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!
January 26, 2012
Sorry to have written so much about publishing politics recently, and so little about sauropod vertebrae! That stuff is important, and I give you fair warning I will be returning to it soon. But for now, here is a quiz:
[Click through for a much bigger version.]
This is one of the figures from the as-yet last unpublished last chapter of my dissertation, slightly modified for its forthcoming submission to Palaeontologia Electronica. As you can see, it shows five sauropod cervicals, each one in left lateral and either posterior or anterior view.
But can you tell me what they all are? Points will be awarded for getting the right taxon, the particular specimen, and the serial position, for an available total of fifteen points. I will award fractional marks as and when necessary (e.g. right genus but wrong species; serial position close but not quite right). And I might give bonuses for interesting and relevant historical asides.
Do not look at other peoples’ answers before deciding on your own!
I will leave some blank space at the end of this article, before the comments, so that you don’t see them inadvertently before you make your choices.
(Spoiler space ends)
August 26, 2009
Was this just a half-lame attempt to fulfill our titular mandate whilst plugging my new astronomy blog? Of course it was (and I just did it again!). Doesn’t mean you lot are off the hook for figuring out what it is. So here’s another image with more views. You have a week. Don’t let me down.
Oh, and to sweeten the pot, 351 SV-POW!bucks to the person who first figures it out.
UPDATE: Too late, suckers! In a stunning move, Phil Mannion won the contest basically right out of the gate. The vertebra is indeed a cervical of Paluxysaurus (image below from Rose, 2007). Good job, Phil!
Well, now you’re hosed–the contest is over and you’re not due for another post for nearly a week. What to do, what to do? Assuming that you’re all caught up on your Tet Zoo reading, you might want to check out Save Your Breath For Running Ponies. It’s not just a paleo blog, but it has a lot of paleo in it, including lots of smack talk to whatever critter has been in the news lately. For example, see the recent post, “It’s not all mindless sex with beautiful women, placoderm”. This makes SYBFRP sort of the FU, Penguin of paleo.
OR you could discuss the question I posed in the comments: why does “this anterior cervical of Paluxysaurus look so much like Euhelopus, DGM Serie B, etc. The posterior cervicals look like Sauroposeidon, not exactly the same, but lots of similarities. The juxtaposition blew my mind ten years ago, and it still does. Your thoughts are welcome.” They still are.
August 16, 2009
I’ve been interested in astronomy my whole life, but I only got serious about it in the past two years. In the internet age, “getting serious” about something usually means “starting a blog”, so I did. My aim is to show people that enjoying the night sky doesn’t have to be time-consuming or expensive. Stop by if you’re interested.
Here’s your token sauropod vert. What do you reckon it might be?
July 26, 2009
One of these things ought to be familiar, but the other one may not be (they are shown to scale here). The first commenter to correctly identify them both wins 100 SV-POW!bucks (TM), which aren’t worth diddly in the real world* but can be exchanged for worship, admiration, and bragging rights on teh intert00bz.
The contest will run until someone gets the right answer or the week is out. All will be revealed next week. Mike and Darren are forbidden to compete, not because it would be unfair but because I don’t like them very much.
This isn’t an impossible task, by the way. The info is out there. The only question is whether you are lonely geeky awesome enough to solve the mystery.
* That’s just a guess. It’s possible that at SVP you might find someone who would you buy you a beer in exchange for some SV-POW!bucks (TM), or just because you have more than them.
Update: answer posted here.
July 20, 2009
Weren’t we just discussing the problem of keeping up with all the good stuff on da intert00bz? The other day Rebecca Hunt-Foster, a.k.a. Dinochick, posted a “mystery photo” that is right up our alley here at SV-POW!, but, lazy sods that we are, we missed it until just now. Here’s the pic:
I flipped it 90 degrees so that you can see more clearly what is going on. This is a cut and polished section of a pneumatic sauropod vertebra–the bottom half of the mid-centrum of a dorsal vertebra, to be precise. Cervicals usually have concave ventral surfaces, and sacrals are usually either wider and flatter or narrower and V-shaped in cross sections, so I am pretty confident that this slice is from a dorsal. Compare to the classic anchor cross-section in this Camarasaurus dorsal:
(You may remember this image from Xenoposeidon week–almost two years ago now!)
