Climate basics

As a driving force of evolution, the exhibition focuses on the climate and its influence on plants, animals and humans. Introductory to the exhibition, the basic processes and relationships necessary to understand natural climatic changes are explained. These include periodic cosmic and terrestrial factors and their interactions. Hence “climate” cannot be a constant.

Quite a precise insight into the changeful story of the climate in Earth’s history is provided by a variety of climatic data primarily obtained from ice cores and deep-sea sediments. In fact, the past 65 million years have been predominantly warmer than today and the temperatures were initially subject to only minor fluctuations. Not until an extreme cooling 2.7 million years ago and the onset of the Ice Age in the northern hemisphere several glacial phases as well as a rapidly and drastically changing environment can be observed.

A comparative example of an interglacial landscape (Bao Sao in Cat Tien National Park, Vietnam). © LDA Saxony-Anhalt

The evolution of the flora and fauna

With the beginning of the Neogene period (Cenozoic) 65 million years ago the mammals experienced a rapid ascent. The exhibition illustrates the range of living creatures in a successful interplay of fossil and recent material, skeletons and animal preparations (dermoplastics). Changing environmental conditions determined their evolution decisively and produced characteristic phenomena of the entire flora and fauna for the respective time periods. From a rich variety of tiny sea snails through an ecosystem dominated by crocodiles to the woolly mammoth, from plant seeds to petrified leaf imprints, evidence can be found in central Germany. In this compact comparison are revealed the causes for the astonishing diversity of species of the interglacial periods and the considerably diminished variety of glacial periods. While very different ecological niches were established in the long-lasting interglacial periods and their inhabitants could persist unchanged, the faster and stronger fluctuating conditions of the glacial periods required a higher degree of flexibility. In this context the question must be asked about biological adaptation strategies, migratory movements and natural enemies, which have prompted evolutionary change, but also led to the extinction of numerous species. After the few million years of the Ice Age with its short-term changes of glacial and interglacial periods only a small number of species had survived - the plant and animal world known to us today and, as a key phenomenon of evolution, humans.

Skull of a crocodile (Asiatosuchus germanicus), about 45 million years ago (Geiseltal collection/ZNS of the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg); © LDA Saxony-Anhalt, photo: Juraj Lipták.
Dermoplastic of an Arctic fox (Zoological Collection/ZNS of the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg); © LDA Saxony-Anhalt, photo: Juraj Lipták.
Giants of the glacial periods - Mammoth, aurochs and giant deer; © LDA Sachsen-Anhalt, Foto: A. Hörentrup

The Age of Humans

Humans are the only living beings that no longer reacted with biological adaptation to climatic changes, but created artificial aids to respond to their respective environment. This evolutionary process illustrate, on the one hand, the making of clothes, the use of dwellings and fire as well as the use of tools and weapons, which can be traced in astounding detail in the archaeological record. With these survival strategies, technical achievements and thereby changed living conditions, also the first artistic creations are made possible. These engraved or sculptural representations of animals and human beings allow a fascinating view on the humans at that time, their lives and their ideas.

Keeled scraper with bladelets from Breitenbach, approx. 35,000 years ago; © LDA Saxony-Anhalt, photo: Juraj Lipták.
Venus figurine from Mal'ta (RU), 24,000–15,000 years ago; © State Historical Museum, Moscow, Russian Federation.