Making Mike Taylor gloriously green-eyed

It has become a bit of a tradition that I use this blog to make Mike Taylor of SV-POW! (and much other) fame a tiny bit jealous. By posting photos of the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin dinosaurs, for example a selfie with the skull of the Giraffatitan mount, or from other unusual perspectives – photos a normal visitor can’t ever take, and photos Mike (despite getting better access as a researcher) didn’t take during his short Berlin visits. His real-life job has given him far too little time to come visit. Still, the MfN Berlin dinosaurs have featured prominently on SV-POW! again and again. In fact a very special bone, the 8th cervical of Giraffatitan individual SII featured in the very first post there.

Mike, aside from being a very esteemed colleague in the same league as Eric Snively, Larry Witmer, Matt Wedel, Andy Farke, “Dino” Frey, Aki Watanabe, Michael Pittman, John Hutchinson, Viv Allen, …..    oh, jeez, I better stop before this becomes a ten page list of cool people in paleo!
Anyways, Mike is not “only” a really cool colleague and (American-style) friend, but also someone I personally trust in the way Germans trust their friends (which is on a totally different level than a US-style friend).

Given the affinity of Mike for the Giraffatitan‘s 8th cervical it is, I guess, especially suitable for making Mike all green-eyed. After all, while it was on display in 2005, today it has a new number (MB.R.2181.47 or MB_R_2181_47 in the computer-palatable version), rests in a wooden box in the bone cellar, inaccessible and hidden from view, and gathers dust – except for Wednesday two months ago. On that Wednesday, it was moved out by the MfN preparators to the hallway, and the sides of the wooden box were taken off, and the sand bags that stabilize the vert were taken away. For this:



Artist Alicja Kwade wanted high resolution scans of various bones, and for this very special occasion the museum OKed access. Alicja payed for the scanning of several vertebrae and ammonites by a professional surveying firm, matthiasgrote PLANUNGSBURO. Now, a lot of people have told me that they know some firm or other, and that said firm will quickly create perfect scans. A lot of people simply buy an expensive scanner, know roughly how to handle the software that comes with it, and them call themselves “experts”. Well, typically I have these conceited scanning “expert” for breakfast…… but not these guys! I was very impressed by their knowledge and experience. They know exactly what they are doing, know how to work to order (e.g., not creating a model at far too high a resolution, which means unnecessary cost), can do top-notch models if needed, brought a wide range of tools, all of which they knew exactly how to employ – it was great fun and quite informative to see them at work! And both the boss, Mr. Grote, and his two employees are very nice people, with whom I had some fun conversations.

Still, any such opportunity to scan difficult objects is a challenge for me, and this is especially true when someone else is scanning the same object at the same time! Can I scan as fast, as accurate, as detailed as them? Can I predict my data capture time and scan resolution and accuracy accurately? Does my data capture approach work at all? In short, can I hack it? I have recently become pretty cocky, given the success of the digiS bone cellar project‘s success, but that concerned rather simple bone shapes. This time, as I quickly saw, I was pitted against the elite of 3D scanning, and the specimens were of an entirely different level of complexity. Not that I expected the experts to beat the resolution of the model I was going to try and make with the scan they needed to do for Alicja – theirs would be for rapid prototyping on a CNC milling machine, and therefore of limited resolution, whereas mine would be aimed at way-more-then-enough for all science and exhibition uses I can currently imagine. But , knowing how scanning people tick, I was expecting them to additionally go for a top-notch scan anyways, going way beyond the ordered level of detail and resolution. And given the tools they brought and their expertise, I must admit that I was a bit afraid of working too quickly, taking too few photos and ending up with a model that has errors or big gaps, and compared badly to theirs.

In the end, as the photo above shows, along with an Artec Spider scanner they did bring the Big Gun – the Faro ScanArm with laser scanner. And they did go for a very high resolution and high accuracy scan. Which means that my best scan would have to measure up to a really excellent scans by them……. *gulp* I was quite a bit tempted to forego my usual happy-go-lucky high-speed scanning routine for a calmer, more thorough approach, maybe even using a tripod, simply to make sure that I drive quality up as high as I can. But then, the comparison is only fair if I stick to the same effort expended and use the same tools that I normally do!

So, they scanned with the Faro Scanarm and an Artec Spider scanner, and I used my trusty old Canon EOS 70D with a cheap LED ringlight. No tripod, no extended scan planning. Just my usual happy-go-lucky approach.  Several vertebrae were set out on the work table in the Bone Cellar – not much room to work in, but sufficient for the artec scanner and my camera. The huge cervical 8 of Giraffatitan was moved to the hallway outside the bone cellar to allow better access with the Faro scanner, as can be seen in the photo above. And there it was that I went at it with my camera.

