Did you know the Brontosaurus didn’t exist? It’s true!
I’m not trying to ruin anyone’s childhood but in case you aren’t aware. The Brontosaurus, the gigantic lumbering dinosaur, everyone knows and loves, didn’t exist.
No way, you saw Fred Flintstone slide down a brontosaurus neck on his way to work every morning, right? Jurassic park had these hulking beasts on full display, right?
Unfortunately, according to paleontologists, wrong!
The story dates back 130 years, to a period of early U.S. paleontology known as the Bone Wars, says Matt Lamanna, curator at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh.
How the Bone Wars Created the fictitious Brontosaurus!
The Bone Wars was the name given to a rivalry between two paleontologists, Yale’s O.C. Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope of Philadelphia.
Matt Lamanna says 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 guy couldn’t get them. “It was definitely a bitter, bitter rivalry. The two burned through money, and were as much fame-hungry trailblazers as scientists.”Matt Lamanna tells Guy Raz, host of weekends on All Things Considered
It was in the middle of this bitter competition, in 1877, that Marsh discovered the partial skeleton of a long-necked, long-tailed, leaf-eating dinosaur he dubbed Apatosaurus.
It was missing a skull, so in 1883 when Marsh published a reconstruction of his Apatosaurus, Lamanna says he used the head of another dinosaur — thought to be a Camarasaurus — to complete the skeleton.
“Two years later, his fossil collectors that were working out West sent him a second skeleton that he thought belonged to a different dinosaur that he named Brontosaurus.”Matt Lamanna
However, as it would turn out, this 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 in 1903, the Brontosaurus lived on, in movies, books and children’s imaginations. The Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh even topped its Apatosaurus skeleton with the wrong head in 1932.
The indifference of the scientific community kept it there for nearly 50 years.
The Brontosaurus finally met its end in the 1970s when two Carnegie researchers would take a much needed second look at the controversy. They determined a skull found in a quarry in Utah in 1910 was the true Apatosaurus skull.
Brontosaurus was gone at last!
In 1979 the correct head was placed atop the museum’s skeleton.The Brontosaurus was gone at last, but Lamanna suggests the name stuck in part because it was given at a time when the Bone Wars fueled intense public interest in the discovery of new dinosaurs. And, he says, it’s just a better name.
“Brontosaurus means ‘thunder lizard,'” he says. “It’s a big, evocative name, whereas Apatosaurus means ‘deceptive lizard.’ It’s quite a bit more boring.”
My Thoughts on Did you know the Brontosaurus didn’t exist, It’s true!
I’m sure my first thought was the same as many of you. If the brontosaurus never existed how many other dinosaurs never existed?
Did any of them exist? I’m sure some did, but how many have been mixed and matched and turned into numerous dinosaurs when really it’s only one?
Or worse yet, how many whale and elephant bones have been intentionally misidentified as dinosaur bones?
The way paleontologists somehow create an entire dinosaur after finding one or two bones has always seemed a little ridiculous to me.
I’m not now, nor have I ever been a paleontologist, so I’ve always deferred to those who are. However, after finding this little nugget of information, I have to ask myself?
How many dinosaurs truly lived on Earth?
Don’t forget to share Did you know the Brontosaurus didn’t exist! It’s true!