Here comes Santaposeidon!

December 22, 2009

Ever since we started working on Sauroposeidon, Rich Cifelli and I dreamed of seeing the reconstructed neck on display. That vision has come to fruition.

The Oklahoma Museum of Natural History opened a totally new building in 2000. Coincidentally, the opening ceremony for the new digs was held the same week that the paper naming Sauroposeidon came out in JVP. The exhibits in the new building were pretty cool right out of the gate, but the exhibit people have not been idle, and if you haven’t been there in a year or three you will find many things that you have not seen before.

My favorite upgrade is the new orientation gallery, which introduces museum visitors to the functions of the museum and the kinds of work that go on in the research wing, including most of the traditional -ologies. The reconstructed neck and head of Sauroposeidon hang from the ceiling, spanning most of the length of the gallery and extending out into the museum’s great hall.

The beast was reconstructed by Research Casting International. I got to visit their workshop in Ontario, Canada, a little over a year ago to see how things were coming along. The people there were extremely serious about getting things right (how refreshing!). We spent quite a while talking about how Sauroposeidon was different from Giraffatitan (RCI remounted the Humbolt dinos) and sketching out what the missing bits might have looked like, especially the skull.

Of course we don’t have any skull material from Sauroposeidon, but we do have skulls and partial skulls from several other basal titanosauriforms. Together with one of the people working on the Sauroposeidon project, I filled up a couple of pieces of paper with sketches showing what a slender mid-Cretaceous brachiosaur might have looked like. In particular, and in keeping with the gracility of the cervical vertebrae, we narrowed the skull a bit to get rid of the dreaded Giraffatitan Toilet-Bowl Head.

The completed neck and head were already mounted in the OMNH when I visited last Christmas, but the gallery wasn’t open yet so all I got–and all I could pass on to you–was this teaser. The new orientation gallery opened in the middle of this spring, so Sauroposeidon has been hanging out there for a while. This is just the first chance I’ve gotten to go see my baby.

What a fine present. Merry Christmas from the SV-POW!sketeers!

Update from Mike

Here is my Christmas card to you all.

Happy Christmas from Mike Taylor and brachiosauridae incertae sedis BMNH R5937, "The Archbishop", coalesced dorsal vertebrae 8-9 (in right lateral view, like you need me to tell you that). Image in part copyright (C) the Natural History Museum, but it's the season of goodwill so they probably won't sue you even if you send copies to all your friends.

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32 Responses to “Here comes Santaposeidon!”

  1. Zach Miller Says:

    Awesome! Love the hat.

  2. Nima Says:

    Woah, love that reconstruction! I think I’ve seen the head and the first few cervicals in an older SV-POW post, but now that the neck is done it’s even better.

    And as for the Giraffatitan toilet-bowl head… lol that’s just WRONG :)

    But yeah, that particular skull always did look a bit squashed, to say the least… so I’d guess the Sauroposeidon version is closer to what Giraffatitan’s face actually looked like too. Good thing the Berlin remount uses a better skull.

    Great work Matt, and also hats off to RCI.

  3. Nathan Myers Says:

    “The Oklahoma Museum of Natural History” … Is that in Oklahoma? Who’d have thought OK would have a museum, never mind a good one? And with an excellent web site, besides. Congratulations to lots of somebodies. Truly, learning and erudition can thrive smack in the middle of the most inhospitable surroundings.

    Matt, have you had opportunity to look over the juvie sauropod specimens they boast of? Are they good enough to draw morphological conclusions from?

  4. Graham King Says:

    Matt,
    purely in the spirit of seasonal Bah-Humbug and of Measure Your Damn Dinosaur I have to point out that I think your scale is a bit off in teh toilet bowl pics, specifically that you are Spielberging the dino – upping its indicated size unduly.
    Unless you yourself are a very large man indeed, the photos of your good (s)elf alongside the red-hatted doorway-broaching Sauroposeidon mount bear out what I say.
    And that hat itself is a glaring anachronism.

