The Archbishop … restored!

October 15, 2010

This post is nearly three weeks late — it’s based on a piece of artwork that appeared on 25 September, and which I wanted to write about immediately.  But it got washed away in the flood of camel necks (which by the way is not over yet), and then in the festival of articular cartilage, then by the whole “Amphicoelias brontodiplodocus” thing and the subsequent discussion of amateurs in palaeo, and then by what was already an overdue announcement of my sauropod history paper and the attendant copyright nonsense.  So it’s been a stupidly busy time here at SV-POW! Towers, but now the air has cleared a little, and it’s time to look at this beauty:


Life restoration of NHM R5937 "The Archbishop" (Brachiosauridae incertae sedis), by Nima.


This would be a beautiful piece of art by any standards — the world can always use brachiosaur art! — but what makes this extra special for me is that it is the first ever life restoration of my very own brachiosaur, BHM R5937, the Tendaguru specimen known as The Archbishop.  It’s by SV-POW! regular Nima, and I am absolutely delighted to see it.  It’s very Greg Paul-like, and I mean that in the most positive sense.  (I may not be a fan of Greg’s taxonomic vicissitudes, but his art is just beautiful.)

Over on his blog, Nima has described in detail how he created this piece, and shows four progressively refined versions (of which the one above is the last) — I urge you to check it out if you’re interested in art, brachiosaurs or both.

Nima’s blog-post also includes a brief history of the Archbishop, mostly taken from my 2005 SVPCA talk.  It’s a good summary, but I do have a few comments to make.  (I typed a lot of this in as a comment to the original post, but Blogger ate my comments as usual.)

  • The specimen is not known as M23, and has never been — that is in fact the designation of the Tendaguru quarry from which is was excavated.  Paul (1988) mistakenly conflated the quarry name with a specimen number, and referred to this specimen as BMNH M23, and Glut’s (1977) encyclopaedia perpetuated the error, but it’s always been R5937.
  • “The giant Brachiosaurus finds of the Germans” are now, of course, Giraffatitan.
  • “Controversy lingered” — well, no, not really.  The problem was worse than that: no-one paid a blind bit of notice to the specimen before 2004.
  • “It turns out the double spine claim was totally bogus and unscientific” — well, we don’t really know that yet.  It’s certainly true that none of the prepared vertebrae (five cervicals, two complete dorsals and an additional dorsal spine) have bifid spines; but Migeod reported these from the anterior dorsals, and it’s not clear that we have those.  A fair bit of material remains in jackets, and more has probably been lost or destroyed.  So it is possible, if unlikely, that one day we’ll open one of those jackets and find good evidence for bifid spines.
  • “Close-up of the Archbishop vertebrae (doesn’t look much like the mitre of an archbishop to me, but who knows” — well, the name The Archbishop is not based on any resemblance of the bones to a mitre.  (Nor is it based on anything else.  It’s completely arbitrary.)

Last 0f all, what about the actual picture?  Well, the long, thin, snakelike neck is beautiful art, but I don’t think it’s great science.  The height of the cervicals that we have for this animal show that the neck would have had to be quite a bit dorsoventrally taller than shown here.  And because there were only 13 cervical vertebrae — 12 if you omit the atlas, which is really a whole nother kettle of badgers, a neck bent into a strongly sigmoid pose like this would exhibit noticable kinks at some of the intervertebral joints — as you can see in giraffes when they twist their necks.

That aside, though, this is great.  Again, I am really delighted that it’s out there.  Congratulations to Nima!

25 Responses to “The Archbishop … restored!”

  1. Rob Taylor Says:

    SVP’s roommate matching service had Nima and me paired up at the annual meeting earlier this week. I have a hunch that many more examples of his sauropodoriffic artwork will be cropping up in the near future!

  2. Nima Says:

    Yeah, the SVP was pretty exciting and jam-packed with information. Rob is a good friend and I’m glad I was able to make it.

    As for the original post… thanks for the compliments Mike… and the critiques. I was aiming to illustrate the Archbishop in detail before anyone else did, and it’s one of my favorite dinosaurs… I’m actually a bit surprised nobody else has drawn it yet. Actually there’s a fair bit that I suppose needs to be clarified about what I intended with this piece, but overall I agree with most points.

