Horrible sauropod skulls of the Yale Peabody Museum, part 2: Brontosaurus; and no, I do not mean Apatosaurus
April 15, 2014
How can it be?
All credit to the Yale Peabody Museum for having the courage to display this historically important object in their public gallery instead of hiding it in a basement. It’s the skull from the original mount of the Brontosaurus (= Apatosaurus) excelsus holotype YPM 1980.
Needless to say, it bears no resemblance at all to the actual skull of Apatosaurus, and the one they now have on the mount is much, much better:
But how did the YPM people ever arrive at this double-plus-ugly skull above? We see a similar skull in Marsh’s (1891) second attempt at restoring the skeleton of Brontosaurus:
But even this is not as ugly and Just Plain Wrong as the physical model they made. (Marsh’s first restoration of the Brontosaurus skeleton, in 1893, had a much less clear skull.)
So how did the YPM come to make such a monstrosity? What was it based on? Tune in next time for the surprising details!
Bizarrely, we’ve never really featured the YPM 1980 mount here on SV-POW! — we’ve often shown individual bones, but the mounted skeleton appears only in the background of the much less impressive Morosaurus (= Camarasaurus) lentus mount. We’ll fix that real soon.
Visiting relatives in Texas, just like last spring. Very distant relatives. And this happened:
Here’s the culprit, with his sidekicks Monorail Badger, Trashbag Tortoise, and Kas-Tor, Last Beaver of Krypton. A disreputable bunch.
The victim. Some call him the Winter Cervical. He was fast, strong–and he had a metal arm…ature.
Meanwhile, in the back:
March 26, 2014
I’ve never seen a rearing titanosaur skeleton before. Here it is again, from in front:
And here’s the whole exhibit:
I don’t know what taxon the big rearing guy is — perhaps John can chip in? — but it certainly smells like a titanosaur. It looks very uncomfortable rearing, but I don’t know to what extent that’s because the body shape is wrong, and to what degree that actual pose is off: the hindfeet should be shifted forward to get them under the centre of gravity, as in the rather more convincing rearing Barosaurus at the AMNH.
March 1, 2014
Christine Argot of the MNHN, Paris, drew our attention to this wonderful old photo (from here, original caption reproduced below):
I found a different version of what seems to be the same photo (greyscaled, lower resolution, but showing more of the surrounding area) here:
What we have here is a truly bizarre mount of Diplodocus – almost certainly one of the casts of the D. carnegii holotype CM 84 — with perfectly erect, parasagittal hind-limbs, but bizarrely everted elbows.
There are a few mysteries here.
First, where and when was this photo taken? Christine’s email described this as a “picture of a Diplodocus cast taken in St. Petersburg around 1920″, and the caption above seems to confirm that location; but then why is it copyright the Paleontological Museum, Moscow? Since the web-site in question is for a Swedish museum, it’s not forthcoming.
The second photo is from the web-site of the Borisyak Paleontological Institute in Moscow, but that site unfortunately provides no caption. The juxtaposition with two more modern Diplodocus-skeleton photos that are from its own gallery perhaps suggest that the modern mount shown in the more recent photographs is a re-pose of the old mount in the black-and white photo. If so, that might mean that the skeleton was actually in Moscow all along rather than St. Petersburg, or perhaps that it was moved from St. Petersburg to Moscow and remounted there.
Does anyone know? Has anyone out there visited the St. Petersburg museum recently and seen whether there is still a Diplodocus skeleton there? If so, is it still mounted in this bizarre way? Better yet, do you have photos?
The second question of course is why was this posture used? This pose makes no sense for several reasons — one of which is that even if Diplodocus could attain this posture it would only serve to leave the forefeet under the torso in the same position as erect forelimbs would have them. The pose only makes any kind of sense at all if you imagine the animal lowering its torso to drink; but given that it had a flexible six-meter-long neck, that hardly seems necessary.
Of course Diplodocus does have a history of odd postures: because of the completeness of the D. carnegii holotype, it became the subject of the Sauropod Posture Wars between Tornier, Hay and Holland in the early 20th Century. Both Tornier (1909) and Hay (1910) favoured a sprawling posture like that of lizards (see images above and below), and were soundly refuted by Holland
But the Tornier and Hay postures bear no relation to that of the mounted skeleton in the photographs above: they position the forefeet far lateral to the torso, and affect the hindlimbs as well as the forelimbs. So whatever the Russian mount was doing, I don’t think it can have been intended as a representation of the Tornier/Hay hypothesis.
But it gets even weirder. Christine tells me that “I’m aware of [...] the tests that Holland performed on the Russian cast to get rid of the hypothesis suggesting a potential lizard-like posture. So I think that he would have never allowed such a posture for one of the casts he mounted himself.” Now I didn’t know that Holland had executed the mounting of this cast. Assuming that’s right, it makes it even more inexplicable that he would have allowed such a posture.
Or did he?