    Shame on you for spreading such misinformation!

    I have not even mentioned the disrespect into which you bring palaeontology, by here using (albeit conceptually only) a noble dino head as a lavatory for a mere stinking mammal (albeit a sculpture only)..
    ..ok.. now I have..

    Apart from all that, a tolerable article.
    Merry Christmas anyway!

  5. ReBecca Says:

    nice! My parents visited the museum after Thanksgiving and sent me a picture of it also! Glad you have had a chance to visit it finally! Merry Christmas!

  6. Matt Wedel Says:

    “The Oklahoma Museum of Natural History” … Is that in Oklahoma? Who’d have thought OK would have a museum, never mind a good one?

    Dude, Oklahoma is a minor hotbed for both paleo and ecology. And the museum is hugely popular in the state. The seed money for the museum came from a public bond that was widely supported, and in the first year that the new building was open, the visitor attendance total was larger than the population of the state.

    On the other hand, this is the same state whose legislature voted to condemn Richard Dawkins for speaking at OU. Evidently they don’t accept evolution or the first amendment.

    Still, don’t fault the whole state for the stupidity of its most vocal morons.

  7. Matt Wedel Says:

    I have not even mentioned the disrespect into which you bring palaeontology, by here using (albeit conceptually only) a noble dino head as a lavatory for a mere stinking mammal (albeit a sculpture only)..

    Sorry, dude. Giraffatitan is such a graceful and noble creature, it came as a rude shock to find that it was crowned with one of the butt-ugliest heads in the annals of terran evolution.* Every. Single. Time. I look at that skull, I think of a toilet. Now it’s out there, and the healing can begin.

    * Could it be that we find few sauropod skulls because they deliberately shed them out of shame?


  8. Congrats! It’s a Festivus Miracle!

  9. beccrew Says:

    I would totally buy one of those shirts.

  10. Nima Says:

    I think if it were in better condition the skull would look much more befitting of this graceful and noble creature. As it is, that skull is squashed and basically was in fragments and had to be glued together… the teeth are also squashed. The whole snout is sadly distorted in so many ways.

    Greg Paul’s skeletals show an uncrushed version, which looks pretty good… The other two skulls seem to be in better shape. Overall the uncrushed skull of the live animal was not so toilet-like. But the crushed distorted one seen here… yeech, that’s scary. And even though the live head was probably much smoother and nicer to look at, all known skulls of Giraffatitan, always look shockingly…. PITTED.

  11. Mike Taylor Says:

    I would totally buy one of those shirts.

    beccrew, if you meant a Brachiosaurid Cervicals of SV-POW! shirt, contact me off-list on and I’ll tell you how you can get one. (I can’t just post a link because the Archbishop-cervical part of the image is copyright the NHM and there would be complex commercial hoops to jump through.)

  12. Mike Taylor Says:

    Nima, you seem awfully sure that the Giraffatitan skull that Matt shows here is crushed — what is your evidence? I am certainly no skull expert, but when Matt and I examined that skull in 2008, it seemed to us that the depressions in the upper surface of the snout were legitimate osteological features, not distortion. Has this supposed distortion been documented anywhere?

    I’m not aware that the skulls in Greg’s skeletal reconstructions of Giraffatitan look particularly different from the actual preserved skull.

    And … wait, “the other two skull”? What other two skulls? Last I knew T1 (the skull that Matt showed above) was by far the best-known skull of any brachiosaur. What do you know that I don’t?

  13. Michael O. Erickson Says:

    I was thinking the exact same thing, Mike. As far as I know that skull is absolutely pristine – I’d be interested to know where Nima is getting this stuff. That it looks like a toilet simply means that Giraffatitan had an ugly skull, NOT that the skull is crushed!

