special exhibition. (© LDA Saxony-Anhalt, photo: A. Hörentrup)



At first helpless against large predators, such as giant hyena or sabre-toothed cat, it is humans who ultimately progress from the hunted to hunter. As the first living beings humans leave the path of purely biological evolution by beginning to actively shape the environment according to their needs through the use of fire, dwellings, tool manufacture and functional clothing - culture took its course. With ingenuity and creativity humans have so far mastered all climatic changes.

Due to the increase in extreme weather events, in recent decades the question emerged as to what extent human beings interfere with the development of climate with all its regional and global effects. From the knowledge of the past, the exhibition ends with two hypothetical scenarios of the future: what would be the consequences for us if the warming continues, what if the next cold phase descends on us?