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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Images: Carola Radke, Hwa Ja Götz (Museum für Naturkunde Berlin), Linus Esch
Text: Linda Gallé, Uwe Moldrzyk, Mathias Paul (Museum für Naturkunde Berlin)