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During these releases, birds and bats might have fallen in if near the lake surface and terrestrials could be overwhelmed when near the lake shore.
Since the lake was very deep, animals that fell in it drifted downwards into oxygen- and bacteria-poor water, where they were preserved remarkably well, being overlaid by successive layers of mud that petrified later, thus producing an aggregation of fossils of exceptional quality, quantity, integrity, and variety.
A large series of lakes, surrounded by lush sub-tropical forests supported an incredible diversity of life.
The Messel lake bed was probably a center point for drainage from nearby rivers and creeks.
The pit first became known for its wealth of fossils around 1900, but serious scientific excavation only started around the 1970s, when falling oil prices made the quarry uneconomical.
Commercial oil shale mining ceased in 1971 and a cement factory built in the quarry failed the following year.
Leading scientists hypothesize that events much like the 1986 volcanic gas releases at Lake Nyos, Cameroon could account for the large deposition of non-aquatic species.