Christine’s email finishes by asking: “What do you think? do you think that somebody could have come behind Holland to change the position? do you know any colleague or publication who could mention this peculiar cast and comment its posture?”
Can anyone help?
- Hay, Oliver. P. 1910. On the manner of locomotion of the dinosaurs, especially Diplodocus, with remarks on the origin of birds. Proceedings of the Washington Academy of Sciences 12(1):1-25.
- Holland, W. J. 1910. A review of some recent criticisms of the restorations of sauropod dinosaurs existing in the museums of the United States, with special reference to that of Diplodocus carnegiei in the Carnegie museum. American Naturalist 44:259-283.
- Nieuwland, Ilja. 2010. The colossal stranger. Andrew Carnegie and Diplodocus intrude European Culture, 1904–1912. Endeavour 34(2):61-68.
- Tornier, Gustav. 1909. Wie war der Diplodocus carnegii wirklich gebaut? Sitzungsbericht der Gesellschaft naturforschender Freunde zu Berlin 4:193– 209.
February 14, 2014
Last time, we took a very quick look at YPM 1910, a mounted skeleton that is the holotype of Camarasaurus (= “Morosaurus“) lentus, in the dinosaur hall of the Yale Peabody Museum.
Here’s the whole skeleton, in various views. Skip down to the bottom for the science; or just enjoy the derpiness. First, in anterior view:
Here’s a more informative right anterolateral view. As you can see, this little Camarasaurus is in every sense in the shadow of the the much more impressive Apatosaurus (= “Brontosaurus“) excelsus holotype, YPM 1980: click through for the full image:
And here’s the corresponding photo from Lull (1930: figure 1) (see below):
It’s interesting to see such a familiar mount in such unfamiliar surroundings. Judging by the cabinets in the background, YPM 1910 was mounted in what’s now the dinosaur hall at Yale — i.e. it hasn’t moved since the photo was taken. But back then, Brontosaurus hadn’t been mounted, and Zallinger’s mural hadn’t been painted.
If you thought this animal looked dumb from the front, check out this left anterodorsolateral view, taken from the balcony above the hall. The foreshortening of the neck makes Cam look like a particularly dense puppy.
(Once more, click through for the full version of the photo, including the much more impressive Apatosaurus.)
Right lateral view, with Zallinger’s justly famous mural in the background. Note the Diplodocus-type double-beamed chevrons in the tail:
Here’s the justly under-rated posterior view:
And finally, Lull’s left posterolateral photo — taken from a position that can’t now be replicated, due to the inconveniently located Brontosaurus. (The Archelon in the background, which was previously featured on SV-POW!, has been moved to the end of the hall since Lull’s time.
How much of this skeleton is real? Happily, not the skull. We can only hope that the real thing wasn’t quite so troubling. But much of the rest of the skeleton is real bone. To quote Lull (1930:1-3):
In the Yale specimen the entire vertebral column is present from the second or third cervical to the tenth caudal with one or two later caudals. Of the limbs and their girdles there are present the left scapula, right coracoid, both humeri, the left radius and ulna, both ilia, the right pubis and left ischium, and both femora, tibiae and fibulae. One cervical rib is present but no thoracic ribs. The disarticulated sacrum lacked one rib from either side.
(How could Lull have been unsure whether the most anterior preserved cervical was the second or third? C2 in sauropods, as in most animals, is radically different from the subsequent cervicals. He does go on to say that only the centrum of the most anterior vertebra is preserved, but the axis has a distinct anterior central articulation.)
Lull is quite ready to criticise the mount, and notes in particular:
The cervical ribs in the Yale mount are not long enough by half, and the thoracic ribs may be somewhat heavy and their length a little short [...] both carpus and tarsus are probably incorrect, as the elements in each instance are fewer than shown, there being no more than two at most. There is apparently no justification for the fore and aft extensions of the distal chevrons, as these were not preserved and the Osborn-Mook restoration was followed. [...] A probable error lies in too great an allowance for cartilage between the [pelvic] elements, thus making the acetabulum seem rather large.
He also notes a scheme that sadly never came to pass:
[The holotype of Camarasaurus (= "Morosaurus") robustus], a very perfect specimen, we intend to mount when the great Brontosaurus excelsus type is completed. The three sauropods, ranging in length from 21 to nearly 70 feet, should make a very impressive group.
They would have done! But in the end it fell to the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin to give us the world’s first three-sauropod combo (unless someone knows of an earlier one?)
Finally; the mounted Yale Camarasaurus also crops up in three of the plates of Ostrom and McIntosh (1966). Plate 60 depicts metacarpals I and II in all the cardinal views except for some reason posterior; plate 61 does the same for metacarpals III and IV); and plate 70 shows the right pubis in every aspect but anterior. Here it is:Judging by this, it’s a beautifully preserved element with some very distinctive morphology. But we’ve been burned by Marsh’s plates before, and I don’t trust them at all any more — at least, not until I’ve seen the elements for myself. Now I wish I paid more attention to Derpy’s pubes.
And on that line, I’m out.