Overall, I took 754 images, the first 20 with scale bars placed all around the bone, the rest overview and close up photos without scale bars. Here’s one of the former:

overview image with scale bars

The scale bars use the pre-made markers that come with Photoscan, so that the software can automatically detect them. This time it worked like a charm, saving me quite a bit of time. Matteo Belvedere is to be thanked for fighting with Photoshop to create the file from which we had the scales printed – thank you very much, Matteo! I used a bunch of 0.5 m scales, because scales half as long to slightly longer than the specimen you scan are best: they provide the least proportional error without causing extra work capturing them. And I must say that the resulting accuracy is pretty pleasing! Below you can see a screenshot showing the scale bars and their respective errors:


note that the average deviation between the scales, each 500 mm long, is less than 0.33 mm, i.e. less than 1/15th of a percent 😀 Photogrammery FTW!

After taking the scale bar photos I removed the scale bars from the bone. The same process – removing the photos with scale bars – I later repeated in the Photoscan project file, after alignment: I made the images unavailable for model creation. This way, they are there for scaling, but are ignored for construction of the dense point cloud, and do not litter the model. Because of this approach I can place scale bars ON the bone itself, instead of just around it, which gives me more flexibility. In some cases, like digitizing trackways, placing the scales on the specimen you wish to digitize is the only way to place them, so remembering the trick of using them for alignment and scaling but blocking them later is helpful.

The additional 734 photos fall into three distinct categories:

  • images I took while “rastering” the bone
  • images where I deliberately pointed the camera into recesses and at other difficult points
  • overview images

The first category obviously is necessary to deliver a model that shows the entire bone at high resolution. I makes up about 1/3 of the total, because the photos need to overlap quite a bit. The second category makes up more than 1/3, not because I really needed that many (despite the plethora of deep, air-sac-caused depressions in the bone), but because I took way too many images, to make sure that I had enough to cover all the many nooks and crannies. Better having too many photos resulting in extraordinary calculation times than ending up with a model with unnecessary holes! Last but not least, the overview images are necessary to guarantee a good alignment of the other images. Yes, you can omit them, but if you take a series of images down one side of the bone and another up the other side, there is a high risk that your model will “warp” a bit. Overview photos keep this in check.

Rastering is best done by doing one set of photos with the camera pointed at the center of the specimen, then (for complex shapes like verts), another with the camera tilted left by ca. 30°, and another with the camera tilted right at 30°. Or up and down, depending on the shape of your specimen and how you place it. Or all of them – up, down, left, right….. and so on. Here, I made sure I used “straight”, “left” and “right”, as well as “up”. “down” images weren’t needed as a separate set, because of the geometry of the vertebra.

Then came the “recesses” part, which basically means pointing the camera at the midpoint if a hole, then moving it on the surface of an imaginary sphere but keeping it pointed at the same location. I did this for every single freakin’ depression….. *sigh*. I much prefer proper titanosaurs; they relocated their air sacs into the bone and have rather smooth outer bone surfaces. Much easier to digitize!

All in all, I spent 45 minutes and 21 seconds on photography, which does include a short 20 meter walk to a door and back to let some people in, as well as the time required to pick up and toss aside the scale bars. Divided by 754 images this means I took a photo every ~3.6 seconds. That may sound impressive, but it is actually slow work for me. Usually, I just aim the camera by eyeballing the brightness of the ring LED light on the bone. In this case, however, I felt the need for a more thorough approach, and used the 70D’s twistable touch live view screen to aim the camera and select the focus point. Usually, I achieve photo rates of 0.8/s, not .02777/s, but the live view screen makes shutter release slower, and the process of taping the screen each time to select the focus point and trigger the camera also is slower than simple blind point&shoot. Still, if I can’t easily go back and re-shoot a specimen, I’d rather spend more time and make sure I can guarantee a good model.

So, did all this effort give me a model I can be proud of? Can I hold my own against one of the best scanning crews out there? I can’t really judge, because I haven’t seen their models yet, but on the other hand I believe the results speak for themselves:


Yes, you read that correctly: the model has, in the highest resolution possible, some 484 million points in the dense cloud! Meshing a tiny part of itdelivers a 80+ million polygon mesh!

dense cloud

This is the full dense point cloud in all its glory! Note the hole at the bottom, where the vertebra rests on a plaster support made to fit. No way was anyone going to lift the vert up so I could take photos of its ventral side. It is way too heavy and fragile! We have very accommodating collections curators and managers at MfN, but lifting this bone is way outside anything they would ever consider – and rightly so! And a close-up – click for full size:

dense cloud close-up

This area is less than 15 cm wide… oh yes, the resolution is amazing 🙂 Now let me show you the mesh…… below is a total of the dense cloud with a small part I meshed right away superimposed. Note that I did NOT yet clean the dense cloud at this stage, which is why there are ugly black rims on top and so on. The meshed area resulted in >80 million polygons, here decimated to 1 million.

dense cloud with mesh

and a zoom-in on the mesh (with slight smoothing):


yes, that hole you see is real! The bone really is that thin 🙂 I put two markers on the two sides of the neural arch that the mesh happened to cut. You can use Photoscan as a measuring tool by simply scaling a model creating markers and a scale bar from them, setting it to length 0, and checking the error – that’s the length of the scale bar (assuming you scaled your model correctly before). The thickness of the bone is really just


~4.569 mm! And despite the enormous size of the specimen, my happy-go-lucky model managed to keep the two sides consistently separate, except for the spot where there is a real-life hole in them, too:

hole in bone

So, overall, I am *very* pleased with my results! I haven’t seen the scans by Grote yet, so I can’ really say how I measure up against them, but I have once again been able to capture a very high detail model of a difficult object with simple, affordable and mobile equipment.

