Where the hell are my superpowers?
March 29, 2009
As Matt frequently reminds me, it’s now nearly five years since I started to work on “The Archbishop”, more formally known as BMNH R5973, the Natural History Museum’s long-neglected Tendaguru brachiosaur. This is, or at least once was, one of the most complete brachiosaurid specimens ever discovered — although quite a bit of the material has gone missing or remains unprepared. It’s true that I owe the world a proper description, especially since I spoke about the specimen as long ago as the 2005 SVPCA (Symposium of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy) and have been sitting on it ever since. So: you have my apologies, along with a promise to get into gear RSN.
But what I want to know is this: since this specimen is radioactive, and I’ve been working with it for five years now, surely according to all the rules of literature, I should by now have developed brachiosaurid superpowers? At the very least, the ability to have a neck way long compared with my body:
Better still would be the ability to crush my enemies to dust beneath my Mighty Forefeet of Justice. And yet, so far, nothing. It doesn’t seem fair somehow.
Since we’re talking about the Archbishop, let’s take a look at Cervical U, the best preserved of the five cervicals that are available for study:
When it was found in 1930, in an expedition to Tendaguru, Tanzania, led by F. W. H. Migeod, the Archbishop consisted of an articulated vertebral column all the way from cervical 5 through to caudal 8 or so — by far the best vertebral sequence of any brachiosaur — along with cervical and dorsal ribs, a scapula, both humeri, pelvic elements and a partial femur. At least, if you believe Migeod; but the material that made it back to London, survived the Second World War and has been prepared is a fraction of that: five cervicals in various states of repair, some cervical ribs, two excellent dorsals (featured previously, though not in a big way), two further dorsal centra and a dorsal neural spine, an indeterminate long-bone fragment and a smushed proximal pubis. Migeod measurements make it seem unlikely that all the material really belongs to a single animal — for example, the humeri seem much too short — but the articulation of the vertebrae makes their associated pretty rock solid. And that is plenty enough to make this an awesome specimen.
Here is Migeod’s quarry map:
I don’t want to say too much more about the Archbishop for fear of stealing my own thunder, but it’s no secret that I don’t think it’s Brachiosaurus brancai. For those who want to know more, the slides from my 2005 SVPCA talk are available. Enjoy!
- Migeod, F. W. H. 1931. British Museum East Africa Expedition: Account of the work done in 1930. Natural History Magazine 3(19): 87-103.
- Taylor, Michael P. 2005. Sweet seventy-five and never been kissed: the Natural History Museum’s Tendaguru brachiosaur. p. 25 in Paul M. Barrett (ed.), Abstracts volume for 53rd Symposium of Vertebrae Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy, The Natural History Museum, London, 7th-9th September 2005. 41 pp.