    * Regarding the “M23” label – I was not aware that M23 was never the name of the Archbishop holotype. So I stand corrected there – though it seems I’m in pretty prominent company ;)

    * As for Giraffatitan… yes I have finally accepted the validity of Giraffatitan as its own genus… it’s about as different from Brachiosaurus altithorax as the Archbishop is, and I’m certainly not in favor of lumping the Archbishop into Brachiosaurus or any other existing genus name. I used “Brachiosaurus” here in a historical context sense, i.e. that back in Migeod’s time, the Giraffatitan remains were labeled as Brachiosaurus.

    * Ok you got me on the controversy bit. Its true, the specimen didn’t get much attention.

    * Bifid spines… well you may well be right but so far bifid spines are the exception rather than the norm in brachiosaurs. And they are unknown in Jurassic brachiosaurs. So I’ll be anticipating what comes out of the plaster jackets next… though even if there are bifid neural spines, they probably won’t look anything like the ones on Dicraeosaurus.

    * The mitre was my best (albeit improbable) guess… being in the US and not too familiar with England, I also wondered if “Archbishop” might be a reference to Canterbury as well. Though this was only another wild guess, not an assertion of any sort.

    * The neck… from what I’ve seen of the pictures, the neck’s neural spines are typical for a brachiosaur, so overall the neck is not super-thin like a Barosaurus neck, but it wasn’t extremely deep on the level of Futalognkosaurus or Isisaurus either. My illustration is actually of a subadult Archbishop, not the exact same individual Archbishop that’s in the British Museum (most of the other dinosaurs in the picture are not “maximum mature sized” either). My guess was that younger brachiosaurs had less pronounced neural spines and perhaps a thinner build overall. With HMN SII, which is not quite fully grown, the neck as it’s been re-mounted is a lot slimmer than the previous version, and the neural spines of brachiosaurs in general are not extremely high relative to centrum length (though undoubtedly higher than in truly thin-necked sauropods like Mamenchisaurus).

    The real tricky part here was making the neck longer than in Giraffatitan, but not too thin relative to the chest and torso.

    The posture of the neck isn’t something I consider all that problematic… I’m in favor of slightly s-curved necks in brachiosaurs, a bit like what Greg Paul was producing before 1995 (I’m not so sure about his new model with the extremely deep nuchal tendons, and with his taxonomic ideas I was a bit shocked upon buying his new book…it seems he’s out-Hornered Horner – but yes I admire his art too).

    Admittedly the s-curve is stronger than normal here, but my intention was to show the curve at its extreme, with a snapshot of an animal thrashing in agony. Perhaps the ontogeny of subadult brachiosaurs allowed for this, perhaps not.

    I’m honored to have this image and a good commentary on it at SV-POW. The Archbishop was definitely on my list of sauropods to illustrate for a long time, and this was a fun (if somewhat scary) scene to draw. I took a print of it (and some of my other works) to SVP and this was far and away everyone’s favorite among them. Thanks again for the review! I’ll be putting up more sauropod restorations (including more “live scale diagrams” like my Puertasaurus one) soon, so everyone keep watching:

  3. Mike Taylor Says:

    Thanks, Nima.

    On bifid spines: I surely think it’s much more likely that Migeod was mistaken in his interpretation than that the Archbishop really did have bifid anterior dorsals. But branding the idea “totally bogus and unscientific” is not justified until we’ve actually seen the material; and no-one alive today has. Here’s what Migeod (1931:93) actually said on the subject:

    With regard to the neural spines: the anterior dorsal vertebrae apparently had their neural spines in two parts, which led me at first to the opinion that this dinosaur was a Dicraeosaurus. This view proved on further excavation to be untenable, and indeed the bifurcate spines were similar to neither species of Dicraeosaurus found at Tendaguru by the Germans. Owing to the skeleton being on its right side the spines were pressed together, and only in the case of one dorsal, No. 4, and doubtfully D3, could it be seen, as they lay in the ground, rhat the bifurcate spines stood in the living animal side by side. D5, for instance, had two knob-ended spines lying side by side and in the fore-and-aft line. These might have been displaced. Ends of all the anterior spines were knob-like rather than of an oval section, while those from about D10, the sacral ones, and those of the tail were as usual flattened. D10 first indicated a distinctly circular section. There are more of these flattened spines than would furnish one for each centrum, and their allocation requires further study of the material. Already in D10 the length of the neural spines was considerable. From Nos. 5 to 1 all the neural spines and processes are inclined forward, indicating a rise of the anterior part of the body. Of the two neural spines of D4, which lay in the ground one over the other, and so were in their correct position, the upper one, i.e. the left, connected with D5 and the under one with D3.

