Projects: Paleobiology
Since 2007
Paleobiology of the Archosauria (Reptilia) from the Bückeberg-Formation (Berriasian, Early Cretaceous) of northern Germany
The Bückeberg-Formation consists largely of siliciclastics deposited during the Berriasian through earliest Valanginian times in the Lower Saxony Basin. The sediments represent the infill of a lacustrine basin with temporary connections to the open sea causing episodical influx of saline waters. Along the margins of the basin, river systems formed locally extensive delta  systems and redeposition of coarse-grained sediments led to the build-up of coast-parallel barrier systems (Pelzer 1998, Hornung et al. 2012). The limnic succession finally ceased with the Valanginian marine inundation of the basin.
Historically the Bückeberg Formation is known as „German Wealden“ since the similarity of the strata and fossils to the English Wealden (late Berriasian to Aptian) was noted by geoscientists since the early 19th century. However, this term is used only informally as detailed studies of facies, stratigraphy, fauna and flora, and palaeogeography supported many differences between the units.
These environments were inhabited by a broad diversity of vertebrates, including fish, sauropterygians, turtles, crocodiles and dinosaurs. Although known since the first half of the 19th century these fossils have only been studied sporadically and, aside of a few spectacular specimens (e.g. von Meyer 1841, 1859, Wegner 1914), most of the material remained neglected in the scientific literature.
This project is focused upon a synoptic view of the archosaur fauna from the Bückberg Formation including both body-fossil and ichnofossil record. The archosaur fauna consists of abundant crocodilians (pholidosaurids and goniopholidids, von Meyer 1841, Koken 1887, Salisbury et al. 1999, Andrade & Hornung 2011), dinosaurs (incl. sauropods, theropods, ornithopods, ankylosaurs and marginocephalians, e.g. Koken 1887, Sachs 1997, Butler and Sullivan 2009), and pterosaurs (Hornung & Reich 2011). 
Dinosaur tracks are the most abundant archosaur fossils in the Bückeberg Formation. Natural cast of a large ornithopod from Bückeburg, collected by Max Ballerstedt. Length c. 45 cm, GZG collections.

An important cornerstone of the research on fossils from the Bückeburg Formation is the former collection of Maximilian Ballerstedt (1857-1945), a teacher from the town of Bückeburg. Many early finds of vertebrates from the „German Wealden“ were stored in the school where Ballerstedt teached (the Adolfinum grammar school, Bückeburg) and when he retired from active duty in 1912 he was charged with the care for this collection. Up until close to his death he collected many additional fossils in the Bückeberge. After a twisted post-World War II history the collection is now curated at the University of Göttingen Geoscience Centre (GZG).
A number of research projects focus on this and other collections to reconstruct life and environment in the „German Wealden“. Main working groups on these projects are located at the GZG and the natural history department of the Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum Hannover.
A special challenge in the interpretation of the fossil material is that most of it derive from a carbonate-depleted, highly quartzose sandstone (the „Obere Hauptsandstein“) in which the bone tissue is preserved only as a soft, argillaceous substance. This is easily lost or has be removed during preparation and the remaining cavities have to be artificially cast, often resulting in high-quality renderings of the bone elements. Traditionally done with gypsum or plaster, today well-suited but expensive silicone is used. Efforts to undertake a „virtual casting“ by the use of high-power computer tomography generated imagery are also planned.

(see list of publications [] for a more comprehensive overview of own project contributions)

Andrade, M. B. de & Hornung, J.J. (2011): A new look into the periorbital morphology of Goniopholis (Mesoeucrocodylia: Neosuchia) and related forms. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 31(2): 352-368.
Butler, R.J. & Sullivan, (2009): The phylogenetic position of the ornithischian dinosaur Stenopelix valdensis from the Lower Cretaceous of Germany and the early fossil record of Pachycephalosauria. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica, 54: 21-34. Get article as PDF

Hornung, J.J. & Reich, M. (2011): The first record of a pterosaur ichnite from the lower Bückeberg Formation (Early Cretaceous) of Bückeburg, Lower Saxony, northern Germany. Beiträge zur Paläontologie, 32: 55-56.

Hornung, J.J., Böhme, A., van der Lubbe, T., Reich, M. & Richter, A. (2012): Vertebrate tracksites in the Obernkirchen Sandstone (Bückeberg Formation, late Berriasian, Early Cretaceous) of northwest Germany – their stratigraphical, palaeogeographical, palaeoecological, and historical context. Paläontologische Zeitschrift, 86(3): 231-268.

Koken, E. (1887): Die Dinosaurier, Crocodiliden und Sauropterygier des Norddeutschen Wealden. – Palaeontologische Abhandlungen, 3: 1-111.

von Meyer, H. (1841): Pholidosaurus schaumburgensis, ein Saurus aus dem Sandstein der Wald-Formation Nord-Deutschlands. Neues Jahrbuch für Mineralogie, Geologie, Geognosie und Petrefakten-Kunde, 4: 443-445.

von Meyer, H. (1859): Stenopelix Valdensis, ein Reptil aus der Wealden-Formation Deutschlands. – Palaeontographica, 7: 25-34.

Pelzer, G. (1998): Sedimentologie und Palynologie der Wealden-Fazies im Hannoverschen Bergland. Courier Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg, 207: 1-211.

Sachs, S. (1997): Erster Nachweis eines gepanzerten Dinosauriers (Reptilia, Ornithischia, Thyreophora) aus der Unterkreide von Gronau in Westfalen. Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie, Monatshefte, 1997(1): 56-64.

Salisbury, S.W., Willis, P.M.A., Peitz, S. & Sander, P.M. (1999): The crocodilian Goniopholis simus from the Lower Cretaceous of north-western Germany. Special Papers in Palaeontology, 60: 121-148.

Wegner, T. (1914): Brancasaurus brancai n. gen. n. sp., ein Elasmosauride aus dem Wealden Westfalens. In: Schöndorf, F. (ed.): Branca-Festschrift: 235-305, Berlin.

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