So, Mike, here it is now in all it’s glory – or should I say, in a small percentage of all its glory? As this is only a 74 million polygon model after clean-up, and if I ran this at ultra high resolution I’d expect it to have around 600 million. It is detailed enough, though, as it is….

click to embiggen

click to embiggen

Posted in digiS, Digitizing, Dinopics, Dinosauria, FUN!!!, Giraffatitan, MfN Berlin, photogrammetry, Sauropoda, Sauropodomorpha, Tendaguru | 1 Comment

“Liberation from the Bone Cellar” – a progress report

Here’s a short update on how my digiS 2015 project is coming along. Yes, 2015 is still running, due to a bunch of unforeseen circumstances a huge theropod sticking its ugly skull into my affairs and demanding to be photogrammetrized in a big hurry. digiS 2016 is also running, which means that I have about 50% of the computing power at hand that I need – ugh! Our IT is doing all they can to keep me happy, which is way more that their jobs dictate they should do, but they can’t work miracles. I am enormously grateful, and really hope that my work makes the higher-ups in the museum realize how excellent the support is IT gives researchers at the museum.

Now, where are we with regards to “Liberation from the Bone Cellar” – a project title not quite as tongue in cheek as it may sound, as the work conditions in the basement are really suboptimal enough to make many research approaches barely feasible that really should be easy in an ideal world.

Well, I am glad to report that things are finally chugging along nicely! Both my computer screen and that of my colleague Bernhard Schurian are usually populated with views like this:

batch process result

(click to embiggen for readability)

What you see here is a batch process file in Agisoft’s awesome Photoscan Pro. Each batch contains the photos taken of one bone (both top and bottom side), and we run an overnight batch process for photo alignment for all chunks. Then, we optimize the resulting sparse point cloud, scale the models, and run another batch process for dense point cloud calculation. Then, the results must be manually cleaned – after all, we do not want to have all kinds of background data in the files. The screenshot was taken just after cleaning of the dense clouds. As you can see, in this case there are 6 chunks, i.e. 6 bones. The second and third are marked inactive, which means that we had some sort of problem with them. Usually, what gives us trouble are photo sets that do not align perfectly, usually because we run the models with fairly low sample point ratios (max 10.000 per image). Instead of stopping work on the other chunks while we fix these problems, we typically just ignore them, finish the rest of the chunk, and then come back and deal with the problems. Usually, this simply means re-running the alignment with more sample points (40.000 or unlimited).

Each of the six chunks has been aligned, and you can see the number of photos per chunk, the number of resulting points in the sparse cloud, as well as the number of markers we already assigned. In the two chunks that have been expanded you can also see the number of aligned images each: in the first 169 of 175, but in reality 173 as the first two show the label, which equates to an alignment quota of over 95%, and in the second 163 of 165-2=163, a quote of 100%. Considering the free-hand photography at close quarters that we did this is a pleasing result 🙂

You can also see the setting (Medium quality) and resulting number of points of the dense point clouds: over 7 and 9 million points, respectively. That’s way more than 99% of all science uses of the models will ever need, and in fact way more than 99% of all science uses can handle! I expect to get meshes with around 9 to 13 million polygons, and such big files are a bother to load. Mounting a full skeleton, or even just a girdle + limbs, at this resolution will crash most computers!

The key thing we are proud of you can see at the bottom left of the image: the average error between our scale bars. For the “small” bone fragment in the open chunk we used four scale bars, one of which is 20 cm long, and the other three are 25 cm long. The average distance between them in the model, which in an ideal model would be zero, here is 1.3 mm, i.e. slightly over half of a percent of the average scale bar length – and this is one of the worst models we produced (which is why I show you this one). Most have three zeros after the comma, not two! That is an amazing accuracy when you consider the far-from-optimal conditions in the Bone Cellar and the speed with which we acquire the data: I usually take less than 7 minutes per bone including transport!

So, overall, I’d call digiS 2015 an overwhelming success – for us, for paleontology as a whole, and for all our colleagues out there who want to quickly capture a lot of data during collection visits. While our photography method is physically exhausting, the results show that digitizing 10 to 20 big bones per day in collections is entirely feasible.


