Bad To The Bone

06Aug14

Did you know that there is a dinosaur that isn’t extinct?

There was a period of early palaeontology around a hundred and thirty years ago known as the ‘Bone Wars’. Othniel Charles Marsh was a professor of palaeontology at Yale. He made many dinosaur fossil discoveries, including the Apatosaurus.

The Bone Wars was the name given to a bitter competition between two palaeontologists, Yale’s O.C. Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope of Philadelphia. Their mutual dislike, paired with their scientific ambition, led them to race dinosaur names into publication, each trying to outdo the other. There are stories of either Cope or Marsh telling their fossil collectors to smash skeletons that were still in the ground, just so the other bloke couldn’t get them.

It was in the heat of this competition, in 1877, that Marsh discovered the partial skeleton of a long-necked, long-tailed, leaf-eating dinosaur that he named the Apatosaurus. It was missing a skull, so in 1883 when Marsh published a reconstruction of his Apatosaurus, he used the head of another dinosaur, thought to be a Camarasaurus, to complete the skeleton.

Two years later, his fossil collectors sent him a second skeleton that he thought belonged to a different dinosaur that he named, Brontosaurus. But it wasn’t a different dinosaur. It was simply a more complete Apatosaurus, one that Marsh, in his rush to one-up Cope, carelessly and quickly mistook for something new.

Although the mistake was spotted by scientists by 1903, the Brontosaurus lived on, in movies, books and children’s imaginations.

The Brontosaurus is not extinct! For that to happen, it would have had to exist in the first place.

Craic on!

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