    As you can see this, is actually pretty careful and equivocal, if not actually confused. My best guess is that the second “spine” that Migeod saw on D4 was the right lateral process, crushed upwards. But the point is, that is a guess.

    No, based on what we know of it, the cervical skeleton of the Archbishop will not fit inside the neck as portrayed. Though it certainly wasn’t deep like Isisaurus or Apatosaurus, no. Sauropod cervicals actually become proportionally more elongate through ontogeny, so a subadult would have a proportionally shorter, thicker neck than an adult, not a slimmer one. It’s a shame because as art I love what you’ve done with the neck; but as science, I’m afraid it won’t stand.

    I didn’t mean that I found the neck posture per se unbelievable: as you know, I think sauropod necks were more flexible than they have been portrayed in the last decade or two. But if that post was adopted (and if the neck was anywhere near as thin as you’ve made it), then given the significant cranking at individual intervertebral joints, you wouldn’t see a smooth curve like what you’ve drawn here — you’d see distinct break points in the neck profile, as in this excellent giraffe photo.

    Anyway, none of that should detract from enjoyment of this beautiful piece of art.

  4. Nima Says:

    That giraffe neck is pretty kinked indeed….

    I suppose that the Archbishop neck should have a bit of that going on, but I imagine having 12 or 13 vertebrae instead of a giraffe’s seven, would reduce the “bent” appearance of the joints quite a bit, though I can see how it would still be present. Greg Paul’s original Giraffatitan skeletal, which has a less extreme s-curve than this, had a bit of that “kinked” look to the ventral surface of the neck too.

  5. Brad McFeeters Says:

    Does the “V” stripe pattern on the neck indicate the estimated size of individual vertebrae? That’s a rather clever way to add extra information to a life restoration like this.

  6. Nima Says:

    Wow that’s a good point Brad… that would indeed be clever. That’s actually not how I did it, and the stripes don’t actually line up perfectly with the neck joints (nor did I intend them to) but that’s a very ironic coincidence that I didn’t notice.

    If they did line up with the neck joints, the posterior stripes would be less widely spaced than they are, and the anterior ones would be a bit more spaced (except at the very top). The fact that there are the right number of them for that may throw some people off about vertebra length, but they do NOT in any way mark the vertebra boundaries (though a few of the anterior ones are admittedly close to the likely boundaries).

    Skin patterns are usually independent of skeletal structure. This was the same basic pattern I used for the Archbishop in my brachiosaur parade, so I used it again here (with some modifications on the head).

  7. Taylor Duane Reints Says:

    The Archbishop restoration is amazing, similar to the designs Luis Rey uses. :)

  8. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Bora Zivkovic, Chris Rowan. Chris Rowan said: The Archbishop … restored! […]

  9. […] The Archbishop … restored! and The “Archbishop” returns, in the first detailed restoration EVER! […]

  10. Won’t someone think of the theropods?! ;)

    If that kink-snouted, crested taxon on the Archbishop’s back is supposed to be Elaphrosaurus, someone’s been reading too much PDW and too little of anything written since then that shows it was a ceratosaur instead of a coelophysoid.

  11. Tor Bertin Says:

    Have you guys seen Brian Engh’s Sauroposeidon restoration?

    Around 1:27-ish. Pretty glorious.

    (that said, digging The Archbishop ;-) )

  12. Mike Taylor Says:

    Holy poop! Brian, if you’re reading this, I love what you’ve done with Sauroposeidon, and I can only wonder why no-one (as far as I know) has ever done it before. Do you have a nice scan that we can link to?

  13. Nima Says:

    LOL that’s one truly scary Sauroposeidon – not something I ever expected to see on a sauropod – but an amazing concept, that’s for sure ;) It’s pretty much an open field as to what sort of fleshy structures dinosaurs had. For all we know, sauropods could have had fleshy whiskers like some kind of dragon… now there’s a novel use for those troublesome snout foramina! Though I don’t deem a waterfall of wattles within the realm of plausibility.