Posted in digiS, Digitizing, MfN Berlin, photogrammetry, Tendaguru | 2 Comments

a selfie (digiS2016)

I rarely take selfies. Mostly because I hate being photographed, but also because I do not see the need to show everyone in the world everything I do. Here’s one, though, that I just had to take, mostly in order to get Mike Taylor to swear at me 😉

Giraffatitan selfie

I took this while working on my 2016 digiS project, when I was busy getting close-up shots of the neck vertebrae of the Giraffatitan mount. They are fiberglass, because the original bones could not be mounted. I still need a fairly god scan of them, so that once we scan the original bones in detail we can put the high-res scans into the place they should have on the 3D model of the mount.

Posted in digiS, Digitizing, Dinopics, Dinosauria, FUN!!!, Giraffatitan, Mammal pic, Mammalia, MfN Berlin, photogrammetry, Sauropoda, Sauropodomorpha, Tendaguru | 5 Comments

Digitizing entire dinosaurs 1 (digiS 2016)

Last year I received funding to digitize a lot of big bones of the Tendaguru collection from the Museum für Naturkunde’s Bone Cellar. This year, I was lucky to again secure funding from the digiS programme. This time, it’s for digitizing the mounted skeletons in the Dinosaur Hall, the mounts my esteemed colleagues M&M (Matt and Mike) called “a shedload of awesome“.  The reasons are fairly straightforward and simple: due to digiS 2015 we now have better digital access to the individual single bones from Tendaguru than to the partial skeletons of better preservation that form the largest parts of the mounts!

Now, that’s only true of a selection of dinosaurs in the hall. We already have excellent high-resolution models of the original material of Kentrosaurus and Elaphrosaurus, and of their (plaster) skulls. The models were created by David Mackie, then of RCI, who laser-scanned them one by one. You’ve seen the Kentrosaurus scans already, for example in my paper on range of motion of the skeleton, about which I should actually blog on of these days. The Elaphrosaurus models haven’t been used much yet, so here’s a link to a post with a bunch of photos of the mount.

So, for the digiS project, we’re mainly talking Giraffatitan, Dicraeosaurus, and Diplodocus.


However, the project also aims to get models of the entire skeletons of all animals, not just bone-by-bone. Although such models must necessarily be of lower resolution – after all, each individual bone we scanned in the bone cellar leads to a model with usually more than 6 and up to 30 million polygons! – they offer the great advantage of showing the bones in articulation, as mounted. And that is something we do not yet have of both Elaphrosaurus and Kentrosaurus.

Obviously, I did previously try to align the individual Kentrosaurus bone scans into an articulated skeleton, the results of which did not only make it into the above-mentioned paper, but also served as the basis for a 3D volumetric model of the animal. That model was used for both my paper on Jurassic baseball batters from hell (direct link to paper here) and my paper on the effect that osteoderm distribution has on the position of the center of mass (not really much of an influence, it turned out). However, that skeletal pose was not an attempt to re-create the MfN’s mount’s pose, but just an attempt to get the bones correctly articulated.

So, how do I plan to get a low-resolution model that is good enough for one-by-one replacement of the low-res bones by the high-res laser scans? Well, in fact, that task has already been done 🙂

Kentrosaurus 3D model rough

This is the dense point cloud of a photogrammetric model, made from 120 photos taken by my very capable colleague Bernhard Schurian. All images aligned with ease. The model has some 8 million points, but that number will shrink as I clean it. Here’s an overview of the camera positions:

Kentrosaurus 3D model w cameras

The limiting factor in model resolution here is not the number of photos but the resolution of the photos versus the size of the object on them. Simply put, at best you can expect to distinguish, as separate points, two neighboring pixels. Therefore, the bigger the object you model in your images, the higher the resolution. If you show an entire dinosaur the resolution is much lower than if you photograph only part of it. The higher resolution of the latter approach comes at the cost of having to take many more photos, though.

Vice versa, for a given view, the model will be of higher resolution the more resolution your camera offers. A 50 megapixel camera is much better than a 12 megapixel one. In this case, Bernhard used a Canon EOS 5DS R, which has a 50 megapixels sensor. This means that far fewer images are needed than in my previous attempts,  but it does not directly translate to shorter calculation times. After all, 2x 25 MPX is the same amount of point data as 1x 50 MPX.

For scaling we used a number of scale bars scattered all around the skeleton. You can see their digital representation in the images above as yellow lines. Each is 50 cm long, and the final error in the model between them is pretty stunningly low: 0.000998 m! Yes indeed: that is an average error smaller than 1 mm! Less than 1/25th of an inch for my US friends. Let’s interpret this to mean that each scale bar is around 2 mm off – for the length of the entire dinosaur this gives us a divergence of less than 1 cm. Color me impressed!