Ostrom, John H., and John S. McIntosh. 1966. Marsh’s Dinosaurs: the Collections from Como Bluff. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT. 388 pages including 65 positively scrumptious plates.
Horrible sauropod skulls of the Yale Peabody Museum, part 1: Morosaurus lentus, the world’s most foolish sauropod
February 13, 2014
Matt’s harsh-but-fair “Derp dah durr” / “Ah hurr hurr hurr” captions on his Giraffatitan skull photos reminded me that there is a sauropod with a much, much stupider head than that of Giraffatitan. Step forward YPM 1910, a mounted skeleton that is the holotype of Camarasaurus (= “Morosaurus“) lentus, in the dinosaur hall of the Yale Peabody Museum.
Full details on this specimen next time!
(But a spoiler: the skull isn’t real.)
February 6, 2014
In a recent comment, Doug wrote:
If I want to be a truly educated observer of Tyrannosaurus rex mounts, what 5 things should I look for in a reconstruction to assess if it is true to our current scientific understanding? I’m not talking tail dragging/upright at this point…we are well past that I hope.
If he had asked about Apatosaurus, I could have written him a novel. But it is a point of pride with me not to contribute to the over-application of human attention to T. rex; not only would it be vulgar, it would also be a waste of resources, considering how many people already have that covered. So, you theropod workers and avocational “rexperts”, we’re finally inviting you to the high table. Please, tell us–and Doug–what separates the good T. rex mounts from the crappy ones. Big piles of SV-POW! bucks will be showered on whoever brings the most enlightenment, especially if you adhere to the requested List of 5 Things format.
The comment lines are open–go!
January 31, 2014
Back in the early aughts Cal Acad did a huge exhibit simply titled, “Skulls”. It was extremely rad, and I could have been running a separate blog this whole time with nothing but photos from that exhibit. (Update: the website for the exhibit is still going. Check it out.) I was just sorting through some old folders and found some favorites. The photo above is the wall of California sea lion skulls, 900-odd in all, arranged from the biggest, gnarliest males on one end to the most gracile females on the other end.
They also had quite a few pathological sea lion skulls. Here are two that haunted me–they got tangled up in fishing lines that slowly sawed through their skulls and into their brains, killing them.
This elk had a pretty funky growth on its right dentary.
But easily the most “Naw!”-inducing pathology in the whole exhibit was this poor deer, which has a pathological growth the size and shape of a big pastry where its right eye used to be. I don’t know if it’s just a coincidence that its antlers are all wonky, too–maybe Darren will show up and enlighten us.
So if you’re feeling down, you can at least console yourself that you don’t have a flyblown, pus-leaking cinnamon roll of pathological bone growing on your face. Have a nice day!
November 19, 2013
In lieu of the sauropod neck cartilage post that I will get around to writing someday, here are some photos of animals London and I saw at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum this Sunday morning.
In chronological order:
Mountain lion, Puma concolor
Black bear, Ursus americanus, which taxon has also graced these pages (and my desk) with its mortal remains.
Bobcats, Lynx rufus. These two play-fought for a while. Watching them was the highlight of the morning, and maybe the highlight of the whole trip.
Gray fox, Urocyon cinereoargenteus. This guy just paused here for a moment, but I am super happy with the chiaroscuro effect.
Javelina, Pecari tajacu. Sunday evening we saw a couple of wild javelinas alongside one of the roads on the west side of Tucson–only the second time I’ve seen them in the wild.
Coyote, Canis latrans. Now these guys I see all the time–on my own street, even, some mornings.
Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus. This one flew right over our heads during the Raptor Free Flight demonstration. I tried to get photos of it on the wing but it was too darned fast. Most impressive: however big they look in pictures, they look a heck of a lot bigger–and scarier–swooping two feet over your head.
Mexican Wolf, Canis lupus baileyi
And, okay, here’s a sauropod, or part of a sauropod: a mounted cast of the forelimb of Sonorasaurus thompsoni. Nine-year-old Homo sapiens for scale.
So, pretty outstanding place, and I highly recommend going. But, like every other printed or digital source I found, I recommend getting there first thing in the morning to see all the animals while they are out and about. London and I walked out of the big “critter loops” at 10:30 and the Mexican wolf was the only animal still roaming around.
October 11, 2013
But not “funny ha-ha”. More like, “funny how that neck is clearly impossible.” I mean, really.
This is another shot from the Museum of Osteology in Oklahoma City. A few hundred more posts like this and I’ll be done.
For more flamingo-related weirdness, check out Casey Holliday’s work (with Ryan Ridgely, Amy Balanoff, and Larry Witmer) on the wacky blood vessels in flamingo heads. Unfortunately, Holliday et al. found no evidence of the antigravity generators that are obviously present in flamingoes somewhere. So there’s more work to be done here.
Kinda makes me sad, to ponder all of the sweet soft-tissue adaptations that extinct organisms must have had, that we will probably never know (enough) about. At least we have freaks like this around to remind us.