As usual, bone is black, air is white, and everything else is gray. And the ASP is:
461080 white pixels/(461080 white + 133049 black pixels) = 0.78
So, we know what this is, and we know the ASP of this bit of it, and we can even figure out the in vivo density of this bit. The density of cortical bone ranges from about 1.8 g/cm^3 for some birds to about 2.0 for most mammals. For the sake of this example–and so I can hurry back to writing my lecture about the arse–let’s call it 1.9. The density is then the fraction of bone multiplied by the density of bone, full stop. If it was an apneumatic bone, we’d have to add the fraction of marrow multiplied by the density of marrow, but the density of air is negligible so we can skip that step here. The answer is 0.22 x 1.9 = 0.42 g/cm^3, which is pretty darned light. Keep in mind, though, that some slices of Sauroposeidon (and ‘Angloposeidon’, as it turns out) have ASPs of 0.89, and thus had an in vivo density half that of the above slice (0.11 x 1.9 = 0.21 g/cm^3).
What’s that in real money? Well, your femora are roughly 60% bone and 40% marrow, with a density of ((0.6 x 2.0)+(0.4 x 0.93)) = 1.6 g/cm^3, four times as dense as the bit of vertebra shown above, and eight times as dense as some slices of Sauroposeidon and ‘Angloposeidon’. If that doesn’t make you self-conscious about your heavy thighs, I don’t know what will.
Yes, that was a lame joke, and yes, I’m going out on it.
Hat tip to Dinochick.
P.S. It’s the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing today. Hoist a brew for Neil and Buzz, wouldja?
First off, thanks to everyone for reading, commenting on, and discussing the previous post. Seeing the diversity of opinions expressed has been interesting and gratifying for us, and we’ve learned a lot from you about how the blogosphere is changing science already. My own thoughts follow, Mike chimes in at the end, and Darren will probably have something to add soon, too.
The Intolerable Problem
Sometimes people push back on posts of mine they don’t like by telling me I’m out of bounds. Somehow, they say, I’ve crossed the boundary of what I’m allowed to write about. They are angry that I’m now writing about something outside my defined area.
I’m usually taken aback by this, because I didn’t realize I’d actually agreed to any boundaries.
Seth Godin, 2009, “Out of Bounds”
Several commenters have brought up what I call the Intolerable Problem, which is that people online can critique papers and present new evidence and arguments in a format that is impermanent and not peer-reviewed. It’s intolerable because on one hand such material is not currently (operative word) citable in most outlets, and on the other hand repeating it sans citation in peer-reviewed literature smacks of plagiarism (to some, but not to all). Although this material is potentially valuable it “doesn’t count” professionally (see exceptions below), which some professionals (not necessarily those who have commented here) regard as a fatal argument against posting it in the first place. But–and this is crucial–it’s only a problem for the tiny fraction of the audience who might want to cite the freely exchanged material. If you’re in that fraction, we value your attention and comments, but don’t assume we’re writing only for you, or to further our professional standing. We blog because we love this stuff, and even at a technical niche blog like SV-POW! the majority of readers probably don’t care at all whether the information is peer-reviewed or “counts” for professionals; they mostly care whether it’s right or not.
One obvious solution to the Intolerable Problem is to simply let people cite anything they want, including blog posts and DML posts. This is already starting to be implemented–see examples here and here and more discussion here. This runs into two problems: one is permanence (there is no guarantee that the cited post will be up forever, or that the author won’t revise it later in response to criticism [as I have done with this very post!]), which can already be solved using tools such as WebCite (thanks to Cameron Neylon for bringing this to our attention in a comment on the previous post).
The other problem is that citations serve two functions, which are to establish priority and to lend authority to an argument. Citing a blog post may establish priority, but some researchers will cavil at the idea that a blog post is an authoritative source (for varying combinations of researchers and blog posts). Whether they would be right to cavil I don’t know; in the end the market will decide. The market–that is, the desire to attain professional respect and avoid censure–will also dissuade authors from larding up their papers with citations to trivial or worthless online sources.
Those who are troubled by the free discussion of papers, evidence, and hypotheses online need to realize that:
- it’s been going on for a long time (15 years for the Dinosaur Mailing List);
- it’s only going to accelerate in the future;
- it’s not a problem for the vast majority of people participating in the discussions;
- any solution must involve accommodation to the reality of how people exchange information online (immediately, freely, globally, without prior filtering).
These discussions are not going to stop, and ignoring the output of such discussions (because they “don’t count”) will eventually become prohibitively expensive as those workers who insist on playing only by the old rules are outmaneuvered by others who find ways to use all available information regardless of its provenience or “respectability”.