Kentrosaurus 3D model closeup

Now, one thing such a model is not, and that is perfect! The chance that the insides of bones are captured is virtually zero, as is true for the vertebral centra and, because of the many osteoderms in the way, the dorsal spines, and there always is a lot of floating nonsense data between the bones. The image above shows part of that cleaned up, much more work awaits 😦 However, the external surfaces come out quite nicely in this model, due to the diligence of Bernhard, who made sure that all images are excellently exposed and perfectly in focus. Well, no surprised, he is a master photographer 😉

Kentrosaurus sample photo

As a direct consequence, the software found features all over with ease: each point is a feature, each blue one is a feature the software was able to re-recognize on another image. The limit was set to a total of 40,000 points per image, and to 4000 matches between images.
Kentrosaurus sample photo w points

What’s next? Well, cleaning the model. Then I’ll calculate a polygon mesh, import that into the CAD program of my choice (Rhinoceros NURBS modelling for Windows 5.0) and start aligning the old high-resolution scans. I’ll show you how that’s done once I have the first few bones aligned.

Posted in 3D modeling, Berlin, Dicraeosaurus, digiS, Digitizing, Dinosaur models, Dinosauria, Diplodocus, Elaphrosaurus, FUN!!!, Giraffatitan, Kentrosaurus, MfN Berlin, Ornithischa, photogrammetry, Sauropoda, Sauropodomorpha, Stegosauria, Tendaguru, Theropoda | 3 Comments

some more pictures of Tristan the T. rex

T. rex maxilla

When Niels Nielsen, his brother and I sat down to plan the posture for Tristan we faced a few limitation. Obviously, the posture had to be biomechanically possible. We also wanted it plausible, i.e.: we wanted to show the animal in a pose that it probably used regularly, and not just some freak thing. Also, the room it is shown in poses some limits. It’s height means we can’t show Tristan sky-falling (as if we wanted to), and there is a row of cast-iron columns down the middle of the room, too. Additionally, there is only one entrance, so the skeleton had to placed in the hall in a way that allowed a circular path around it, with people coming in through one half of the big door and going out the other, separated by a mobile barrier.

It was quickly clear that neither Niels nor the museum wanted Tristan to be posed sitting down, mating, or jumping (not that I think the latter a biomechanically very feasible option anyways). As a standing pose is not very dynamic we were left with some sort of rapid locomotion pose. Because Tyrannosaurus was a poor runner, as has been amply shown, this left a slow run or very rapid walk pose. Which I guess 80% of all mounts worldwide show. In the end, after much playing around with different options, we decided on a running pose in which Tristan is taking a sharp left turn around a “tree” – one of the cast iron columns. However, Tristan has just noticed the tiny figure coming into the room (the visitor) and has swivels his head around. Decision time – continue going left or snap up the human for a snack?

T. rex
This is the view from the door, and as you can see the posture as mounted doesn’t match exactly the pose I described above. What happened?

In order to be able to plan properly I created a roughly scaled 3D model of Tristan. It is nothing but a quick&dirty photogrammetric model of famous AMNH 5027, with a 3D skull based on Stan (BHI 3033), scaled to match the expected size of Tristan. Additionally, I used floor plans and some quick manual measurements to recreate Saal 14 as a very rough model. I’ve shown this in the last post in one view:


here’s another one:
A top view of the hall, with colored arcs showing the field of view between columns from various points. Note how the tan one on the bottom left is planned to show the entire animal without obstruction in a right lateral view. I also made sure that the light green one gives you a chance to take a left lateral view photo in which the column in the middle does not hide the legs.

Also, note the quite strong lateral bending of the torso and the strong rotation between the long axis of the ilia against the torso and against the legs. In fact, the left foot, supposed to be at the very end of the support phase, is massively in-turned. If you draw a straight line over the metatarsus and toe three it roughly points just to the left (in the animal’s view) of the bottom column. The hips point slightly further left, whereas the right foot, just before midstance, points even further left. That’s a pretty typical pose for having made a strong left turn over the supporting (left in this case) foot and continuing over the other foot. Once the posterior foot lifts off it should immediately abandon the in-turn.

As mounted, Tristan shows the intended lateral bending of the torso. For reasons unknown to me, however, the right hindlimb and hip were mounted without the strong left-twist, and the left foot was kept in-turned despite having been altered to be posed just after toe-off. Therefore, it should actually have been moved to point more forward rather then inward. As a consequence of the rotation of the hip out of the planned position, Tristan’s tail tip now is a lot closer to the wall than intended, and the pose looks less energetic. Additionally, for a bunch of reasons, the skull is not turned to the right quite as much, so that Tristan’s nose isn’t pointed exactly at the door. The pose is still quite dynamic, but my pre-planned side-view photo location is ruined, because now the skull is rotated so that it is seen in posterolateral instead of lateral view.

Another view does work out pretty well. If you come into the room, turn left and walk around, then pass the row of columns again at the back end of the hall, you can look right and see this:

In fact, this is intended as a quote of the Allosaurus cast mount in the dinosaur hall, which has its head stuck out into the entrance hall (where the head is fleshed out, whereas the rest of the animal is shown as a skeleton). The Tristan mount is quite a photogenic thing from this position, as you see the neck and skull against a bare wall as background, quite uncluttered.

