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Palaeontological research on the skeleton of Tyrannosaurus rex Tristan Otto

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Palaeontological research on the skeleton of Tyrannosaurus rex Tristan Otto

Research questions

„Tristan Otto“ is a well preserved skeleton of Tyrannosaurus rex from the Maastrichtian (Upper Cretaceous, ca. 66 MA) of the Hell Creek Formation of Montana, USA. Tyrannosaurus rex is a well known dinosaur taxon that was subject of a large number of scientific publications already. Nevertheless, every new find contributes to the knowledge about this large predatory dinosaur. Particularly interesting in the skeleton of _Tristan Otto“ is its excellently preserved and rather complete skull, which can be used for a number of scientific research questions. The scientific work on the material is carried out in close cooperation with colleagues from the Charité Berlin.

The skull of „Tristan Otto“ is preserved with separate single skeletal bones, which were scanned before the skull assemblage with high-resolution medical computed tomography at the Charité Berlin. Additionally, the method of photogrammetry allowed to produce 3D surface models of each skull bone. The different possibilities and methods of producing 3D models of the bones are investigated under the aspect of scientific questions, expenditure of time, and cost-benefit-ratio.

The well preserved skull makes it possible to describe skull bones and their internal structure including the computertomographic data, as well as to compare the specimen with other specimens of T. rex. From the preserved bony braincase, an endocast of the brain cavity and the brain nerves can be reconstructed virtually.

The computed tomographic images reveal the presence of replacement teeth in the tooth-bearing skull elements (premaxilla, maxilla, and dentary). A regular replacement of worn or damaged teeth was possible in T. rex, as it ist he case in all reptiles. To maintain a functional dentition, the teeth were replace in an alternating pattern, and one tooth probably remained in the jaws for around 1.5 years.

Microsamples of the enamel of some teeth of „Tristan Otto“ are currently analysed for their content of stable isotopes of certain chemical elements (e.g., strontium, calcium). The content of stable isotopes in the enamel make it possible to reconstruct possible migration routes, food and water sources and the feeding behaviour of the specimen.

An unusual excrescence at the lower jaw bone of „Tristan Otto“ indicates that the animal suffered from an inflammable disease of the jaw. The pathologic growth at the lower jaw is currently investigated with the help of the tomographic data.

Scientists involved

  • Dr. Patrick Asbach, Charité Berlin
  • Charlie Hamm, Charité Berlin
  • Anne Schulp, Naturalis Leiden, Niederlande
  • Dr. Heinrich Mallison, Pöttmes
  • Franziska Sattler, FU Berlin

Special Exhibition TRISTAN - Berlin bares teeth

The exhibition “Tristan – Berlin bares teeth” takes visitors on an exciting expedition around Tyrannosaurus rex. Tristan Otto, the only original skeleton of a T. rex on display in Europe to date, is the heart and soul of the show. The exhibition is an exceptional experiment. The results of the research programme will contribute to the exhibition in years to come and will let visitors take along in this journey. More about the exhibition