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Court Halts Garbage Dump Plan For One of World’s Leading Fossil Finds

December 16, 1987

FRANKFURT, West Germany (AP) _ A court on Wednesday blocked plans to turn one of the world’s most important fossil excavation sites into a garbage dump.

The Messel site, 20 miles south of Frankfurt, has yielded dozens of important animal fossil remains, including the dog-size ancestor of the modern horse and the 50 million-year-old hand of a possible human forerunner.

Officials in Hesse state, where the site is located, have run out of places to dump garbage and drew up plans in 1981 to use Messel as a dumping ground.

In April, an international panel of scientists called on the state government to give up the garbage project.

On Wednesday, the Hesse state administrative court halted the dump plan, at least for now.

″Now we’re not under such great time pressure. We’ll be able to keep digging in peace,″ Messel director Stephan Schaal told The Associated Press.

″We could use at least another 20 to 30 years, but it could take more time to find everything. You never know just what you’re going to find,″ he said.

Jens Franzen, the former director of the Messel excavations, told the AP: ″The case will continue, but this ruling gives us hope of being able to block the dump permanently.″

″Messel is one of the most important fossil finds in the world. You can say that with certainty,″ the paleontologist added. He is now a top official of the Frankfurt-based Senckenberg Institute, which oversees Messel.

The 200-foot deep excavation site measures 700 yards by 1,085 yards. The court in Kassel ruled that the state’s garbage dumping plan was not specific enough to meet legal requirements.

Important Messel finds announced this year have included a tadpole and the hand of a primate, both believed to be about 50 million years old.

Belgian researchers also found the fossilized remains of a 20-inch-long prehistoric bird.

Over the last few years, the Messel site also has yielded nearly intact fossil skeletons of birds, fish and various mammals. The excavation is renowned for its intact and nearly perfectly preserved remains, sometimes even including hair outlines.

One of the most famous finds is the 20-inch-high ancestor of the modern horse.

Messel Mayor Georg Heberer pointed out to reporters at the Kassel courthouse that if officials press forward with their plans for a garbage dump, the legal battle could take several years to resolve.

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