  14. DD Says:

    teh awesomenous

  15. Nima Says:

    Well based on all of the papers I’ve read, there were three skulls of Giraffatitan dug up at Tendaguru. One of these may have been a partial skull, but I don’t know that for sure.

    Here’s a quick lookup from Palaeos:
    http://www.palaeos.com/Vertebrates/Units/330Sauropodomorpha/330.400.html#Giraffatitan

    The reason the “toilet” skull looks crushed is that the snout gets insanely wide and shallow at its base, somewhat narrower at the tip, and also the center of the snout’s upper surface seems to just cave inwards. Also looking at the right side of the skull, it’s very odd how shallow the snout gets behind the tip. The teeth also look squashed, they point backward far too sharply compared to another Giraffatitan skull.

    Here is our friend, T1 (with Europasaurus incidentally in the foreground…)

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/53/Europasaurus_und_Brachiosaurus_skulls.JPG

    The central portion of the snout is badly squashed as are the teeth. Note that the snout tip and the front teeth do not exhibit any such distortion.

    Here’s a better Giraffatitan skull:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/b3nq/3817966878/

    This one has far less snout crushing and the teeth are straight. It’s still no Mona Lisa, but a lot less ugly than the “toilet” skull. The snout is not so abysmally wide at its base.

    Here’s another pic of the second skull:

    http://www.life.com/image/75391267

    Teeth are uncrushed.

  16. Jamie Stearns Says:

    I was always under the impression that there were three skulls known for Giraffatitan, though I agree that the others are not likely as well preserved as T1. I don’t have my reference collection on hand at the moment, but [url=http://web.me.com/dinoruss/de_4/5a6d018.htm]DinoRuss’s Encyclopedia[/url] does mention “Brachiosaurus” brancai as including “5 partial skeletons, at least 3 skulls, limb elements.”

    Of course, I really have no firsthand knowledge of the subject, so this could well refer to specimens destroyed in WW2 bombings or specimens that were catalogued but subsequently lost.

  17. Jamie Stearns Says:

    I had been under the impression that three skulls were known for Giraffatitan, and general reference material tends to mention three skulls being known; for example, DinoRuss’s encyclopedia mentions “Brachiosaurus” brancai as being known from five partial skeletons, at least three skulls, and limb elements. Unfortunately, I’m away from any better references at the moment.

    That being said, Brachiosaurus itself does not seem to have a butt-ugly toilet head, though its skull was pretty badly distorted and the cast on display in Denver had to undergo a lot of restoration.

  18. Mike Taylor Says:

    I think that DinoRuss’s encyclopedia and other such sources mean that skull material is known from three individuals of Giraffatitan, not that we have three complete skulls! To repeat myself: the last I knew, the skull T1 (the one Matt shows here) is by far the best one we have.

    As for Brachiosaurus proper: I assume you’re referring to the skull USNM 5730 (formerly YPM 1986), which was first referred to “Brontosaurus”, then to Camarasaurus, and then to “Brachiosaurus sp.” by Carpenter and Tidwell (1998), who clearly stated right up front in the abstract that “the lack of comparable parts with B. altithorax prevents positive assignment of the skull to that species”. It might be, it might not.

  19. Jamie Stearns Says:

    Yes, that was the skull to which I was referring, and in fact there is plenty of material referred to Brachiosaurus these days that may or may not be Brachiosaurus, as your paper on the subject states. As with the Dry Mesa cervicals, I’m calling it Brachiosaurus for now until something better turns up.

    Speaking of Morrison brachiosaurs, it’s a shame the oft-illustrated scapulocoracoid from Dry Mesa was not named as the holotype of Ultrasauros; the differences between it and the holotype of Brachiosaurus could have allowed it to remain a distinct taxon.

