February 4, 2013
There’s a lot more Sauroposeidon material these days than there used to be, thanks to the referral by D’Emic and Foreman (2012) of Paluxysaurus and Ostrom’s Cloverly material and the new Cloverly material to my favorite sauropod genus. I’ve seen almost all of this material firsthand, but obviously the specimen I’m most familiar with is the holotype, OMNH 53062. It was the primary thing occupying my mind from the summer of 1996 through the spring of 2000, and it has remained a frequent object of wonder ever since.
The specimen was found lying on its right side in the field, so that side is in better shape, by virtue of having been more deeply buried and thus protected from the ravages of freezing and thawing and other erosional processes. When the jackets were taken out of the ground and prepared, the not-so-well-preserved left sides were prepped first. Then permanent support jackets were made on the left sides, the vertebrae were flipped onto their left sides, the field jackets were removed from their right sides, and the vertebrae were prepped on the right. They’ve been lying in their support jackets, left side down and right side up, ever since. (For more on the taphonomy and recovery of the specimen, see this post and Wedel and Cifelli 2005 [free PDF linked below].)
Now, if I had known what I was doing, I would have photographed the crap out of the left sides before the verts were flipped. But it was my first project and I was learning on the job, and that didn’t occur to me until later.
It also didn’t occur to me that, once flipped, the left sides would be effectively out of reach forever. But the vertebrae are extremely fragile. The bigger verts have cracks running through them, and the jackets flexed noticeably when we took them for CT scanning. I am worried that if we tried to flip the bigger verts today, they might just crumble. Even the surface bone is fragile. I remember once trying to get some dust off one of the verts with a vacuum cleaner hose, and watching in horror as some of the millimeter-thin external bone just flaked off and flew away. That was in the late 1990s, when the verts were still stored in the dusty, drafty WWII-era buildings that had housed the museum collections for ages. Now they’re in what I still think of as the “new” building, which opened in 2000, in a really nice modern collection room with climate and dust control, and I’ve never seen them with any noticeable dust.
Anyway, the left sides are now obscured by their supporting jackets and will remain that way for the foreseeable future. And I don’t have a complete set of photos of the left sides of the verts. But I do have one, of the back half of ?C7 and all of ?C8, and a scan of it appears at the top of this post. It’s a scan of a physical photograph because it was taken in late 1996 or early 1997–no-one I knew had a digital camera, and if you wanted a digital version of a photograph, you shot it on a film camera, had a big print made, and scanned that on a flatbed scanner.
Here’s another version with the vertebrae outlined:
When I and everyone else thought that Sauroposeidon was a brachiosaur, I was pretty sure that these were C7 and C8, out of a total of 13 cervicals, just like Giraffatitan. And it still might be so–a future analysis might find that the newly-expanded Sauroposeidon is a brachiosaurid after all, and even if not, Gomani (2005) posited a primitive cervical count of 13 for titanosaurs. If that’s true, then possibly 13 cervicals are primitive for all titanosauriforms, and the increases beyond that–to 17 in Euhelopus and 14-17 in more derived titanosaurs like Futalognkosaurus and Rapetosaurus–were deviations from that primitive pattern.
If Sauroposeidon was a basal somphospondyl, as posited by D’Emic and Foreman (2012) and as found in the phylogenetic analysis of D’Emic (2012), then maybe it was more like Euhelopus than Giraffatitan, and maybe it had more than 13 cervicals. (Note that D’Emic  found Sauroposeidon to be a basal somphospondyl but outside the Euhelopodidae, so even in his analysis, Euhelopus could have gotten its extra cervicals independently of Sauroposeidon.) That’s an interesting prospect, since the 11.5-meter neck estimate for Sauroposeidon I made back in 2000 was based on the conservative assumption of 13 cervicals. If Sauroposeidon had more cervicals, they were probably mid-cervicals (nobody adds more dinky C3s, or stubby cervico-dorsals*–that would be silly), and therefore between 1 and 1.25 meters long. So if the individual represented by OMNH 53062 had 15 cervicals, as Mike hypothetically illustrated in this post, its neck might was probably more like 14 meters long, and if it had 17 cervicals, like Euhelopus and Rapetosaurus, its neck might have topped 16 meters–as long or longer than that of Supersaurus.
Now, I’m not saying that Sauroposeidon had a 16-meter neck. The conservative estimate is still 13 cervicals adding up to 11.5 meters. But the possibility of a longer neck is tantalizing, and can’t be ruled out based on current evidence. As usual, we need more fossils.
Happily, now that Sauroposeidon is known from Oklahoma, Texas, and Wyoming, and is one of the best-represented EKNApods instead of one of the scrappiest, the chances that we’ll find more of it–and recognize it–are looking good. I will keep my fingers firmly crossed–as they have been for the last 17 years.
