othniel marsh

It also marked the start of a war between the two that became increasingly bitter, underhanded, and often ridiculous. They sometimes stooped to one team’s diggers throwing rocks at the other team’s. Cope was caught at one point jimmying open crates that belonged to Marsh. They insulted each other in print and poured scorn on each other’s results. Seldom-perhaps never- has science been driven forward more swiftly and successfully by animosity. Over the next several years the two men between them increased the number of known dinosaur species in American from 9 to almost 150. Nearly every dinosaur the average person can name-stegosaurus, brontosaurus, diplodocus, triceratops- was found by one or the other of them.

Unfortunately, they worked in such reckless haste that they often failed to note that a new discovery was something already known. Between them they managed to “discover” a species called Uintatheres anceps no fewer than twenty-two times. It took years to sort out some of the classification mistakes they made. Some are still not yet sorted out.
—  Bill Bryson
Archaeological Hoaxes, Cryptozoology, and GIANTS!? Pt. 1 The Cardiff Giant

On October 16, 1869, workers in Cardiff, New York, unearthed what appeared to be the body of an ancient 10-foot-tall petrified man. Over the next several months, people flocked to catch a glimpse of the so-called “Cardiff Giant,” and many hailed it as one of the most significant archeological discoveries of the 19th century.

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I’m reading a book about the Natural History Museum in New York, and one of the best things I found out so far was that Othniel Charles Marsh (also known as ‘one of those two dicks whose behavior embarrassed American paleontologists to the point they actually tried to hide their existence from European paleontolgists’) 'found’ the skeleton of what was then known as a Brontosaurus, and it was decently complete, but had no head. So what did this man, who had a very high opinion of his intelligence and professionalism, do?
He went: “Fuck it, I’ll make a skull up.”

skarchomp  asked:

Allosaurus is my favorite dinosaur, could you do a post on them?

Unlike a lot of big theropods, Allosaurus is something of a success story - at least in how it’s portrayed in media.  It rose from relative obscurity to a position of prominence as one of the super-predators of its era, while avoiding comparisons to T. rex almost entirely.  How?  Why?  Let’s find out!

Allosaurus was discovered during the “Bone Wars”, a fifteen-year period of mass fossil hunting in the late 19th century, sparked by a mutual personal rivalry between eminent American paleontologists Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh.  While the details of the Bone Wars are too complex to get into right now (perhaps a separate post is in order!), suffice it to say that they led to the discovery of hundreds of new dinosaur species.  Unfortunately, Cope and Marsh were each in such a hurry to prove themselves the superior paleontologist over the other that they frequently assigned genii and species too hastily, and very few of those genii and species are actually valid today.

When Allosaurus was first discovered in 1869, it was named Antrodemus, based on half a tail vertebra.  Cope and Marsh would each discover additional Allosaurus bones over the course of the Bone Wars, and would assign each specimen to a new genus, in order to rack up more new discoveries than the other.  The genii “Allosaurus”, “Creosaurus”, “Labrosaurus”, and “Epanterias” were all established based on fairly sparse material.

It was eventually determined that all these fragmentary specimens belonged to the same species, for which the name “Antrodemus” had priority.  It was known by this name until the 1970s, when it was argued that the original specimen of Antrodemus was too fragmentary to be officially considered part of the species.  It was decided that the name given to the most completely known specimen - Allosaurus - should take priority.

Since being renamed, Allosaurus has become much more completely known, thanks to a wealth of more complete fossil finds, including an almost entirely complete subadult skeleton discovered in 1991, nicknamed “Big Al”.  Even before thorough scientific documentation, however, Allosaurus was notable as one of the first well-known American large theropods - discovered several decades before T. rex.

Allosaurus is known to have lived in Portugal, Tanzania, and the western United States, from 155 to 150 million years ago.  It was not the biggest predator of its time and place; that distinction goes to Torvosaurus, a relative of Megalosaurus.  (For real!)