  20. Nima Says:

    You mean between it and Giraffatitan? I think the Dry Mesa scapulacoracoid is the same shape as the other B. altithorax ones known. Sad thing is, they don’t get much press these days. It appears most dinosaur enthusiasts don’t know about the Felch quarry skull either. I’m pretty confident that it IS from Brachiosaurus, unless there’s some different brachiosaur in the Morrison formation that nobody knows about, but I’m a bit perplexed at why no associated postcranial remains were found with it. I’ve only seen one photo of that skull and it LOOKS pretty well-preserved. I’d be the first to admit how cool it is that the skull of B. altithorax has been found.

  21. Jamie Stearns Says:

    IIRC, Taylor (2009) showed that the coracoid of Brachiosaurus has a strangely deflected glenoid that would give the forelimbs a sprawling posture, while “Ultrasauros” lacks this feature.

    And as for the condition of the skull, Carpenter and Tidwell actually published a paper in 1998 detailing how they restored the badly-crushed skull in order to get a workable cast for display.

  22. Jamie Stearns Says:

    P.S. There were actually a couple of cervicals found with that skull, but they were destroyed during attempts to collect them.

  23. Mike Taylor Says:

    Jamie, just to be clear: Taylor (2009) noted the laterally deflected glenoid of the B. altithorax type specimen’s coracoid, and speculated that it might have resulted in a sprawling posture; but I am very far indeed from being committed to that idea. BTW., I have an SV-POW! article in the works on that coracoid.

    Nima: “I think the Dry Mesa scapulacoracoid is the same shape as the other B. altithorax ones known.” What other ones known? There are none. Do yourself a favour and read the brachiosaur-fest that is Taylor (2009) — you won’t regret it.

  24. Nima Says:

    Whoops, my bad. I can certainly see how the skull could have been crushed. Brachiosaur skulls are pretty fragile compared to Camarasaurs for example….

    As for the scapulacoracoid, I thought there were others known. I have read Taylor (2009) and I like it a lot, you’ve put some great valuable information in there! But the scapulacoracoid in your skeletal is listed as BYU 9462, whereas the one in Paul (1988) looks a bit smoother and has slightly wider proportions and is listed as BYU 5001.

    If these are in fact the same bone, why two BYU catalogue numbers?

  25. Mike Taylor Says:

    Yes, BYU 5001 and 9462 are the same bones. I am not 100% clear on what happened there, but I think Jensen used temporary catalogue numbers starting from 5000, and Paul incorrectly continued to use those numbers in his word after the official numbers had been assigned. Anyway, 9462 is correct — see Taylor (2009:788).

  26. Nima Says:

    It’s a shame lol…. 5001 was so much easier to remember! But oh well.

    One question – if the type specimen of B. altithorax has an unfused coracoid, and could therefore be a subadult, could the same also be said for HMN SII?

    (It’s too bad there’s no shoulder material for HMN XV2, so it’s not known for sure how big a “full-sized” Giraffatitan should be…)

  27. Mike Taylor Says:

    Yes, I think it’s also possible that HMN SII was subadult! And, as you mention, we know from the fibula HMN XV2 that there were Giraffatitan individuals 15% larger in linear dimension (and so 1.15^3 = 1.5 times as heavy( as SII.


  28. [...] neck on display,” writes Matt Wedel at SV-POW! “That vision has come to fruition.” See their photos taken at the Oklahoma Museum of Natural [...]

  29. Graham King Says:

    Matt:

    Every. Single. Time. I look at that skull, I think of a toilet.

    * Could it be that we find few sauropod skulls because they deliberately shed them out of shame?

    Rather, could it be that we find few sauropods skulls because You! Are! Not! The! First! to think that way..

    ..and the Flintstones selectively beheaded them to use their skulls as crappers?


  30. [...] had true flip-top heads. The skull of Giraffatitan looks like nothing so much as an upside down toilet bowl, with the toilet seat for the lower jaw. Sauropods probably used that big gape to shove in as much [...]


  31. […] the skull of Giraffatitan. Mike and I did get to spend some quality time with the T1 skull (a.k.a. “Old Toilet-Face”) when we were in Berlin in […]


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