Gilmore’s adventures with diplodocine caudals

June 21, 2008

One of our great palaeontological heroes (well, one of mine anyway) is Charles Whitney Gilmore (1874-1945), former curator of the Division of Vertebrate Paleontology at the United States National Museum (USNM), successful monographer of stegosaurs, ornithopods and theropods, and prolific describer of ceratopsians, crocodilians, ichthyosaurs… and sauropods. But like oh so many late great palaeontologists, I previously had no idea what he looked like and had never seen a photo of him. Well, here he is and, to boot, he’s posing with some sauropod vertebrae: specifically, caudals of Diplodocus.

Gilmore named one of the best known of titanosaurs, Alamosaurus, in 1922, and in 1932 described a Diplodocus specimen collected from Uinta County, Utah, in 1924 and mounted in the USNM eight years later (it is specimen USNM 10865). After comparing the four Diplodocus species (D. longus Marsh, 1878, D. lacustris Marsh, 1884, D. carnegii Hatcher, 1901 and D. hayi Holland, 1924) Gilmore (1932) concluded that USNM 10865 couldn’t be referred to any one ‘until there has been a thorough revision of the genus’ (p. 7). You might recall that we looked at Diplodocus caudal vertebrae quite recently, and on that occasion the vertebrae belonged to D. carnegii. If you compare the D. carnegii caudals with the USNM 10865 vertebrae shown in the photo above, you’ll note that the neural spines of the CM 84 D. carnegii specimen appear more posteriorly inclined than do those on USNM 10865.

As Gilmore explained, D. carnegii has more inclined neural spines than D. longus, so perhaps USNM 10865 is a D. longus (you can clearly see the different neural spine orientations depicted in Scott Hartman’s skeletal reconstructions of D. carnegii and D. longus in Lovelace et al.’s (2007) recent Supersaurus paper, shown below: click to enlarge. Image copyright Scott Hartman). However, Gilmore also noted that some of the USNM neural spines are posteriorly inclined, and as much as are those of D. carnegii. He ended up labelling the specimen D. longus, and this is what it remains today, but further study is needed…. in fact, we probably need a good, specimen-level analysis of the different alleged Diplodocus species. Upchurch et al. (2004) recently did exactly this with Apatosaurus.

Anyway, the photo used above comes from here on Shorpy, the ‘100-year-old photo blog’, and thanks to both George Hammond and Jacob Kesinger for bringing it to our attention – it’s a nice one to have added to the site. Palaeo-mammal fans might note the panel-mounted Phenacodus on the wall.


  • Gilmore, C. W. 1932. On a newly mounted skeleton of Diplodocus in the United States National Museum. Proceedings of the United States National Museum 81, 1-21.
  • Lovelace, D. M., Hartman, S. A. & Wahl, W. R. 2007. Morphology of a specimen of Supersaurus (Dinosauria, Sauropoda) from the Morrison Formation of Wyoming, and a re-evaluation of diplodocid phylogeny. Arquivos do Museu Nacional, Rio de Janeiro 65, 527-544.
  • Upchurch, P., Tomida, Y. & Barrett, P. M. 2004. A new specimen of Apatosaurus ajax (Sauropoda: Diplodocidae) from the Morrison Formation (Upper Jurassic) of Wyoming, USA. National Science Museum Monographs 26, 1-108.

11 Responses to “Gilmore’s adventures with diplodocine caudals”

  1. Zach Miller Says:

    Dude looks like he sleeps in a coffin. ;-)

  2. Allen Hazen Says:

    So, is the original of that photo much higher resolution and less cropped? Or are you just fantastically good at recognizing roadkill Phenacodus?

  3. Darren Naish Says:

    Allen: what you see here is all that’s available so, yes, I am fantastically good at recognizing roadkill Phenacodus. But, actually, that particular skeleton (figured by Cope in 1883 and by hundreds of others since) is in a very distinctive pose and easy to recognise: use google image and you’ll see what I mean.

    Zach: no comment.

  4. Beth Southwell Says:

    We will have a poster at the Cleveland SVP about Gilmore’s early years…with photos of him with a lot more hair. Check it out.

  5. Mike Taylor Says:

    Hey, Beth, good to hear from you. I won’t be at SVP this year (they rejected my talk last year and the year before so I didn’t even bother submitting this time; I’ll wait for next year’s meeting in the UK) but I’d like to see your poster and I guess many other SV-POW! readers would, too. If you’d like to send us a PDF or PPT when it’s appropriate, we’ll be happy to host it and/or link to it.

  6. […] on the caudals are quite short and posteriorly inclined (this is also something we’ve covered before). But, whatever, it’s pretty isn’t it? Matt took the photo. Posted by eotyrannus […]

  7. […] blows my damn mind that a century ago people like Charles Whitney Gilmore and John Bell Hatcher could measure a dinosaur to within an inch of its life, and publish all of […]

  8. charlie Says:

    I’m Charles’ great grandson. Grew up admiring his sculptures and photos as a kid at my grandmother’s house. Would love to learn more about his work…maybe I can fill in some blanks for you about the man.


  9. […] from definitively assigning USNM 10865 to a particular species of Diplodocus, since at the time (and to this day, apparently) the differences among the named species of this genus were […]

  10. Maralia Says:

    Charlie, if you should happen to see this, I am researching your great-grandfather and would love to hear from you.

  11. mike bessler Says:

    i am C W Gilmores great grand son also (charlies cousin)
    I have some of his journals/pictures/models, that I got from my mom. Get in touch with me if you want maybe i can help

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