Tristan’s real skull is exhibited “like a jewel” (as a radio station put it today) in a glass cage at the end of the hull. There are no non-glass supports at the corners, and the entire hall is dark (therefore hardly anything reflects on the glass), so that the visitor’s view of the huge jaws is practically unhindered. Discreet spotlights give enough light to see the bones well without putting big highlights on them.


In various places around the hall the exhibition team placed see-through screens on top of steles that carry text placards posing the research questions we will try to investigate. Onto the screens beamers project videos with text and film. Much of that is…. well, I’d say it is more funny than scientifically pleasing. The extremely short preparation time meant that we had to use a lot of stock imagery, with the predictable result that the motions of animals look rather horrible. Bouncy, floppy, physically impossible – you name it. Still, the short presentations summarize our knowledge and proposed research quite well. Deplorably, however, they also include videos of the researchers, filmed (obviously) with the help of greenscreens. Those bits are kinda cheap-looking, and in fact pretty hilarious! I, for one, was asked to walk quickly on a treadmill, and the video now shows a T. rex coming after me. However, the treadmill (obviously) had no rail to hole on to and was uncomfortable short for someone my size. Also, they kept telling me to look over my should at a Rex that wasn’t there – and the combined video places it in slightly the wrong position relative to me to make things work. I had a good laugh when I saw the final sequence. It is kinda nice, though, that you can see Tristan through the screens, as long as the presentation isn’t too bright.


Your truly not-running from a fat, transparent, flollopin abomination of a stock-video T. rex.

Overall, however, I am very happy with the exhibit! Once again, the MfN exhibition people and graphics designers and all have done a masterful job! Add to that the extremely short timeline and all the mishaps along the way (like the skeleton arriving way too late, the replica skull getting done at the last minute, and so on) and it is a miracle that we could open on time.






Posted in 3D modeling, AMNH, Berlin, classic CAD, Digitizing, Dinosauria, MfN Berlin, photogrammetry, Theropoda, Tristan, Tyrannosauridae, Tyrannosaurus | 3 Comments

Tristan the T. rex is here!

And here he finally is: Tristan the Tyrannosaurus rex!

As of a few seconds ago the press embargo has ended, and I can finally show you all what a wonderful specimen I was press-ganged into living for allowed to work on during most of 2016.


click to embiggen; image by Carola Radke, MfN Berlin. © Carola Radke.
Tristan in left lateral view.

Tristan is a loan to the Museum für Naturkunde by Danish businessmen Niels Nielsen and Jens Peter Jensen. Actually, its full name is Tristan-Otto, after the sons of Niels and Jens Peter. The story of how the two businessmen came to loan the specimen to the museum has been dragged through the press repeatedly, and will be repeated a few more times. Therefore, I’ll rather focus on how things unfolded for me, and show you all the wonderful photos I took of the specimen and the dig site visit and so on – all the photos I had to keep secret for so long.

It all started for me on January 3, 2015, with an email from MfN-director Johannes Vogel – he of the luxuriant mustache and Darwin relations. As the email was sent in the evening and as I had (atypically) turned off the ringer on my cell phone, I read the email on January 4, and for a split second got confused with 1/4/2015 and 4/1/2015. After all, this just had to be a hoax:

Continue reading

Posted in digiS, Digitizing, Dinopics, Dinosauria, MfN Berlin, photogrammetry, Theropoda, Tristan, Tyrannosauridae, Tyrannosaurus | 16 Comments

more Juramuseum & the Kulturgutschutzgesetz

The previous post about the Juramuseum was full of fish, although it did end with a few higher vertebrates. All flattened, though. This time, there’ll be more higher verts, and the spineless stuff will be in 3D! Let’s start with more dinosaurs, theropod dinosaurs to be precise. However,


so please be patient and watch this space next Wednesday 🙂 Also, there is this German tapewormword Kulturgutschutzgesetz lurking at the end of the title. Thus beware!

Juravenator skull

This is a close-up of the skull of Juravenator starki (click to embiggen this and other images). It is an amazing little beast, and I love the teeth. But let me progress to what you likely are really waiting for: the Eichstätt specimen of Archaeopteryx lithographica!

Juravenator skull

Juravenator skull

This specimen is very small, and has an extremely good head, of which I have an extremely bad close-up photo:

Juravenator skull

For the sake of completeness, here’s the counterslab, too.

Juravenator skull

Knowing the Berlin specimen so well I was struck by three things right away: how dark the Eichstätt specimen’s limestone slabs are, how small the animal is, and how little the Juramuseum has done to make it stand out in the exhibit. It is just one of many specimens in a part of the exhibit that deals with birds and flights. There are a bunch of simple push-button experiments that try to explain how wings and feathers work in flight, there’s this display of different feather types:

Juravenator skull

and there are a bunch of models of the in vivo look of extinct dinobirds, too. Including a really huge one:




I didn’t take a pic of the label, thus I have no idea if this is supposed to be a Phorusrhacid or (more likely) Gastornis, and it is impossible for me to tell from the model. I’ve seen skeleton (casts) of terror birds and the Messel monster before, many times, and the always look amazingly big. Still, this model, which for once is not completely drab or exceedingly colorful, makes their size so much more real, especially the huge head and the sturdy feet – way cool!

