The Prehistoric Pompei

Want to see sharks and crocodiles in Hungary? No they haven’t been spotted in the Danube. And we are not talking about the Budapest zoo either.


Instead you will have to head deep into the forested hills of Northern Hungary. There you will make the most amazing discovery. Who knew that crocodiles and sharks could survive in the woods?

Now don’t be afraid because today these creatures are no longer a threat to you, on the contrary their very existence is threatened has been threatened by people! How can that be?

Well let’s go back a few years, about 22 million years to be exact, give or take a few. That’s when a subtropical jungle covered what are today the borderlands between Hungary and Slovakia. Suddenly and without warning a massive volcanic blast occurred covering the area in ash. The rich biodiversity of this jungle ecosystem suddenly died out and yet was also preserved.


Over 15,000 plant and animal species were not only buried, but also underwent a sort of natural mummification. Now fast forward to the early 19th century, suddenly a giant tree trunk is exposed and scientific investigation of the site begins. While this investigation yielded what many of called a “Prehistoric Pompei” because of its rich fossil finds, it also resulted in one of the largest scavenger hunts (others would say theft) in the history of science.

Ip. tarn

Soon vandals are carting off anything of use including pieces of the giant petrified tree which works well as a building material. Scientists are also at fault as they break the tree into pieces that are carried off to museums and research institutions. And this is just the beginning of over a century of vandalism, theft and disturbance at the site.

Ironically it was in 1944, one of the most destructive years in Hungarian history due to World War II, that the state designated what would become Ipolytarnóc Fossils Nature Reserve for official protection.

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Eventually Ipolytarnóc would become part of the Bukk Hills National Park and is today a Geopark where you can observe shark’s teeth, gawk at giant footprints of ancient rhinos, learn about the frightening bear dog and contemplate how manatees, dolphins and of course crocodiles once inhabited what is today a thriving woodland.

edited by CHRIS KOVACS

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About the Author: Chris Kovacs

Technical Consultant, Traveller, Filmmaker & Photographer
Much like most people, I like to be all sorts of things.

P.S.: some of articles are edited and co-written by a mysterious person called Tatjana. But I take all the credit.

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