Based on the relative shortness of the legs in comparison to the body size, and the flattened, hooflike toe claws, Allosaurus was slower than similar large theropods, but able to run for longer periods of time.  Juveniles were comparatively longer-legged, meaning they likely had different feeding habits in order to avoid competition with adults.

Allosaurus is known to have attacked and eaten stegosaurs, and definitely scavenged sauropods, although it likely was not able to kill them.  Based on its anatomy, it fed in a fashion similar to birds of prey, gripping prey with the feet and pulling off pieces of flesh with vertical movements of the head - a method quite different from the more crocodilian feeding habits of tyrannosaurs.

Allosaurus is also physically distinguished by the short horns over its eyes, which were positioned such that they may have acted as sun shades.

Allosaurus has proven difficult to classify.  The theropod clade “Carnosauria” - once a sort of dumping ground for any large theropod of uncertain classification - has since been narrowed down to contain only the metriacanthosaurs, the carcharodontosaurs, and… Allosaurus, which forms a subgroup of Carnosauria by itself.  It’s currently believed to be more closely related to the carcharodontosaurs, while still belonging to its own exclusive group.  No direct relatives of Allosaurus are known; all other dinosaurs thought to belong to the family Allosauria have turned out to be physiologically indistinguishable from Allosaurus.

As you can probably tell by the huge amount of words I wrote about it, I also think Allosaurus is a pretty cool dinosaur.  It’s a very unique large theropod, and we know a great deal about its life and habits.  Hopefully, we will continue to find out even more.


“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Leo stared at his best friends, thoroughly annoyed. They were the ones that forced him to come with them to the stupid museum, and now they were making out and completely ignoring the Roman display (not to mention him).

Bloody hypocrites. Was he watching too much Harry Potter, saying ‘bloody’ instead of something else? Nah, no such thing as too much Harry Potter, it was all in his head.

He heaved a great sigh, but Piper and Jason made no sign that they heard him. In fact, they seemed to be making out more. Ugh. Well, no way was he just gonna stay here and be a third wheel, nope, not today.

Leo wandered off, paying no particular attention to where he was going 'cause he didn’t care anyway.

Somehow, he ended up in the dinosaur section. He raised his eyebrows approvingly at the centrepiece- one of those long-necked, long-tailed behemoths that stretched at least 20m from one end of the room to the other. Dinosaurs sure knew how to grow. He wondered if there would be a hint as to how on the little plaques; he needed all the help he could get.

“Can I help you?”

Startled, Leo spun around to see a guy maybe a couple of years younger than him dressed neatly (aside from a battered old aviator jacket that looked really comfy) with one of those staff ID cards around his neck. He had dark hair stuck up like baby bat wings and his eyes were deep- they were also sunken in, like he hadn’t slept in a week. Leo knew the feeling.

“Huh?” he asked intelligently, then shook his head. “Uh, not really, I was just, kinda…” he gestured around, as if to say 'looking’, but he felt kind of hopeless. Dammit, the guy was attractive and it was kind of short circuiting his brain. He never had been good with 'organic life forms’, as his father said, who was also bad with social situations.

The museum worker sighed. “Great. No one ever wants to know, the museum won’t fund any expeditions and there’s hardly anything interesting to study in the archives that I’ve found so far.”

Leo blinked in confusion. “You mean you’re not just a tour guide?”

The guy- let’s call him Bat until we know his name- looked resigned. “I’m a little younger than most, but I’m a fully-qualified paleontologist- I study dinosaurs for a living.” He spat out the words 'fully-qualified’ as if they were poison. Leo figured that people probably didn’t take him seriously at such a young age.

There was silence for a long moment before Leo, deciding the museum was way too creepy when it was so quiet, blurted out, “So why don’t you tell me some facts? Short ones so I don’t get distracted.”

Bat seemed stumped at that, staring Leo as if he was crazy. Maybe he was, but dammit the guy was cute and he seemed kind of upset that no one ever wanted to know.

