Category Archives: Palaeontology

Berlin Natural History Museum

Last week I had the great fortune of a mini European road trip and being in Germany I took the opportunity of visiting the Berlin Museum Fur Naturkunde (Natural History Museum).  This particular museum has been on my bucket list for one big reason – Brachiosaurus.  She’s a beautiful beastie and like London’s Diplodocus (well until the recent announcement that they are replacing her with a Blue Whale), stands in the main entrance area of the museum.  It’s the first time I’ve seen a dinosaur this size and according to the information board she stands at 13.5m high, and is apparently the largest mounted dinosaur skeleton in the world.

DSCN1523I love the fact that they’ve put the Brachiosaurus, Diplodocus and Dicraeosaurus next to each other so you get a feel for the size difference.  You also have a Kentrosaurus in the central dinosaur display.

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Now I’ve been using the name Brachiosaurus for this specimen, but I am aware that she differs from the American type specimen and is now referred to as Giraffatitan everywhere except the information board next to the skeleton itself.  I found that rather amusing…I guess the matter is not settled afterall.  Along with the Sauropod centre display there is also an Allosaurus, an Elaphrosurus (shown below) and a Dysalotosaurus.

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Along with the dinosaurs you also have a wide range of fantastic fossils from the Solnhofen limestone formation, including fish, crustaceans, insects and pterosaurs.

DSCN1525There is a particularly fine specimen of a Rhamphorhynchus.  I really like the the preservation of the wings.

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The other star specimen of the museum is of course the Archaeopteryx fossil.

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Sorry it’s not that good a photo, my camera was playing up at the time.

So what is there besides the dinosaurs?  The museum also houses a large mineral collection that is considerably bigger than my own collection of rocks, a room for taxidermed specimens, rooms explaining the geological history of earth as well as the solar system, and what was my favourite room after the dinosaurs – the wet samples room, containing animal specimens in jars.  A little morbid I know, but what did you expect I’m into dead things (and please no necrophilia jokes they’re dead boring…sorry…thus ends the family friendly session of my ramblings).

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OK back to serious things.  How does it compare to London’s Natural History Museum?  Well it’s a lot smaller.  The London museum will take the best part of a day to get around, whilst you can see everything in the Berlin one in a couple of hours.  For me I felt that this was a bit of a two-edged sword.  On the one hand I was a little disappointed and wanted to see more of what they had, yet on the plus side it ment that the museum wasn’t too crowded (I went on the Saturday of a school holiday, if that had been London I’d have had to queue for hours), yet in Berlin I just walked in.  Another bonus to it being smaller is that what they do have on display is the really good stuff.  Not that I’m saying that London doesn’t have good samples, it just means that you know in Berlin you’re getting the very best that they have to show you…like a 13.5m tall Brachiosaurs/Giraffatitan.  Lets have another picture of her.

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So is it worth going to?  Oh yes.  For a guy who’s been into dinosaurs since he was 3 most definitely, nowhere else in Europe will you see a Brachiosaurus/Giraffatitan.  If you’re ever in Berlin I’d make a point to spend a coupke of hours of your trip in the museum.

I’m going to finish with one last photo of the star attraction.

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New Tyrannosaur – Qianzhousaurus

In case you haven’t heard a new member of the Tyrannosaur family has been announced last week from southern China – Qianzhousaurus sinensis.  This new beastie is from the late Cretaceous (70-66Ma) and has led to a revision of the Tyrannosaur family group.  A Tyrannosaur family?  Yep.  Most people are only familiar with the large Tyrannosaurus rex, in fact if you asked the average person on the street to name a dinosaur then T. rex is likely to be the first (and sometimes only) one they can recall.  The reality is that the Tyrannosaurs form an entire family of predatory dinosaurs (theropods), some small, some large.

The reason that Qianzhousaurus sinensis has made a change is that previously there were 3 main divisions in the Tyrannosaurs – early Tyrannosaurs found in both Europe & China (including Aviatyrannis jurassica from late Jurassic Portugal, the UK’s Eotyrannus lengi and China’s Dilong paradoxus).  These are characterised by their small size (often less than 1.5m in length), less powerful jaws and the presence of more than two figures seen in the later Tyrannosaurs.  Other features; in particular the shape & structure of the hip confirm that such small creatures are Tyrannosaurs and may represent the ancestors of the more familiar giants.  The second division is the Albertosaurinae which includes the species Albertosaurus sarcophagus and Gorgosaurus libratus.  Though larger (7-8m in length) these Tyrannosaurs are slender & graceful and are found in the western USA and Canada.  The age of the rock seems to suggest that A. sarcophagus and T. rex co-existed.  The final group is the Tyrannosaurinae and includes the largest members; T. rex, Tarbosaurus bataar, Daspletosaurus torosus and the much smaller Nanotyrannus lancensis.  These Tyrannosaurs have the familiar two-fingered hand and large skull with the powerful, bone crushing jaws.

So where does the new  Q. sinensis fit in?  Well there are a few Tyrannosaurs of uncertain lineage; Alectrosaurus olseni and Alioramus remotus.  Both are from Mongolia and although their features point to them being Tyrannosurs, they showed some different skull characteristics.  To illustrate my point take a look at the images below.

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This skull is of the T. rex.  It has the familiar big, bulky shape that so many people think of.  Now compare this to the skull of A. remotus.

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A. remotus’ is much thinner and longer, and has a characteristic set of bumps on the top of the skull.  This was only to be found in A. remotus, but no other Tyrannosaur.  Well have a look at the skull of Q. sinensis.

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The skull is long, thin and has nose bumps similar to A. remotus.  This suggests that the two creatures are more closely related to each other than to other Tyrannosaurs.  Thus there is another branch in the Tyrannosaur family tree – one of longer snouted predators.  This is cool, and if you’re into dinosaurs as much as I am is really exciting (what did you expect, I’m running a blog called geogeek).

If you want to know more, the Wikipedia entries of Tyrannosaurs aren’t too bad.  If you want a more serious publication then I can highly recommend The Dinosauria (2nd edition) edited by David B. Weishampel, Peter Dodson and Halszka Osmolska (2004).  I know it’s a few years old, and could do with a third editon to include some of the more recent discoveries, but it is a very comprehensive tome and is a must for the more grown up dinosaur lover.  And of course all recent discoveries are published in the relevant peer reviewed journals.

Just to clarify, the images of the Tyrannosaurus and Alioramus skulls came from Wikipedia, whilst the the images of Qianzhousaurus came from sci-news.com.  The extra information in the text came from above mentioned The Dinosauria.