Hidden Treasures Lurk In Ruin of Berlin Museum

Friday, January 31st, 2003

Astonishing. According to Hidden Treasures Lurk In Ruin of Berlin Museum, one of the greatest museums in the world goes largely forgotten (and unfunded), full of unexamined finds from ages past:

Mr. Heinrich’s good fortune, however, stems from the museum’s subsequent years of misfortune. Two world wars and four decades of communist neglect left it a wreck. As a result, findings from decades-old excavations, including the Tendaguru trip, lie unstudied in bamboo crates in the basement — a treasure trove for scientists such as Mr. Heinrich, but one that faces a threat.
Up in Mr. Heinrich’s cramped office, the walls are covered with faded black-and-white photos of the Tendaguru expedition. A 20,000-year-old mammal tusk rests among papers on a table.

At his desk, Mr. Heinrich peered into a microscope at the mammal teeth he found in the basement a few years back. The triangular, brown teeth and a jaw were clearly visible. His find was important evidence that mammals co-existed with dinosaurs at a time and place where few mammal remains had been found. “The fact that objects from the Tendaguru beds have been lying undiscovered in this building for so long amazes me,” says Mr. Heinrich.

In 1909, a German mining engineer in what was then German East Africa stumbled across a dinosaur bone exposed by rain. The Berlin museum mobilized a massive expedition, hiring more than 900 workers on sites covering a 1,300-square-mile area. After four years of work, the team lugged more than 250 tons of petrified dinosaur bones back to Berlin, one of the largest discoveries in the history of paleontology.

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