TRISTAN – Berlin Bares Teeth

The story of the first Tyrannosaurus rex in Europe

By Museum für Naturkunde Berlin

Tyrannosaurus rex "Tristan Otto" at Museum für Naturkunde by Carola Radke (MfN)Museum für Naturkunde Berlin

Who is Tristan?

Tristan Otto is the only original skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex in Europe to date. The twelve-metre-long and four-metre-high deep black skeleton of the predatory dinosaur from the Upper Cretaceous period was found in 2010 in the Hell Creek Formation in Montana, USA. It is among the best-preserved Tyrannosaurus rex specimens worldwide.

Rock stratums in Montana, USA, site of Tristan's find by Linus EschMuseum für Naturkunde Berlin

T-Rex history

It was in 1902 when the remains of an unknown predatory dinosaur were found in the same mountain range. Three years later, Henry Fairfield Osborn gave the dinosaur its scientific name “King of the terrifying lizards” – Tyrannosaurus rex. Since then this most illustrious dinosaur of all time has become an integral part of pop culture.

Tyrannosaurus rex "Tristan Otto" - Exhibition view by Hwa Ja Götz (MfN)Museum für Naturkunde Berlin

As an adult, the giant predatory dinosaur was up to four meters high, over 12 meters long and weighed about 7 tons. Its massive skull was adapted for large prey: Its bite could crack any bone or carapace. 

Tyrannosaurus rex "Tristan Otto" - Numbered skull parts by Carola Radke (MfN)Museum für Naturkunde Berlin

For Tristan, some 170 bones have been found, let alone 50 skull bones, which is an absolute rarity. The fossil is about 66 million years old.

Tyrannosaurus rex Tristan - Berlin bares teeth / Taphonomy (Video) by Museum für Naturkunde BerlinMuseum für Naturkunde Berlin

Tyrannosaurus rex "Tristan Otto" - close up of skull structure by Carola Radke (MfN)Museum für Naturkunde Berlin

The bones are well-preserved overall, yet brittle. Tristan Otto was embedded in rock containing clay. This makes the skeleton vulnerable. Clay minerals cause the fossil's dark coloration.

Tyrannosaurus rex "Tristan Otto" - left maxillaMuseum für Naturkunde Berlin

The find was first offered to museums in the USA and Canada – without success. It was therefore a lucky coincidence, especially for scientists, that businessman and private collector Niels Nielsen was looking for a T. rex skull at the time. Together with his friend, Jens Peter Jensen, he acquired the deep black predatory dinosaur, one of the best-preserved Tyrannosaurus rex specimens worldwide. The sons of both owners lent their names to this extraordinary fossil – Tristan Otto.

Unpacking Tyrannosaurus Tristan's skull parts at MfN by Carola Radke (MfN)Museum für Naturkunde Berlin

How Tristan came to Berlin

There were plans right from the start to make Tristan Otto accessible to the public. The fossil should also be available for research. The owners chose the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin, not only because of their experience in displaying original dinosaur skeletons, but also because of its long tradition in palaeontological research. 

Tyrannosaurus rex Tristan - Berlin bares teeth / Morphology (Video) by Museum für Naturkunde BerlinMuseum für Naturkunde Berlin

Tyrannosaurus rex "Tristan Otto" - left dentary with malformation by Carola Radke (MfN)Museum für Naturkunde Berlin

Tristan‘s skeleton shows a number of pathological changes. Swellings at the left dentary indicate an infection or a tumour, whereas the opposite maxilla reveals dental anomalies – signs of different growth at the transition between crowns and roots. An infection of the lower jaw was probably extremely painful, so it would be used as sparingly as possible. 

Tyrannosaurus rex "Tristan Otto" - exhibited at Museum für Naturkunde Berlin by Carola Radke (MfN)Museum für Naturkunde Berlin

Tristan's original skull is presented separately in a showcase. The skull has been mounted in such a way that it is possible to remove individual bones from their made-to-measure brackets for scientific research. The mounted skull, however, consists of not 50, but 47 individual parts, as not every part equals a bone.

Tyrannosaurus rex "Tristan Otto" - Welding of copy of the skull by Carola Radke (MfN)Museum für Naturkunde Berlin

In 4 meters height an exact copy of Tristan's original skull is attached to the skeleton.

Tyrannosaurus rex "Tristan Otto" - Remodeling of skull parts of the Tyrannosaurus rex Tristan at the MfN by Hwa Ja Götz (MfN)Museum für Naturkunde Berlin

Therefore all 47 parts of the skull were precisely remodeled in the preparation labs of Museum für Naturkunde and later reassembled into an original copy.

Tyrannosaurus rex "Tristan Otto" - Overall exhibition view by Hwa Ja Götz (MfN)Museum für Naturkunde Berlin

Research & Exhibition

Tristan Otto is available to the Museum für Naturkunde for research and exhibition for the coming years. The skeleton remains private property, but is given an inventory number by the Museum. As MB.R.91216 this Tyrannosaurus find is identifiable in scientific terms and its data can be accessed.

Festive opening of the Tyrannosaurus rex "Tristan" exhibition (2015-12-16) by Carola RadkeMuseum für Naturkunde Berlin

Berlin Bares Teeth

Since December 2015 Tristan`s original skeleton is visible in an own exhibition. Dinosaur owner Niels Nielsen (right) and Prof. Dr. Johanna Wanka, German Federal Minister of Education and Research, attended the festive opening with our Director General Prof. Dr. Johannes Vogel (left). 

Tyrannosaurus rex "Tristan Otto" - exhibition view "Berlin bares teeth" at Museum für Naturkunde by Hwa Ja Götz (MfN)Museum für Naturkunde Berlin

Tristan is dinomite!

With exceptional media interest from all over the world and more than 500,000 visitors in the first six months, Tristan quickly became the museums' new attraction.

Credits: Story

Images: Carola Radke, Hwa Ja Götz (Museum für Naturkunde Berlin), Linus Esch

Text: Linda Gallé, Uwe Moldrzyk, Mathias Paul (Museum für Naturkunde Berlin)

© www.naturkundemuseum.berlin

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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