Other models include Sinosauropteryx prima, Caudipteryx zoui and a Confuziusornis, all of which are also shown as casts. One can quibble about the feathers and colors and all of each of these, but overall I have seen much worse many times. These all do not look freaky.


Same goes for the inevitable model of Archaeopteryx.


Overall, it is a very nice exhibit about flight and volant and non-volant dinosaurs, but after being exposed to the Naturkundemuseum Berlin’s “Federflug” special exhibit it all looked a bit dull and grey. I guess there are two main reasons for this difference. One is that the MfN exhibitions team is just absolutely awesome. They can take anything and give it that noble, serious, quiet look that makes you feel it is special while making you focus on it. A far cry from the oh-so-common lights&sounds attack you experience especially in US museums. Eichstätt has that feel, too, just not at the top-of-the-league quality I am used to from Berlin. The other factor is probably as important, and quite mundane: money! While Berlin is horribly underfunded for a big Western natural history museum, there is always enough funding available to optimize the looks of exhibits. In any case, the Juramuseum Eichstätt is cool as is!

Now, I promised you fans of spineless stuff that there would be 3D spineless stuff. Here you go!


This is, a guess, the standard fossil associated with Southern Germany: an ammonite. In fact, it is a steinkern (literally: stone core), or natural cast of the inside of the shell, and even I with my long-forgotten haphazard training in ammonite taxonomy (I did study at Tübingen!) can tell it belongs into the Persisphinctoidea, by the splitting ribs and the constrictions (one is well visible on the lower right). In fact this is a Lithacoceras aff. ulmensis.  If you have ever collected fossils in the White Jurassic (limestone deposits of the latest Jurassic) of the Swabian Alb mountains you know these small to mid-sized shells only too well. Preservation as natural casts is the norm, and sometimes the suture pattern is pressed into the steinkern (top part of above specimen), too. The sutures is nothing but the negative of the contact area between the outer shell and the partitions between shell chambers. It plays a huge role for taxonomy.

In the Solnhofen Limestone deposition was very slow, and most fossils are therefore flattened, but the trough in which the layered limestone was deposited lay between small reefs. And in these we find 3D preservation, sometimes of incredibly good quality. The specimen above and those below come from a dolomitized reef in the Steinberg mountain near Großmehring, and the dolomitization has ruined the corals so they cannot be determined. The steinkerns, though, as exquisite.




A bunch of steinkerns of marine snails (Purpuroidea gigas, Pleurotomaria and I believe another Purpurodiea). And, below, a couple of Cossmanneas.


An almost-Nautilus! Pseudaganides belongs in a sister group to modern-day nautilids.


Let’s have some clam chowder: Isoarca explicata


Pholadomya sp.


Pinna. They often get quite big. I have one from near Dotternhausen that is some 20 cm long.


Pterocardia corallina. The left one is a steinkern, whereas the right one is preserved with its shell.


Paradiceras aequivalve. A clam that lived in places with stronger currents than the reef-dwellers shown above. Its thick shell anchored it well.

Now, before we get to the brachiopods and corals, there is something I must comment on. Currently, the German government is trying to develop a law to protect (national) cultural heritage. It is called Kulturgutschutzgesetz. That is, at first glance, an excellent idea! The law is supposed to make it much harder to sell art and archaeological artifacts of dubious provenance. Considering how much stuff is being smuggled out of Iraq and Syria and sold on the black market I believe it is high time that we force dealers to provide paperwork to show specimens are legal – period!

However, as is all too often the case, the German government and its entire executive support in the form of federal ministries and federal departments of all kinds makes the same uneducated stupid mistake so many laypeople make: they apparently believe that palaeontology and archaeology are the same discipline! And so the smart people working there actually made the law apply to palaeontological collections and specimens, too. Without, may I add, do the usual and ask palaeontologists to comment on the proposals! OOPS!

The first draft of the law, the second version of which by now has passed the cabinet(!), was so monstrously stupidly written that it actually forbade preparing fossils by defining them as unalterable Nationales Kulturgut (national cultural heritage) while still in the ground – provided they are either scientifically important or worth or more 50.000 €.

A twist I especially like – a particularly idiotic twist, too – is that depending on how you read the law some fossils would become cultural heritage because of scientific importance, which might be determined how? It is left open for debate in many cases. So one could interpret the law to mean that a fossil that was not cultural heritage becomes cultural heritage a posteriori because someone publishes a paper on it. A paper that may be based on data obtained by destruction of the fossils, which now a posteriori would become illegal and punishable by law.