Paper journals will die when online journals stop sucking
Most online publications are hampered by having to be identical to the dead-tree versions (no links, no embedded video, no rotating 3D PDF images, etc.). Eventually people will realize that it is counterproductive to keep hobbling the new medium to make it as slow, flat, and inefficient as the old medium. Once one journal takes the hobbles off, others will do the same rather than lose contributors to cutting-edge outlets. A few boutique journals may still produce flattened, gutted versions of the online publications on paper. People still fly biplanes, too. Paper-based journals will never be popular again and their existence will not stop people from doing whatever technology allows them to in the online venues.
Note that this does not even refer to the economic argument against dead-tree publishing, which has already relocated encyclopedias and newspapers from ubiquity to marginality or extinction.
I’m surprised that the revolution isn’t farther along already. The cage is open.
Whither peer review and editing?
This is all part of the Big Flip in publishing generally, where the old notion of “filter, then publish” is giving way to “publish, then filter.” There is no need for Slashdot’s or Kuro5hin’s owners to sort the good posts from the bad in advance, no need for Blogdex or Daypop to pressure people not to post drivel, because lightweight filters applied after the fact work better at large scale than paying editors to enforce minimum quality in advance.
Clay Shirky, 2003, “The Music Business and the Big Flip”
PLoS ONE is already going gangbusters, without peer-review prior to publication in many cases. The only holdup there is that the post-hoc review by commenters is not working out quite like they’d hoped, because few people are commenting. Not everyone agrees that there is a dearth of commenting at PLoS ONE; the larger point is that people publish there a lot and the community treats those pubs like they count, even though in many cases they are essentially un-reviewed.
[Update: I misunderstood peer review at PLoS ONE. Papers may be reviewed externally by people unconnected to PLoS, or by one or more unpaid Academic Editors, or by a combination. I had thought of the review by Academic Editors only, which accounts for 13% of papers, as a form of internal review, but according to Bora (down in the comments) it should count as external review. If you're happy with that--and the system is not without its critics--then all papers at PLoS ONE are externally reviewed prior to publication; even if you're not, pre-publication review by someone is still in place across the board at PLoS ONE, and 87% of papers are externally reviewed by people unaffiliated with PLoS. Post-publication commenting supplements rather than replaces pre-publication review.]
People do comment on blogs, all the time. Post-hoc review will work, in fact already does work, just fine on blogs. I predict that PLoS ONE clones of the future (PLoS TWO?) will emulate whatever features of blogs make people willing to comment on them but not on PLoS ONE v1.0.
Alternatively, the paucity of post-hoc commenting at PLoS ONE could be taken as further evidence that journal-mediated peer review, whether before or after publication, is dying just off to a slow start. I think that editorial control is not far behind. Both are locally extinct in some parts of the science publishing ecosystem, since people are already citing blogs.
Q: But–but–but? What about protecting the sanctity of the process? What about about guaranteeing respectability? What about prestige?
A: Hey, those questions would make a terrific opinion piece for your local newspaper–oops, too late.
I don’t deny that editors and peer reviewers often make significant contributions to the quality of published work. I just think that people will learn to get along without them if doing so allows faster and easier exchange of information. That was never possible on paper; it’s long been possible here.
A priori peer review and editorial control were invented because publications were scarce (in the Econ 101 sense of being limited) and there needed to be a barrier to entry. Now publication is instant, free, and global. Error correction and the assignment of value will still happen, but they’ll happen after publication rather than before, and they’ll be distributed rather than centralized.
Clay Shirky described the problem for newspapers and the recording industry as the existence of “cheap perfect copies”. An expanded but by no means exhaustive list for science publication includes:
- cheap perfect copies
- editable (but also archivable)
- linkable (both incoming and outgoing)
- globally distributed
- for free
- without pre-publication filtering
- with multimedia embeds (as opposed to including video etc. separately in the suppl. info.)
Online open-access journals currently take advantage of all of those capabilities except the last two. Newsgroup posts cover all the bases except the last one (so do tweets, despite the severe length limitations).
What covers everything? Blog posts. Which have the added advantage that people will comment on them without being asked.
But that’s not the whole simple story.
The center cannot hold–or can it?
So we’re looking at total chaos, right–a world where anyone posts anything they want, no one has any control, and no one knows how to find the good stuff? Well, two out of three, at least. I’m not worried about that last point, for two reasons.
