The Eichstätt Jura Museum in the Willibaldsburg on the hill above the Altmühl valley, is one of the most beautifully located natural history museums in Germany. The exhibition places a strong focus on the fossils of the so-called Solnhofen Plattenkalke, finely grained limestone that was unearthed by intensive activity in the region’s quarries. The fossils that are displayed in the Jura Museum in Eichstätt invite visitors on a journey through time starting around 150 million years ago in a tropical landscape with islands, reefs and lagoons populated by ichthyosaurs and crocodiles, coral fish and crabs and skies full of insects and flying dinosaurs. The most impressive fossil among them is perhaps the original of the first bird, the Archaeopteryx. In 2019, the Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt Foundation has taken over sponsorship responsibility for the Jura Museum. With this declaration of support, the Foundation honors the complex history of creation of the museum and its natural science collection. The largest part of the collection is still owned by the Bischöflichen Seminars St. Willibald in Eichstätt. The Bavarian Natural History Collections (Staatlichen Naturwissenschaftlichen Sammlungen Bayerns) is responsible for scientific management of the collection.
Natural sciences and the belief in creation
After the Jesuits had taken over the teaching practice in 1614, natural history and natural sciences became an integral part of the curriculum at the Collegium Willibaldinum. Studying nature should foster reverence for the divine creation. In 1773, the Jesuit Ignaz Pickl gave the Collegium his comprehensive natural sciences collection, which was, however, lost as a consequence of secularization. In the 19th and 20th century, the teaching collection was re-built and expanded continuously in order to be able to use it for teaching purposes at the ecclesiastical Lyzeum, which was established in 1843 (from 1924 onwards known as the theological college “Philosophich-Theologische Hochschule”). The botanist and priest Franz Xaver Mayr significantly added to the collection of fossils of the Solnhofener Plattenkalke. He also acquired the Eichstätt specimen of the famous first bird Archaeopteryx in 1951. Furthermore, Mayr laid the foundation for the establishment of the Jura Museum that was opened at the Willibaldsburg in 1976. Due to educational reforms of the studies of theology, the natural sciences collection of the Seminar had lost its teaching purpose and was exhibited for the public in the Jura Museum instead. Since its foundation, the museum has also established itself as an important research institution.
Educational and research institute of international significance
The Upper Jurassic Plattenkalke of the Altmühl valley are an internationally famous fossil deposit, which is of central importance for paleontological research due to the frequency of occurrence and quality of the preserved fossils. In collaboration with the Bavarian Natural History Collections, employees at the Jura Museum maintain the largest collection of Plattenkalke fossils in Germany, which is continually expanded further by research excavations. In addition to visiting researchers from all over the world, the Jura Museum also attracts around 50,000 visitors every year who gain insights into a fascinating picture of life in the Jurassic period. Along with displaying famous and unique fossils such as the Archaeopteryx and the Juravenator, the Jura Museum is also one of very few natural sciences museums in Germany that has several large aquariums in which “Living Fossils” and coral reefs give an impression of the tropical lagoon landscape of the Eichstätt region 150 million years ago.
Place for encounters and discussion
Being “principal witnesses” to Darwin’s theory of evolution, fossils have had a decisive influence on our modern understanding of nature. As a window to past ecosystems, today’s fossil research can contribute to a better understanding of the long-term relationships between climatic and evolutionary processes. In close collaboration with the KU, the Jura Museum will be anchored within the region as a place for encounters between science and the public and offer room for discussion of current environmental challenges and questions at the intersection between theology and the natural sciences in the upcoming years.
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