Granted, that requires a pretty weird interpretation of the law, but until the courts decide on such matters you can’t be sure what’s gonna happen. Same for a fossil that, hypothetically, you sell while still in the ground, and that you sell for less than 50.000 €, and that nobody ever publishes on – is it now NOT national cultural heritage? Even if it is another Archaeopteryx? Idiots abound in certain Berlin circles…

A key problem with the law is that it does not do what, for example, Bavarian state law does: distinguish between opera and res. Opera is an opus – an object created by man. Res is a thing. If you define unprepared fossils as natural heritage (treat them as res), and prepared fossils as works of man, and differentiate the protection of the two, you avoid a hell of a lot of problems that you get when you merge the two into one category. An ammonite that has been prepared so it can be used for science, a meteorite that has been cored and thin-sectioned, and so on – these are clearly specimens that must be protected differently from the gazillions of microorganisms making up limestone that you could but nearly never do analyze.

Another issue is the incredible amount of paperwork that natural history collections will face with regards to loans, de-inventorying and other totally normal collection activities.

Oh yeah, and did I mention that you’re supposed to provide documentation of the provenance of cultural heritage specimens? That’s another good idea, but you have to do it retroactively back to 1992!

Yes, you read that correctly: retroactively back to 1992! Bought an ammonite at a fair in 1998? Well, please do contact the dealer-whose-address-you-never-had and ask him for documentation! What the goddamned freakin’ fuck????????? Until our beloved government starts handing out time machines this is utterly impossible! It is also a very unusual shift of the burden of proof: suddenly and retroactively, you need to prove that you own a fossil legally, instead of someone else having to prove that something about it is fishy.

Jeez, I get too worked up about this. I even can’t be sarcastic anymore. Let me get to one more key point and finish this. Why do I mention all this in the context of the Juramuseum? Because one area that the law – even before it has been finalized! – is having a massive impact on is the private collectors’ scene. Particularly, due to the wonderful German federal system creating wide variation between states, particularly to Bavarian private collectors. Bavaria, I do not need to remind you, is the state the Solnhofen Limestone deposits happen to occur in. What’s going on there is rather depressing and scary: private collectors, uncertain about how their fossils will be treated, have started pulling loaned specimens from museums!

This and other links below go to German language articles. These are must-reads for Germans, and all others should spare themselves the misery. So please be glad I am not linking English versions 😉

Now, the Juramuseum is lucky. As opposed to some other museums, notable the famous Bürgermeister Müller Museum in Solnhofen, most of its specimens are not loans, but are owned by the Bavarian state. For example, all he wonderful invertebrates from the Steinberg shown above and below were collected and prepared by one Heinz Haberl. Mr. Haberl started collecting in the quarry in 1972, and has given the many wonderful fossils to the Juramuseum as a gift. They are now owned by Bavaria, and thus not in any danger. They are – and this is a prime example of the importance of private collectors to science in Germany – the means by which scientists were able to time the quarry’s sediments to ca. 151-152 million years before present, i.e. upper Kimmerridgian to lowest Tithonian age, and thus slightly older than the Solnhofen limestone. Without Haberl’s diligent collection and preparation of ammonites, this dating would not have been possible at this accuracy.

This is just one of very many examples of laypeople helping science. There’s millions more. And all that is threatened in the future and also partly in the past (remember 1992?) by a sorry excuse for a draft of a law. Read, if you can bear it, a lawyer’s comments prepared at the request of the Mineralientage München. Admittedly, this is a brief written at the behest of a party with a special interest – but even if one takes that into account, it is still scary.

The German Palaeontological Society has some harsh words for the new proposed law (PDF download). I couldn’t find an English version, and believe me – unless you are German, you really do not with to delve into this any more. If you are German, though, consider contacting your political representatives and giving them an earful. The Swiss and Austrian Palaeontological Societies have joined the German one in the above-linked statement, by the way – they are equally appalled. By the way: Austria managed to write a 7-page law to coply with the EU directive. The German draft is 156 pages long.

So, per angusta ad augusta: let’s see some more beautiful fossils while we still can! Here’s some brachiopods from the Steinberg.

Juralina insignis

Torquirhynchia speciosa

and a sea urchin – a rather blurry picture, just to prove they were there.

The corals of the reef at the Steinberg were all rather ruined by dolomitization. Some of them still look pretty, but for science they are not that useful For one thing, you can’t determine the species.



It speaks volumes about Mr. Haberl and many other collectors that their specimens found their way into public exhibits, either as long-term loans or gifts. And not only the top, most beautiful or most scientifically publishable specimens, but also the more mundane fossils that should be collected and preserved for completeness sake. Science is about being doggonely thorough, not about glitz. And there are very many private collectors out there who understand this, and live by it. The proposed Kulturgutschutzgesetz is a kick into their faces as much as it is one into the face of thousands of scientists. I really hope that the law dies a quick and timely death, so that in about a year I can blog here about the many other museums in the Solnhofen area without having to show you a lot of photos of suddenly bare walls. 😦


Posted in Dinosauria, idiots abound!, rants, sad news, Solnhofen Limestone, spineless stuff (invertebrates), spineless stuff (politicians), Theropoda | 6 Comments