First, thanks to search engines, aggregators, tags, tweets, links, etc., we already have pretty good tools for finding the good stuff. Those direction finders will get better even as the map gets more complicated.
Second, prestige will always be a motivator, so people will always compete to get into exclusive venues. Nature is not going away, although I think that in the near future they will decouple their online and print publications so that the former can take advantage of all the possibilities the web offers.
If I have a really good idea backed up with lots of data, I’ll keep trying to get it into the most prestigious outlet I can. I won’t put my best stuff on a blog just because it’s faster and less encumbered. Blogs probably won’t replace journals, at least not anytime soon. Rather, the spectrum of publishing possibilities will expand; below the category of Least Publishable Unit we’ll add Most Bloggable Unit and so on down to Least Tweetable Unit, and the new categories will interpenetrate with the old over time.
How nice for me
Well, what a striking coincidence that Mr. Paleo Blogger looks into the ole digital crystal ball and sees “bloggy with a 90% chance of exactly-what-he’s-already-doing”.
I can’t claim to be either uninterested or unbiased in all of this. But I am new to actually thinking about the implications. I hadn’t been to most of the above links or had any of these thoughts as of a week ago. When Casey first e-mailed me six days ago, I replied:
If you’re curious, here’s the short short version of my thoughts: science bloggers critique published papers and blog about unpublished observations all the time. Our post-paper run of posts might be an extreme or even vulgar example, and it might fire more discussion about “what counts?”, but I don’t see it as being different in kind from what many science bloggers do. Papers are papers and blogs are blogs, and I never intended to blur the lines. If people feel that all the blog posts only count as “crap some guys wrote on the internet” and that they can be safely ignored, that’s fine with me. If they think the blog posts deserve some higher level of recognition a la “what counts?”, then I’m honored, but that’s extra value that others are investing in our blog, and not anything that we’ve knowingly sought. I suppose you could turn around and say that I’m trying to have my cake and eat it, too, first with all the pro-paper blogging and now with this “I’m innocent” schtick. I don’t know what the answer is, but I know that I’m too tired to figure it out tonight. All the more reason to have an open conversation about this stuff.
Now I realize that the lines between papers and blog posts are blurring, and whether we mean to or not, we SV-POW!sketeers are contributing (Darren’s doing double duty thanks to Tet Zoo). I still think that the investment of blog posts with respectability, value, citability, or whatever rests entirely with readers, and always will. Options range from treating posts like papers to treating them like bar conversations to treating them like spam. You decide.
Also, I tried to keep the writing above value-neutral but probably failed. It’s hard not to get a bit evangelistic about the potential advantages of online publication and online everything else, a tendency I call DISSUADE: Da Internet Shall Save Us All Dead-trees Excepted. Getting published in science hasn’t always been easy up until now, but the process has been relatively clear and familiar. And stable, on decadal and even centennial timescales. Everything about scientific publication is about to get much more fluid and much less clear, and it will probably stay that way for a long time, and it may stay that way forever. Not all of the changes will be for the better, and it may be hard to decide what’s better and what’s worse until we look back with some perspective. Mechanical looms were bad for weavers but good for everyone else. I think many of the changes discussed in this post and the previous comment thread are likely, and some are inevitable.
Set against the shiny digital future is the inertia of the academy and those of us who roost there. I’m not going to stop publishing papers in dead-tree journals (although I will never publish in a journal that doesn’t provide PDFs to authors). Heck, I’m not even going to stop publishing in closed-access journals, some of which are run by societies I admire and want to participate in (after all, everything is open anyway). At the same time I will keep blogging, and while I will frequently bring up technical stuff I don’t want to publish more formally (at least not yet), I will try not to deliberately blur the lines any more than I already have. I don’t need to; the web is already blurring them faster than most of us can keep up.
Oh, about that mystery vert…
…at the end of the post Necks Lie. Nima called it–good spot on the split neural spine. It’s a mid-cervical of Barosaurus, AMNH 6341, in the big bone room (well, one of many big bone rooms) at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. A cast of this vertebra makes up part of the neck in the awesome mounted skeleton in the museum rotunda. Here’s that skeleton, with Mike for scale.
Matt is much more ready than I am to throw away peer-review, editorial control, and journals in general. Sometimes, the reasons that things are the way they are, are good ones; it’s not in the interests of professional iconoclasts like Clay Shirky and Cory Doctorow to point that out or to discuss the strengths of how things are today, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept their arguments as uncritically as (say, to pick a name out of the air completely at random) Matt.
