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Dinosaurs in Berlin! Brachiosaurus brancai - a Political, Scientific, and Popular Icon

Museum für Naturkunde Berlin Historische Bild- u. Schriftgutsammlungen (Sigel: MfN, HBSB)

BMBF Project - Part 3

  • Supervision: Bénédicte Savoy
  • Execution: Mareike Vennen 


  • 2015 - 2018


  • Humboldt Universität Berlin
  • Museum für Naturkunde Berlin
  • Exzellenzcluster Bild Wissen Gestaltung

Further Researchers

  • Holger Stoecker (HU Berlin)
  • Marco Tamborini (Museum für Naturkunde)
  • Ina Heumann (Museum für Naturkunde)

The Dinosaur as Museal und Popular Object (Project Part 3) – Mareike Vennen

For the past eight decades one object has towered over the Berliner museumscape: the skeleton of the Brachiosaurus brancai, which has been on display in the main hall of the Berlin Naturkundemuseum since 1937. Beginning in 1909, the excavation took place in the former colony German East Africa (today's Tanzania) under the direction of the Berlin Naturkundemuseum paleontologists.

This project part undertaken at TU Berlin's Institute for Art History examines the famous finds of the Tendaguru expedition from the perspectives of cultural, visual, and museum history. The project aims to understand the function of the Brachiosaurus brancai as a museal and popular object by examining processes of (re)construction, (re)animation, and revisions and asks how museal and medial stagings of the object have changed over time. By researching the material culture of the transfer of the finds from the field to the museum and the presentation of the bones at the museum, the project looks to show how fossil findings in the field transformed into a natural historical exhibition piece. This pursuit highlights a tension between aestheticization, commodification, and naturalization which are embodied in the Brachiosaurus brancai by examining the packaging and shipping techniques as well as spatial staging the dinosaur in the museum. Further questions of display of the dinosaur in transnational comparison are examined by researching the medial representation and (re)animations of the dinosaur in film, text, and visual media. How were the expeditions staged in the media and how was the dinosaur received and valued by the popular media aesthetically, politically, and economically? The end goal of this project is to determine what effect popular and academic cultures of knowledge had on the object and how the role the dinosaur played in popular culture of the 20th and 21st centuries changed over time.

(Ausschnitt) Museum für Naturkunde Berlin Historische Bild- u. Schriftgutsammlungen

Cooperative Research Project: Dinosaurs in Berlin! Brachiosaurus brancai - a Political, Scientific, and Popular Icon

This cooperative research project investigates the Brachiosaurus brancai as a political, scientific, and popular icon from the century of its excavation to the present. Three closely related individual projects research the political, scientific, and museal history, function, and design of this world renowned paleontological find.

This find is not only an important witness to the jurassic past, as a museal object, it is also reflective of the history of the past century. The bones were excavated during the German colonial period, prepared during the Weimar Republic, displayed to the public during the Nazi Era – in 1943, the bones were stored for safe keeping in the basement of the museum, only to be redisplayed in 1953 in the newly divided city – and finally, in 2007, they were rearranged and newly displayed. The Brachiosaurus brancai is therefore a global object that links together centuries of history, political spaces, nations, cultures, and forms of knowledge. 

Click here for further information about the project

The Debate about Brachiosaurus brancai

Brachiosaurus brancai has been the most prominent find in the excavations from Tendaguru over a hundred years ago and a major focus of political and public interest ever since. Recently, media interest mainly focused on the political context of the acquisition of the dinosaur fossils.

Provenance research is an essential part of the joint project Dinosaurier in Berlin. Brachiosaurus brancai - eine politische, wissenschaftliche und populäre Ikone (Dinosaurs in Berlin. Brachiosaurus brancai as an icon of politics, science and popular culture). The circumstances around the acquisition of the fossils are investigated by Dr. Holger Stoecker within the sub-project at the Seminar for African Studies at Humboldt-Universität. The research results will be published by Wallstein Verlag in summer 2018.

Press echo (in German only):

Weigelt, Nada: Wie der Riesen-Dino nach Berlin kam, dpa 19.10.2017. http://www.mittelbayerische.de/kultur-nachrichten/wie-der-riesen-dino-nach-berlin-kam-21853-art1574639.html

Holger Stoecker: Auf dem Hügel der Schreckensechsen, FAZ 18.10.2017.

Andreas Kilb: Knochen für Berlin. Zwei Podien und ein Projekt zur Provenienzdebatte, FAZ 22.9.2017.

Birgit Rieger: Provenienzforschung. Was tun mit Kriegstrophäen?, Tagesspiegel 21.9.2017. http://www.tagesspiegel.de/kultur/provenienzforschung-was-tun-mit-kriegstrophaeen/20360860.html

Tilman Baumgärtel: Ausstellung „Not A Single Bone“ in Berlin. Der Knochenklau, TAZ 11.9.2017. https://www.taz.de/!5442918/

Nadine Emmerich: Brachiosaurus-Hack. Künstlerduo kritisiert mit "Not a Single Bone" koloniale Perspektive des Naturkundemuseums, epd. http://www.epd.de/landesdienst/landesdienst-ost/schwerpunktartikel/brachiosaurus-hack

Dagmar Dehmer: Herkunftsforschung in Berliner Museen. Nachdenken über Tendaguru, Tagesspiegel 6.9.2017. http://www.tagesspiegel.de/wissen/herkunftsforschung-in-berliner-museen-nachdenken-ueber-tendaguru/20292120.html

Thomas Gith: Schatzkammer der Arten. Hinter den Kulissen des Berliner Naturkundemuseums, Kulturradio 7.8.2017. https://www.kulturradio.de/programm/schema/sendungen/kulturtermin/archiv/20170807_1904.html

Mugarula, Florence: Tanzania: State Won't Bring Back Dinosaur Fossils, allAfrica 29.6.2017.

Oforo, Valentine: Return of dinosaurs’ remains from Germany not profitable, govt says, The Citizen 28.6.2017.

Ricardo Tarli: Streit in Berlin. Naturkundemuseum soll Saurierknochen an Tansania zurückgeben, Tagesspiegel 26.7.2016. http://www.tagesspiegel.de/wissen/streit-in-berlin-naturkundemuseum-soll-saurierknochen-an-tansania-zurueckgeben/13924294.html

Hauke Friederichs: Der Schatz aus dem „deutsche Boden Afrikas“, PM History 1.7.2016, S. 64-73.

Julian Daum: Warum der weltberühmte Brachiosaurus im Naturkundemuseum in Berlin zu sehen ist,  Berliner Zeitung 10.3.2016. http://www.berliner-zeitung.de/berlin/warum-der-weltberuehmte-brachiosaurus-im-naturkundemuseum-in-berlin-zu-sehen-ist-23703788




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