In publica commoda

Press release: Believed long-lost amber stones with inclusions now rediscovered

Nr. 144/2017 - 17.07.2017

Just under 400 pieces of the Königsberg amber stone collection arrive at Göttingen University

(pug) The Königsberg amber stone collection was once the largest scientific collection of animal and plant inclusions in amber from the Baltic region. In 1944, pieces of the collection were transported from Königs-berg to the West. The preserved pieces—amounting to almost 20,000 stones, approximately 12,000 of which contain inclusions of insects and other organisms—are now being entrusted to and scientifically cu-rated by Göttingen University for Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz. The curator of Göttingen University's Geoscience Museum, Dr. Alexander Gehler, recently discovered materials in the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University that can be assigned to the Königsberg collection. In June 2017, almost 400 valuable pieces were re-united with the collection curated in Göttingen.

The collection is used by several dozen researchers from Germany and abroad every year. Before their stay in Göttingen, they enquire as to whether the respective materials they wish to examine are present and avail-able. Some examples include pine needles, caddisflies and cockroaches, which have been preserved in resin for around 50 million years. The current findings relating to these objects, hitherto believed to have been lost in war, were set into motion by an ant.

In the summer of 2016, the search for the holotype – i.e., the "original" of a particular species of ant first described in 1910 – initially remained unsuccessful. In the Museum of Comparative Zoology’s online data-base at Harvard University, Gehler finally came across an animal of the same kind, which was suspiciously similar to that of the image depicting an object from the Königsberg collection published over one hundred years ago. During further database research, he noticed inventory numbers from the University of Königs-berg on some of the photos of amber stones that contained insects. Through this discovery, roughly 60 pieces could be identified—they were almost certainly dealing with materials that had been bestowed a long time ago. Loaner documents from the time of the Königsberg collection were no longer extant.

With tremendous dedication and time-consuming research, particularly by Dr. Ricardo Perez-de la Fuente, the experts at the museum in the USA were able to identify almost 400 amber stones belonging to the Kö-nigsberg collection. This involved, to a not insignificant extent, original material on numerous scientific pub-lications, which included 45 type specimens. Both sides agreed from the outset that the valuable pieces be returned to the original collection—a task to which Perez-de la Fuente personally attended.

These objects are now being inventoried and scientifically evaluated in Göttingen. “Some of the more spec-tacular and extremely rare pieces," said the Director of the Geosciences Museum, Professor Joachim Reit-ner, and Gehler, "will soon be available to the public as part of a permanent exhibition dedicated to amber in our museum, the launch of which is planned for the beginning of 2018.”

With more than 100,000 objects, the University of Königsberg’s amber stone collection was once the largest scientific collection of its kind. In late autumn of 1944, the most significant pieces of the collection, together with other valuable cultural objects of Königsberg collections, were transported over to the West. The jour-ney initially came to a halt in the former salt mine Wittekind-Hildasglück in Volpriehausen, Lower Saxony, near to the partner university, the University of Göttingen. In September 1945, an explosion inside the mine, which had also been used as an ammunition depot, destroyed significant parts of the pieces that had been transferred there and belonging to the universities of Königsberg and Göttingen. However, shortly before the explosion occurred, two wooden cases containing valuable amber stones were able to be salvaged. After interim stations in art warehouses within the British occupation zone, the salvaged part of the amber stone collection, consisting of almost 20,000 objects, was brought to Göttingen University, where it is being held in trust for the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz.

Dr. Alexander Gehler
Georg-August-Universität Göttingen –
Göttingen Geoscience Centre
Geoscience Museum
Goldschmidtstrasse 3-5, 37077 Göttingen, Germany
Phone +49 (0)551 39-7998