Anyway, happily, G. K. Chesterton foresaw the abolition of journals in favour of blogs, and commented thus:
Suppose that a great commotion arises in the street about something, let us say a lamp-post, which many influential persons desire to pull down. A grey-clad monk, who is the spirit of the Middle Ages, is approached upon the matter, and begins to say, in the arid manner of the Schoolmen, “Let us first of all consider, my brethren, the value of Light. If Light be in itself good–” At this point he is somewhat excusably knocked down. All the people make a rush for the lamp-post, the lamp-post is down in ten minutes, and they go about congratulating each other on their unmediaeval practicality. But as things go on they do not work out so easily. Some people have pulled the lamp-post down because they wanted the electric light; some because they wanted old iron; some because they wanted darkness, because their deeds were evil. Some thought it not enough of a lamp-post, some too much; some acted because they wanted to smash municipal machinery; some because they wanted to smash something. And there is war in the night, no man knowing whom he strikes. So, gradually and inevitably, to-day, to-morrow, or the next day, there comes back the conviction that the monk was right after all, and that all depends on what is the philosophy of Light. Only what we might have discussed under the gas-lamp, we now must discuss in the dark.
- Heretics (1905).
April 5, 2009
Quick story: in 1993, Jacobs et al. described the basal titanosaur Malawisaurus based on reasonably complete material from, you guessed it, Malawi. This was kind of a big deal, in that Malawisaurus was at the time the most complete sauropod from the Cretaceous of Africa, and also provided important information on titanosaur skulls. Elizabeth Gomani monographed the beast in her dissertation, and the full description was published in Palaeontologica Electronica in 2005. Both relevant papers are freely available, at least as of this writing, just click on the links above or in the refs section at the end of the post.
I first saw the Malawisaurus material back in 1998 and even CT scanned some it, thanks to the generosity of Elizabeth, Lou Jacobs, and Dale Winkler. Kent Sanders and I always planned to write up the results of the CT scans with Elizabeth, but she has gone back to Malawi and according to rumor gotten involved in the government. In any case, she is out of touch. Which leaves me in the odd position of having some pretty data collected in collaboration with someone who has left the field and is currently unreachable. I’m not ready to do a full-on description of the CT results without some kind of blessing from Elizabeth, but I have decided to stop completely suppressing the info when it might do some good. Hence the pictures of the pneumatic caudal in the new paper (Wedel 2009:fig. 2).
ANYWAY–as always I intended this post to be the soul of brevity but find myself writing a small paper–something has always bothered me about Malawisaurus and I’ve never gotten around to either pointing it out or asking those presumably in the know (i.e., Elizabeth and Lou). Here’s the deal: in the first paper, Jacobs et al. (1993:text-fig. 1) figured “No. 89-78; cervical vertebra, right lateral view” (sorry for the too-small image, it’s all I could get out of the PDF):
This vert is not figured in any of the more recent papers on Malawisaurus, including Gomani (2005). Also, it doesn’t look anything like the cervicals figured by Gomani (2005:fig. 9):
Here are some reasons why No. 89-78 can’t be Malawisaurus:
- The shapes of the neural spines vary a lot down the column in Malawisaurus, but at no point do any of them look like the tall, squared-off blade of No. 89-78. In fact, I’ve never seen this neural spine shape in any sauropod.
- The parapophyses of Malawisaurus are long, thin plates, much like those of Sauroposeidon. This is in sharp contrast to the huge and nearly circular parapophyseal stump on No. 89-78.
- Like many titanosaurs, Malawisaurus does not have big pneumatic foramina (or “pleurocoels”) on the lateral sides of the cervical centra. Instead, the centra are deeply waisted and have lots of little pneumatic foramina, again as in Sauroposeidon (hmm…I’d never given much thought to all the similarities there…). No. 89-78 doesn’t seem to have anything at all on the lateral sides of the centra, at least as drawn, which is not only in stark contrast to Malawisaurus but also to every eusauropod out there.
- The centra of the Malawisaurus cervicals are proportionally very long and dorsoventrally waisted (meaning that the bottom of the centrum is arched in lateral view). The centrum of No. 89-78 is a straight, comparatively tubby cylinder.
