Research

Rhine River 5 Million Years Older

21. 6. 2012 | Based on new fossil evidence, the age of the Rhine river is five million years older than previously believed. Led by Prof. Madeleine Böhme, researchers from the Senckenberg Research Center in Tübingen and the Frankfurt Senckenberg Research Institute analysed mammalian fossils, thereby redetermining the Rhine's age.
The famous Rhine flows through Switzerland, Austria, Germany and the Netherlands on its 1.233 kilometer way to the North Sea. As widely known as the river is, its original age has remained a scientific puzzle. "Up to now it has been assumed that the Proto-Rhine is around 10 million years old," says Prof. Madelaine Böhme, leading author of a new study and head of the working group Terrestrial Palaeoclimatology at the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoecology (HEP) at the University of Tübingen.
Fossil deer antlers
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Fossil deer antlers
"But based on our examination of fossils from a site near Sprendlingen, we now believe that the river is at least 5 million years older," Böhme elaborates.

The sands in the Sprendlingen and Eppelsheim areas contain numerous fossils and were often the subject of scientific debates. Böhme: "For this reason we examined a new sample with over 300 mammalian fossils, leaves and fossilized wood. We found the teeth and bones of different deer species that lived in Central Europe at the beginning of the Middle Miocene - in other words, in the period between 14 and 16 million years ago." For 200 years, the fossils in these famous Deinotherium Sands were considered by vertebrate palaeontologists to be the yardstick for the Neogene: the time span between 23 million and 2.5 million years ago. The sites became famous for the first ever discovery of a fossil ape (1822) and the first scientific descriptions of 19 large mammal species in the early 19th century.

River system in the Miocene
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River system in the Miocene
Böhme's findings were made in the oldest known deposits of the Rhine, so the river must be at least 5 million years older than previously estimated. "The results of our analysis of fossil plant residues that were found above and below the mammalian sites reinforce our conclusions about the river's age", she says. The results provide new insight regarding the development of the Mainz Basin and the Upper Rhine Rift in geological history. The conclusions of the scientists have an impact upon the entire chronological categorization of the flora and fauna of the Middle to Late Miocene.
Judith Jördens

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