Our society, the Paläontologische Gesellschaft, was founded in 1912 at the initiative of the paleontologist Otto Jaekel from Greifswald (Mecklenburg-West Pomerania). This scientific society would give the field of paleontology a greater importance as an autonomous, biologically oriented subject, without dismissing its origins within the field of geology.
A similar society has existed in England since 1847, so this step by the Germans was long overdue. The founding was not based on national aspects, though, but were intended – by its founder – to be internatinoally oriented, at least with regard to German-speaking and neighboring countries. At the first annual conference in autumn of 1912 in Halberstadt (Saxony-Anhalt), 34 of the 143 members attended. In addition to creating an international paleontological network, the main tasks of our society are holding annual conferences and, since 1914, publishing the journal "Paläontologische Zeitschrift" (since 2016: "PalZ").
Both World Wars mark historical breaks. During and following World War One, the annual conferences were suspended from 1914 to 1920. The era of National Socialism was a dark chapter, although paleontological science could not be abused for the ideology. Many paleontologists lost their positions, some even their lives. Two of those forced to emigrate were F. Zeuner and T. Edinger. This was a great loss for the field of paleontology in Germany. In 1938, the society was renamed "Deutsche Paläontologische Gesellschaft", but this name only appeared on three volumes of our journal. No conferences were held from 1940 to 1949.
Annual conferences were resumed in 1950 with a meeting in Munich. It became more and more difficult for members from the GDR to attend the conferences, and – with the building of the Berlin Wall – became impossible from 1961 onwards. Membership in a "western" society was not allowed for citizens of the GDR, but the society found ways to deliver the journal, at least to some extent. After reunification, the separation was overcome easily and a conference was held at the Humboldt University in Berlin in 1991.
Due to its international aspirations, many conferences were held in neighboring countries: Basel 1982, Budapest 1994, Eggenburg 1991, Graz 1972, Louvain–La-Neuve 1986, Maastricht 1978, Newcastle upon Tyne 1967; Prague 1993, Vienna 1954 and 1963, Zürich 1965 and 1999. Nevertheless, independent paleontological societies were founded in Austria and Switzerland.
The Paläontologische Gesellschaft was founded as a professional society and has a high academic standard. Special awards and honors underline the work achieved by certain members. An honorary membership or corresponding membership can be awarded for great achievements in research. In the field of paleontology, collectors and amateur paleontologists also play an important role, and they can be honored with the Karl von Zittel Medal.
Many specialized research groups have been founded within the society, in the fields of vertebrate paleontology, paleobotany & palynology, micropaleontology, and early life. The Paläontologische Gesellschaft has the right to suggest reviewers for the German Research Foundation (DFG). It represents the interests and concerns of the field and steps in when acute situations require it, such as for the preservation of the Messel Pit in the 1980s.
Our journal, PalZ, which has been published regularly since 1912, has undergone continuous development over the years. This is evident not only in printing and format, but also in the editing. Whereas previously the journal could be edited by the elected secretary alone, it became necessary to expand the staff in 1987. It has been following a rigorous peer review system since 2000, to fulfill all international standards. The number of articles written in English also rose steadily, although some members regretted the decline of German as a means of scientific communication. The increasing specialization in the subject meant that the articles published in the journal threatened to become more and more specialized. In order to maintain the general character of the journal, special emphasis was placed on review articles.
In the seventies, the need to enable communication between members via an up-to-date newsletter in addition to the scientific journal arose. Since 1980, the inexpensively produced "Paläontologie aktuell" has fulfilled this purpose and also allowed personal statements on current topics. It was published twice a year together with the magazine. In 2000, "Paläontologie aktuell" was merged into "GMIT" (Geowissenschaftliche Mitteilungen), a joint newsletter of the geoscientific societies in Germany, which now appears every quarter.
In 2002, the number of members fluctuated around the 1000 mark, of which a large number (about 15%) are based abroad. There are currently 803 members of the Paläontologische Gesellschaft.