So if No. 89-78 ain’t Malawisaurus, what is it? Gomani (2005) also described the new taxon Karongasaurus based on some skull bits that aren’t Malawisaurus, and No. 89-78 might belong to Karongasaurus or another, as yet undescribed sauropod. But I gotta tell ya, that vert looks like nothing else I’ve ever seen. The parapophysis in particular is immense; even most Apatosaurus cervicals don’t have parapophyses that massive. Throw in the apparently apneumatic centrum and the shark-fin neural spine and you’ve got something that I’m not even 100% sure belongs to a sauropod, although if it’s not a sauropod then I don’t even know where to begin. The scale bar in the Jacobs et al. figure is 50 mm, which is 5 cm or 2 inches, so the vert is more than a foot long, which pretty much rules out a non-sauropod identity. I’m lost on this one; your ideas are welcome.
Also, where the heck is No. 89-78 now, and how come nobody has mentioned it in the past 16 years? Or has it been mentioned and I just missed it? Any help here would be hot.
- Gomani, E.M., 2005. Sauropod dinosaurs from the Early Cretaceous of Malawi, Africa. Palaeontologia Electronica 8(1) 27A:37p.
- Jacobs, L.L., Winkler, D.A., and Downs, W.R., and Gomani, E.M. 1993. New material of an Early Cretaceous titanosaurid sauropod dinosaur from Malawi. Palaeontology 36:523-534.
- Wedel, M.J. 2009. Evidence for bird-like air sacs in saurischian dinosaurs. Journal of Experimental Zoology 311A.
March 22, 2009
Isn’t this a beauty?
What is it, you ask? We will never know. A friend of mine pointed me to a forthcoming fossil auction by I. M. Chait, and as I scrolled through all the crappy ornithopod skeletons and suchlike, my eye was caught by this bone, described as a “Diplodocus dorsal bone”, from the Bone Cabin quarry in Wyoming. “The dorsal bone most likely came from close to the back of the head[?!]“.
Whatever it is, it ain’t Diplodocus: the metapophyses are too low, the intraspinal trough is not deep enough, the diapophyses are too high up, they’re laterally rather than ventrolaterally inclined, the hyposphene is way too big and too triangular, the centrum is subquadrangular rather than ovoid, the centropostzygapophyseal laminae are absent … I could go on. If you don’t believe me, here is the complete set of Dipodocus carnegii dorsals, from Hatcher (1901: plate VIII): posterior to anterior running from left to right; anterior, posterior and right lateral views from top to bottom.
Not even close.
So what actually is the for-sale vertebra? Of course there is only so much you can say from a single photograph, but it looks very much as though this is something new, as yet undescribed. Unknown to science, in fact. I say that largely because of the those bizarre dorsolaterally oriented struts which extend from the sides of the neural arch to meet and merge with the diapophyses. I don’t recall ever having seen anything like that. In general proportions, too, this vertebra is distinctly odd.
Unknown to science it is, and unknown to science it will remain — if, as seems likely, some rich idiot buys this as a trophy to sit on his cocktail bar. Hence the righeous fury alluded to in the title: so far as the wider world is concerned, so far as our understanding of Morrison Formation ecological diversity is concerned, so far as our understanding of sauropod disparity is concerned, this vertebra might just as well have stayed in the ground.
If anyone reading this blog is a rich benefactor, then just maybe this vert could be rescued: bought by someone who appreciates its scientific significance, and donated to an accredited museum, where it can be properly reposited and scientifically studied. So if any of you out there have $5000 to spare and fancy a decent chance at getting a sauropod named after you, you know what to do.
I’ve hestitated about publishing this post, because of the danger that it will become sufficiently widely known to push the price up. The last thing I want is to make more money for the fossil dealers responsible for taking this thing out of the hands of scientists. But I figured it’s worth the risk. Let’s hope I’m right.
[To be absolutely clear: I. M. Chait did not solicit me to write this, neither do they even know about it, and I am pretty sure they would not be happy about it if they did.]
- Hatcher, Jonathan Bell. 1901. Diplodocus (Marsh): its osteology, taxonomy and probable habits, with a restoration of the skeleton. Memoirs of the Carnegie Museum, 1: 1-63 and plates I-XIII.
Update (23 March 2009)
We have heard from an SV-POW! reader who is looking into buying this specimen and donating it to a museum. Which would be awesome. (I won’t mention his or her name at this stage until he or she authorises me to do so.) That being so, please no-one else try the same thing — we last thing we want is for two readers to get into a bidding war!