Berlare embraces its palaeontological heritage
Bijgewerkt: apr 12
Last year, the municipality of Berlare (Oost-Vlaanderen) acquired a large collection of Pleistocene remains from the former Nieuwdonk quarry. The fossils were collected between 1973 and 1978 by private collector and local resident Benedikt Timmerman. After two decades, the collection found a new home in the offices of the DDS-VERKO intermunicipality. Today, after 20 more years, the DDS-VERKO organisation donated the entire collection to the municipality of Berlare, who contacted Palaeontologica Belgica for an inventory of all the present specimens. Between 12-17 April, the collection will be the focal point of a large restoration project at the ‘Stroming’ cultural center in the town of Berlare. During a second stage a thorough inventory will be made to log all the objects for future scientific research and protect the collection as a whole.
Unique palaeontological heritage
The Nieuwdonk collection is an important scientific asset for the study of Pleistocene mammals in the Schelde basin of the Flemish Valley. During the 1990s this collection was already (partially) included in the scope of an osteometric study carried out by dr. Mietje Germonpré (Germonpré 1993). A specific article on the mammal assemblage of Nieuwdonk appeared some years prior (Germonpré & Ervynck 1988), but apart from a few mentions in other papers (Germonpré, 1993b; Hellemond, 2017) the mammal assemblage from Berlare did not receive a lot of interest from the (inter)national paleontological community. This was until 2020, when the decision was made to open up this paleontological collection for scientific research and touristic purposes. The collection is no doubt unique in its kind, since the former quarry is no longer accessible and has been reshaped into a recreational park since 1985 (Stevens, 2015).
State of preservation
Given the fact that some of the specimens are of exquisite quality, former storage conditions led to a deplorable state of preservation anno 2021. Nearly all specimens experience desiccation and an estimated 40-45% suffers from visual pyrite decay. A profound restoration is crucial for the preservation of this collection in the next two decades. Both a manual and chemical treatment will be carried out in the course of one week with a follow up in the next few months. Requests concerning the storage conditions will be communicated with the cultural department of Berlare in order to support the treatment. On our website a daily recap of our restoration activities will appear. All fossils except one large joint (articulatio sphaeroidea) who was beyond the any state of repair, were taken into our scope.
Scientific and touristic asset
As a scientific organisation we will publish our findings and data on our website and in several (inter)national journals. Our primary goal is to inform the palaeontological community about the existence of the Nieuwdonk collection and its potential as an open and accessible collection for research purposes. This strategy, combined with the display of the collection in a public space, would make an important cultural and touristic asset to the region. The combination of a touristic and scientific approach for the future of the Nieuwdonk collection, creates a favourable arrangement for the future of other paleontological collections throughout the country.
Private vs. Public
This whole operation is an important stage the transition from a private collection to a public and protected part of our scientific and cultural heritage. For fact we know that some precious specimens that initially belonged to the private collection, went missing in the course of the last 20 years (e.g. maxilla of a foetal woolly mammoth). This illustrates the importance of a well logged and properly curated collection. With this project we also aim to disable future commercial interest and prevent specimens to end up in commercial trade or to be sold as an object on auction. In order to do this, we will take the necessary steps to safeguard the collection as a whole for the future.
The restoration will take place in the concert hall of CC Stroming in Berlare between 12-19 April. Due to strict corona measures, no public is allowed to follow our activities. To compensate the lack of visits on site, we propose to follow our daily blog and short video reports via our social media channels. Feel free to contact us any time about this project via the contact tab on this website.
Germonpré, M. (1993a). Osteometric data on Late Pleistocene mammals from the Flemish Valley, Belgium. Studiedocumenten van het K.B.I.N. 72, 3-133
Germonpré, M. (1993b). Taphonomy of Pleistocene mammal assemblages of the Flemish Valley, Belgium. Bulletin van het Koninklijk Belgisch Instituut voor Natuurwetenschappen – Aardwetenschappen 63, 271-309.
Germonpré, M., Ervynck, A. (1988). Pleistocene zoogdierresten te Uitbergen (Oost-Vlaanderen, België). Cranium, 5(1), 5–7.
Hellemond, A. (2017c). De mammoeten van België, een overzicht van de voornaamste mammoetvondsten uit Belgische bodem. Spirifer - Belgische Vereniging voor Paleontologie - Brussel 2017 (41) nr. 2. p.10-14.
Stevens, R. (2015). Het ontstaan van park en recreatiedomein Nieuwdonk (Deel 3). Naamloos tijdschrift Heemkundige Kring Overmere.