* Radical pedantry note: of course we have very good evidence of sauropods getting more cervical vertebrae by recruiting dorsals into the cervical series. So, for example, 13 cervicals and 12 dorsals are supposed to be primitive for neosauropods, but diplodocids have 15 and 10, respectively–the obvious inference being that the first two dorsals got cervicalized. So in this narrow meristic sense, sauropods definitely did add cervicodorsals. But my point above is about the morphology of the verts themselves–once diplodocids had those two extra cervicals at the end, the former cervicodorsals were free to become more “cervicalized” in form. So effectively–in terms of the shapes of their necks–diplodocids added mid-cervicals.
- D’Emic, M.D. 2012. The early evolution of titanosauriform sauropod dinosaurs. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 166: 624–671.
- D’Emic, M.D., and B.Z. Foreman. 2012. The beginning of the sauropod dinosaur hiatus in North America: insights from the Lower Cretaceous Cloverly Formation of Wyoming. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 32(4): 883-902.
- Gomani, Elizabeth M. 2005. Sauropod dinosaurs from the Early Cretaceous of Malawi, Africa. Palaeontologia Electronica 8(1):27A (37 pp.)
- Wedel, M.J., and Cifelli, R.L. 2005. Sauroposeidon: Oklahoma’s native giant. Oklahoma Geology Notes 65 (2):40-57.
January 16, 2013
This photograph is of what I consider the closest thing to the Platonic Ideal sauropod vertebra: it’s the eighth cervical of our old friend the Giraffatitan brancai paralectotype MB.R.2181. (previously known as “Brachiosaurus” brancai HM S II — yes, it’s changed genus and specimen number, both recently, but independently.)
And if you look very carefully, down at the bottom, you can see the same vertebra, C8, of the prosauropod Plateosaurus. Pfft.
This photo was taken down in the basement of the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin, on the same 2008 trip where Matt took the “Mike in Love” photo from two days ago. For anyone who didn’t recognise the specific vertebra I was in love with in that picture, shame on you! It is of course our old friend the ?8th dorsal vertebra of the same specimen, which we’ve discussed in detail here on account of its unique spinoparapophyseal laminae, its unexpectedly missing infradiapophyseal lamina and its bizarre perforate anterior centroparapophyseal laminae.
January 14, 2013
Matt took this photo in the basement of the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin, back in 2008 when we were there as part of the field-trip associated with the Bonn sauropod conference.
Hopefully all you long-time SV-POW! readers will recognise the specific vertebra that I’m in love with.
June 27, 2012
From the collections of the American Museum of Natural History, I give you the sacrum and fused ilia of “Apatosaurus” minimus AMNH 675, as correctly identified by Steve P in a comment to the previous post:
As Steve P rightly pointed out, AMNH 675 was designated as Brontosaurus sp. by Osborn (1904), and made the type of Apatosaurus minimus by Mook (1917).
It’s been known for some time that whatever this is, it’s not Apatosaurus — see for example McIntosh (1990a:398), McIntosh (1990b:59) and Upchurch et al. (2004:298). But what actually is it? Well, at the moment, no-one knows. Matt and I now have a manuscript in prep that we hope will somewhat elucidate this question. More to come on this specimen, most likely.
McIntosh, John S. 1990a. Sauropoda. In The Dinosauria, pp. 345–401. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.
McIntosh, John S. 1990b. Species Determination in Sauropod Dinosaurs with Tentative Suggestions for the Their Classification. In Dinosaur Systematics: Approaches and Perspectives, pp. 53–69. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Mook, Charles C. 1917. Criteria for the determination of species in the Sauropoda, with description of a new species of Apatosaurus. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 38:355-360.
Osborn, Henry F. 1904. Manus, sacrum, and caudals of Sauropoda. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 20:181-190.
June 25, 2012
A couple of posts back, when Matt was talking about turtle laminae, he included a photo of me in front of the skeleton of the giant turtle Archelon. Also in that photo is the tripod I was using — if you want to call it that — a tripod of altogether startling inadequacy. Here it is again, this time in the collections of the AMNH:
(Bonus SV-POW! points for anyone who can tell me what taxon or specimen I am working on. Sorry, Heinrich, you’re disqualified, since you already know.)
Why did we use such a poor tripod? Matt was planning to bring a proper one, but at the last minute decided to downsize his luggage by taking one small enough to fit into a smaller bag — in fact, it’s the tripod that came free with a telescope he recently bought. Not a good move: it was too short for many of the shots we wanted to take, too flimsy to properly stabilise the camera in many situations, and didn’t have enough degrees of freedom to let us get every shot we wanted from the best position.
Still, it was better than nothing, and we did contrive to get all the specimen photos we needed.
At the end of the week, when we finished up in collections and went to catch our taxi to the airport, Matt left the tripod behind. I emailed our AMNH host Carl Mehling to explain:
Matt deliberately left behind his tripod — it’s on the desk where we had the pelvic elements. He has much better tripods at home, and regrets the false economy of bringing that lighter and less stable one. But we figured it would be better than nothing for the use of anyone who turns up in collections with no tripod at all, so please feel free to make it available to visitors. Matt asks only that it be known as “The Mathew J. Wedel Memorial Tripod”.
