Dino-Tours: Berlin Part II - Tristan

On arrival at the Museum für Naturkunde, we were surprised and intrigued to be greeted by splendid banners announcing the arrival of 'Tristan'. It seemed we had managed to land in Berlin just in time to catch the appearance of a celebrity guest!

Originally found in Hell Creek, Montana, Tristan is on loan to the museum for at least three years (2016-19)

It turns out Tristan is a Tyrannosaurus rex: the only fossil specimen currently on display in Europe (other specimens on display are casts from originals). Tristan has actually been on display in Berlin since December 2016 (I somehow managed to miss this?!) and will remain at the museum for some years to allow scientists to conduct research on the specimen (and to draw in some crowds, of course!).

Tristan has been elegantly displayed here: he gets a whole (not terribly large) room all to himself and has been mounted centre-stage in a display that is untroubled by unnecessary clutter. The room is fairly dark (you wouldn't think it was possible to lose a jet-black T. rex in dark room!), but the specimen has been sensitively lit to show 'Mr T' off in all his glory.

The damage done by Tristan's tumour can clearly be seen on the left dentary. Several teeth are also missing from the premaxillar region.

The only additional artefacts in the room are a case containing Tristan's original head and a series of semi-transparent projection screens that have been cleverly placed around the room to allow the audience to enjoy some animated graphics and interviews with palaeontologists whilst still viewing the specimen behind in his entirety. When viewing these media screens, suddenly the low lighting makes a lot more sense - in addition to creating a spooky atmosphere, the low lighting makes it much easier to view the motion graphics through the semi-transparent screens. Tristan's head, meanwhile, is in the display case owing to the fact that it cannot be mounted as scientists are going to be studying in detail over the coming years.
However, this solution works not just from a scientist's perspective but also for the audience as well. Tristan's mounted jaws gaping above you are chillingly impressive, but by bringing the skull (let's face it: The "business end"!) of the specimen down to eye level, it allows us too to inspect it in greater detail.

Selfie with a T.rex. Because Why wouldn't I...?

And so, to the specimen itself. Now, both Mike & I love all dinosaurs, no matter what they look like and between us we have seen a fair few Tyrannosaurs in our time; so you can trust me when I say that we both agreed off the bat that Tristan is easily the ugliest customer that either of us has ever come across! His most striking feature is one very large "banana tooth" sticking out from his right maxilla. And on the opposite side, his left dentary is reticulated and partially disintegrated towards the anterior end, distorting the teeth around the affected area.
The annotation accompanying Tristan explains his pathologies in more detail. Scientists believe that Tristan's jaw was infested with a tumour, which may have developed in isolation or perhaps following an infection. Either way, poor Tristan looks like he would have suffered from some seriously bad breath and an even worse temper (both excessive even by Tyrannosaur standards) as he attempted to hunt and eat with such a painful condition.
And poor Tristan's troubles didn't end there: swollen and distorted areas of bone are clearly visible in his ribs, limbs and tail too. These, however are a different kind of wound. Tumours and abscesses tend to lead to the kind of damage seen in Tristan's jaw: where the the bone has disintegrated and tiny pock-marks surround the affected area (almost like the bone is infested by woodworm); whereas bones that have swollen outwards tend to indicate where a break has occurred in the bone and then healed rapidly. This is not uncommon in the sites seen in Tristan (flanks, tails and feet are all liable to sustain damage during predation or conflict).

Tristan's enormously overgrown  "banana tooth" compensates somewhat for the missing and crumbling teeth in his diseased left jaws.

I was only being slightly facetious when I described Tristan as an "ugly customer"; for in spite of his crooked jaw, jutting teeth and swollen "cauliflower" bones, he is a truly magnificent specimen. With over 300 original bones present, Tristan is easily one of the most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons in the world. And his naturally shiny black finish (owing to the mineral quality of the fossil) gives him a "designer dinosaur" glamour.

Our encounter with Tristan pretty much wrapped up our experiences in the Museum für Naturkunde, but there were plenty more Natural History-themed delights in store for us during our whistle-stop tour of Berlin. In Part III, we'll be enjoying a brush with some of our own ancestors in the Neues Museum...

One of only few sketches I managed to take during my visit. Whilst I was sketching I realised that a Chinese tourist behind me had lifted his kid up so they could see what I was drawing. So I drew a little smiley face at them!

Useful links:

To learn more about Tristan's story, I recommend you check out Heinrich Mallison's informative blog post on how the magnificent specimen was prepared for stardom!

And, of course, you'll find a truck-load of useful information on the MfN website.

Finally, as ever, please feel free to use the search box if you're planning your own Dino-Tourism adventure:



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