“You know, if you want to,” Leo muttered, looking down and suddenly feeling awkward. What was he thinking, he didn’t know the guy, this was a bad idea…

“U-um, okay. Sure. Why not? Try this one on for size: there’s a dinosaur that is actually named Drinker. I’m not kidding.”

“Drinker? Was the guy who named it drunk?” Leo gaped at the slightly taller guy. Dammit. Even Bat was taller than him.

“No, it was named after a famous paleontologist, Edward Drinker Cope, who got into what was basically a huge dinosaur war with Othniel Charles Marsh called the Bone Wars. They kept trying to one-up each other with paleontological finds. It basically ruined their social lives and made them broke, but it brought some really big fossils into the paleontological field.” Bat’s eyes were glittering, and Leo was glad that the guy was happy (and he had a cute smile to boot), even if he didn’t quite understand some of the things he was talking about.

Leo wondered if the guy would do the same for him if he started babbling about machinery. He hoped so. Then he mentally shook his head to clear the thoughts. ’Bad Leo,’ he scolded himself. 'Don’t do this to yourself again. Remember Khione? Calypso? Thought so.’

Bat carried on, seemingly not noticing Leo’s inner argument. “And there’s a dinosaur known as Sarcolestes, 'flesh robber’, that was identified by the left half of the lower jaw, but it turns out it was a type of ankylosaur, and they’re all herbivores!”

Leo managed to choke on nothing. “Seriously?”

“Seriously,” he confirmed.

Leo’s phone buzzed, and he pulled it out of his jean pockets self-consciously. It was Jason.

'We kinda got kicked out so let’s go.’

“They got kicked out?” Leo asked flatly.

“Your friends?”

“Last I saw, they were making out by Roman weapons.”

Bat nodded slowly. “That’s Reyna’s section. If she caught them, she definitely would have kicked them out.”

“I gotta go then,” Leo said, kind of disappointed. He couldn’t make head nor tails of half of it but what he did get was interesting and the guy was so cute it should have been illegal.

Dammit, he’d gotten it bad.

He made to leave, but Bat suddenly thrust a piece of paper into his hands and said, “See you again maybe?”

“Sounds good,” Leo grinned, then, after hesitating a moment, lurched forward and kissed the taller guy’s cheek, then ran off, blushing.

His hand reached up to where Leo had kissed him, feeling rather flustered and not just a little flattered.

“Don’t run in the museum…?”


So I ended up writing the museum one. One down, seventeen to go! The Valdangelo tag needs cheering up so here we go. Maybe I’ll write a sequel to this at some point.

Triceratops horridus 

Everyone knows Triceratops—discovered by the crews of Othniel Marsh in 1889, it was instant American sweetheart. Since then, Triceratops has shown up just about everywhere— its bones in museum displays, its likeness in toys, its mug on mugs, and a Demille-style closeup of its crusty snot 1993′s hit Jurassic Park. With dozens and dozens of specimens found, you would think by now we would know just about everything about Triceratops. However, new discoveries continue to reveal secrets about our favorite three-horned ornithischian. Recent evidence suggests Triceratops may have sported an array of quills on its tail. If true, this would be a trait inherited from its ancestors, the bipedal, parrot-faced psittacosaurs.


The Bone Wars, also known as the “Great Dinosaur Rush”, refers to a period of intense fossil speculation and discovery during the Gilded Age of American history, marked by a heated rivalry between Edward Drinker Cope (of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia) and Othniel Charles Marsh (of the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale). Each of the two paleontologists used underhanded methods to try to out-compete the other in the field, resorting to bribery, theft, and destruction of bones. Each scientist also attacked the other in scientific publications, seeking to ruin his credibility and have his funding cut off.

Their search for fossils led them west to rich bone beds in Colorado, Nebraska, and Wyoming. From 1877 to 1892, both paleontologists used their wealth and influence to finance their own expeditions and to procure services and dinosaur bones from fossil hunters. By the end of the Bone Wars, both men had exhausted their funds in the pursuit of paleontological supremacy.