Thanks so much for the tripod – I KNOW it will come in handy!
Ah, sorry about this but my client insists that it must be known by its full title The Mathew J. Wedel Memorial Tripod at all times. If necessary, you may abbreviate it to TMJWMT on second and subsequent mentions.
I can engrave it in the Lab and apply a B72/India Ink/B72 sandwich acronym/monogram on it. I will also construct an archival museum mount for it and put a security chip in its brain.
That’s when Matt himself weighed in:
Oh, and be sure that when the tripod is not in use it is stored in an airtight positive pressure chamber full of an inert gas. It should also be polished twice daily with the down of a hatchling bald eagle (fresh down each time, naturally). Finally, the tripod itself should be listed as an author on any publications that include photos taken with it. Please send a runner to my office in California to confirm that these instructions will be carried out to the letter.
The runner hasn’t arrived yet (to my knowledge) but I think we can take it as read that Carl will comply with these very reasonable conditions.
So, folks! If ever you’re working in the AMNH big-bone room, and you find you’ve forgotten your tripod … you might just be lucky enough to be allowed use of the Mathew J. Wedel Memorial Tripod!
June 24, 2012
Sometimes you just can’t make this stuff up.
You may recall a story from the Onion Our Dumb Century book, allegedly from 1904, about the skeleton of Satan being discovered in Wyoming. Mike used his occult powers to put together this scan from freely available online sources:
If you scrutinize the above image carefully, you’ll see that ‘Satan’ is an Allosaurus (I’m no theropod booster, but I always thought that was a little harsh on T. rex).
Why am I telling you this? Because last week Mike and I were toiling in the big bone room in the basement of the AMNH when we came across AMNH 666.
It’s an ilium. (Of course it would have to be an appendicular element. Vertebrae are from on high [or dorsal, if you prefer].)
The stomach-churning color here could be a manifestation of diabolical power, or just what happens when you try to photograph a pink specimen label on a yellow-orange forklift.
After this harrowing encounter, we cleansed our bodies, minds, and souls with street-vendor hot dogs and The Avengers.* That particular mode of exorcism may not be the most effective–I felt distinctly dodgy that evening. But the next day we received illumination at the Altar of Sauropod Awesomeness and were soon back to what we jokingly refer to as normal.
* The best way to see The Avengers is by going up to the observation deck of the Empire State Building shortly beforehand, so big swathes of the Manhattan skyline will still be in your mental RAM during the big final battle. I understand it’s not an option for everyone.
March 22, 2012
…with sauropod bones!
Lots of basements have them. Some basements have had them for decades, and other basements have been newly constructed to house them. So you can take advantage of that retro chic while taking your basement into the 21st century!
What the heck am I talking about?
One of the nifty features of WordPress is that you can track the search terms that people are using to find your blog. After Mike put up his “Suboptimal location of Mamenchisaurus” post, we noticed that one of the top search terms bringing people to SV-POW! was ‘basement’. Yeah, that’s right, ‘basement’. In fact, ‘basement’ is the 5th highest search term of all time that has brought people to SV-POW! And that’s not unusual–in fact, of the top 5 search terms bringing people here, only one is sauropod-related (Brachiosaurus, at number 2).
As of this posting, here are the Top 10 non-sauropod search terms of all time that have led people to SV-POW!, listed by rank, and including the number of hits in parentheses:
1. rabbit (18,235)
3. leopard seal (12,797) — this explains why “Sorting out Cetiosaurus nomenclature”, which even Mike admits is the most boring topic we’ve ever covered here, is the 11th most popular post of all time on this blog!
4. flamingo (10,974)
5. basement (9743)
12. twinkie (3434)
14. flamingos (3102) — double dipping for the “Necks lie” post!
20. pig skull (2099)
21. savannah monitor (2078)
22. varanus exanthematicus (1936) — double dipping for “Four complete, articulated, extant sauropod skeletons–yes, really!”
24. shish kebab (1660) — double dipping for “Sauropods were corn-on-the-cob, not shish kebabs”.
We’re apparently getting a lot of hits from people who want to remodel their basements. I’m all for that (the remodeling, and the extra hits), so I’m embracing it. You want basements, we got ‘em. We’ll drown you in pictures of sauropod vertebrae in basements. Did I say basement? Basement, basement, basement!
(Why am I pushing basement and not rabbit, flamingo, or leopard seal? Partly because basement used to be our number 1 search term and I want to see its fortunes rise again. Partly because those other things are at least biological, and it cracks me up to have a common architectural term bringing people to the blog. And partly because I want to upstage John and his freezers.)
Basement Renovation Instructions
This short guide will help you with your project.
Is your basement in a museum?
If YES, then:
1. Fill it with sauropod vertebrae.
2. Call us.
If NO, then:
1. Fill it with anything you like except sauropod vertebrae.
2. Support your local museum.
Don’t forget: basement!