When we think of dinosaurs, we tend to lean towards the fantastical over the practical. And why wouldn’t that be the case? After all, there’s no shortage of movies where these prehistoric beasts are depicted as huge and invulnerable predators. Many were, of course, but like all animals, they suffered from their share of diseases and disabilities, including cancer, infections – and possibly even arthritis.
Filippo Bertozzo is now a palaeontologist at the Belgian Museum of Natural Sciences in Brussels, but back in 2021, he was completing his PhD, during which he studied dinosaurs’ lesions, pathologies, tumours and infectious diseases, especially in animals connected with iguanodons – large herbivorous dinosaurs who lived approximately 125 million years ago. “I noticed a specimen who presented with a potentially very interesting disease in two vertebrae,” he recalls. “Instead of being separated, as they usually should, the vertebrae were encapsulated in a bony overgrowth.” It was a fascinating find, but at the time impossible to investigate further without dismantling the whole skeleton.
Today, Dr Bertozzo (also known as @dino_doctor on Instagram) is overseeing the digitisation of the museum’s impressive dinosaur collection, which includes the very same iguanodon that fascinated him during his PhD. It was excavated alongside 29 other specimens from a coal mine in Bernissart, near the French border, nearly 150 years ago. Miners were initially extremely excited by their discovery, as they mistakenly believed they had stumbled across a huge seam of gold. Unfortunately for them (but great news for us), what they thought would be their fortune was actually a shiny yellow mineral called Pyrite (or ‘Fool’s Gold’), which had collected on the bodies of worms. And these particular worms were instrumental in preserving the fossils of these important dinosaurs.