Cope and Marsh were financially and socially ruined by their attempts to disgrace each other, but their contributions to science and the field of paleontology were massive, and provided substantial material for further work—both scientists left behind many unopened boxes of fossils after their deaths. The efforts of the two men led to over 142 new species of dinosaurs being discovered and described. The products of the Bone Wars resulted in an increase in knowledge of prehistoric life, and sparked the public’s interest in dinosaurs, leading to continued fossil excavation in North America in the decades to follow.

history meme - [5/7 more moments] - The Bone Wars

When Stegosaurus was first discovered in 1877, experts weren’t used to the idea of elephant-sized lizards with bird-sized brains. That’s why, in the late 19th century, the famous paleontologist Othniel C. Marsh broached the idea that a second brain resided in Stegosaurus’ rump, which presumably helped to control the rear part of its body. Today, no one believes that Stegosaurus (or any dinosaur) had two brains, but it may well turn out that the cavity in this stegosaur’s tail was used to store extra food (in the form of glycogen).


there should really be a historical drama miniseries about othniel marsh and edward drinker cope

instead of just a ken burns documentary

which is interesting don’t get me wrong

but seriously

adam scott would play cope

and john hodgeman would play marsh

and it would win all the emmys

nevermind that both men come from primarily/exclusively comedic backgrounds. i have faith that they would rise to the occasion.

So I mentioned 19th century fossil hunters in the tags of my last post, and I’m going to talk about them for a bit even though it’s way out of period because they’re my awful, awful favourites.

Richard Owen: The Victorian gentleman’s answer to Mean Girls. My personal favourite Owen anecdote is that when he was a student he illegally bribed an official to let him have the head of an executed prisoner for dissection, and then, as he was walking home, slipped and dropped it.  The head rolled down a hill and into someone’s house, so Owen ran in after it, grabbed it before anyone could see his face, and ran away, leaving behind bloodstains and a whole bunch of new ghost stories.

Gideon Mantell: The Victorian gentleman’s answer to a really depressing country song.  In an American high school movie he’d be the one getting stuffed in lockers, mostly by Richard Owen. After years of Owen stealing his work and blocking him from publication, Mantell died and his spine (twisted in an accident) was put into Owen’s collection. Apparently not even death and body parts were enough, because Owen then published an ‘anonymous’ obituary in the Times about what a sub-par scientist Mantell was. Richard Owen: all class.

Mary Anning: Mary Anning is way too cool for this list, honestly.  When she was one she survived a lightning strike that killed her nurse and 2 other women. When she was twelve she helped discover the first complete and properly identified ichthyosaur skeleton ever. She also discovered the first plesiosaur and the first pterosaur outside of Germany. Not to mention teaching herself anatomy and geology as a poor woman in Georgian times, wow.

William Buckland: famous for trying to eat his way through the animal kingdom, letting live jackals and guinea pigs roam his apartment, and owning a table made of fossilized dinosaur feces. He also owned a bear called Tiglath Pileser and his idea of great joke was to dress it as a student and introduce it to senior staff at Oxford. Called geology ‘undergroundology’ and always worked in an academic gown.

Edward Drinker Cope & Othniel Charles Marsh: The Americans. Known for putting an elasmosaur’s head on the wrong end, a camarasaur’s head on the wrong animal, and ‘discovering’ the same species multiple times in their campaign of one-upmanship, leaving a huge taxonomic mess for future paleontologists. 

Cope’s especially interesting because he donated his skeleton to science, and all sorts of hijinks followed. In the 1960s an eccentric biologist decided to keep it in a box in his office, decorating it with tinsel and holly at Christmas and flowers the rest of the year. He wanted to be buried with Cope, but after his death everyone got kind of understandably embarrassed about the whole thing,  Then, when Jurassic Park came out and dinosaurs were cool again, a journalist decided to cart Cope’s skull around to interviews and spring it on paleontologists to see what they’d do. You couldn’t make this stuff up.