    As for Mickey’s comment about “too much PDW” – the honest (though hilarious) truth is that I haven’t actually had access to a copy of PDW for a whole decade! (blast it, now I suddenly feel an impulse to buy one from Amazon marketplace… grrr….)

    My Elaphrosaurus is largely based on actual photos and existing skeletals of the mounted specimen, except for the missing head of course (I don’t agree with the HMN’s robust interpretation of its shape). From what I remember of PDW, the Elaphrosaurus in there had heavy plumage, which I don’t think is very likely. I don’t even remember what the head looked like in PDW, but I’m well aware that Elaphrosaurus was a ceratosaur, not a coelophysoid (though its anatomy did converge on coelophysoids in some ways so I understand the temptation to give it a similar head). Still, coelophysoids were not the only theropods with crests or a notch in the upper jaw. And I intended a single speculative crest, not paired Dilophosaurus-type crests.

  14. Tor Bertin Says:

    Sent him an email Mike.

    And yeah, it does seem a bit over the top, though as mandrills will show us, nature is entirely okay with that. ;-)

  15. brian engh Says:

    Hey thanks for posting my gallery vid up here Tor.

    Sorry I haven’t gotten many of the pics from my last few months work up on the web yet – I’ve been killer busy with several other projects. But yeah, I ran my rough sketches by Matt about a year ago, and recently sent him the finished illustration you see in the video. We’re planning on putting a post up explaining some of the thought that went into the reconstruction as soon as we both get less busy. For now I’ll just leave you with a few images that inspired me:

    oh and since we’re bringing weirdo baboons into the discussion I’d like to nominate geladas as the all-time champions of bizzare soft-tissue displays among non-human primates:

  16. Jamie Stearns Says:

    Regarding Elaphrosaurus, the lack of a head would generally require extraploation from its closest relative that has the skull preserved.

    In this case, Limusaurus is the closest relative available, beign the sister taxon to Elaphrosaurus. This, however, results in a dramatic reinterpretation of Elaphrosaurus. Is it possible we may have an omnivore/herbivore instead of a classic carnivore in the Tendaguru?

    For that matter, there’s the solution this may provide to the “Stromer’s Lost Dinosaurs” controversy. If Deltadromeus/Bahariasaurus was a giant Limusaurus-like creature, that would eliminate it from being a competitor for large prey, and with Spinosaurus working quite well as a piscivore-scavenger, Carcharodontosaurus is the only true big-game hunter remaining and the niches are separated quite nicely.

    But I’m getting waaaaaaaaaay ahead of myself, and would never claim the latter was true unless further Saharan remains backed it up. Plus, the cladistic position of Deltadromeus is not well-resolved, unlike the Limusaurus-Elaphrosaurus clade is (or so I’ve heard).

    Great, now the Inquisition is coming for me after posting too much about theropods here.

  17. Mike Taylor Says:

    Not to worry, Jamie: here at SV-POW! towers, Theropoda is our second favourite saurischian suborder!

  18. Nima Says:

    The real inquisition to watch out for, Jamie, is the opposition to giving Elaphrosaurus a toothless beak like Limusaurus. ^_^ And as Grand Inquisitor I just don’t see it happening. It’s heresy I tell you!

    Well ‘heresy’ did bring us warm-blooded dinosaurs… but I’d pause before making Elaphrosaurus look like a Jurassic chicken. I still think a toothed version was more likely.

  19. Jamie Stearns Says:

    Hey, I’m not trying to push anything ridiculous here. If its closest relative had a toothless beak, why assume it had teeth? True, it could be an autapomorphy of Limusaurus, but the two are literally right next to each other in terms of phylogenetics and lived within about 10 Ma of each other, which suggests there wasn’t a lot of divergence time. Teeth aren’t exactly lost overnight, as therizinosaurs show.

    Sorry to offend, if I have.

  20. brian engh Says:

    I don’t know if elaphrosaurus is more or less derived than limusaurus (although judging by its size and arm structure I’m going to guess less derived?) but if it is a more basal form it might be interesting to see a reconstruction of elaphrosaurus with something between a mouth full of teeth and a toothless beak. Something like what we see in certain therizinosaurs and oviraptorids…

    We’re speculating anyway after all…

  21. Nima Says:

    That’s true Brian… it could have both teeth and a proto-beak…. I suppose there’s no 100% correct way to restore Elaphrosaurus, though your idea sounds like a pretty plausible one.

    The difficult-to-swallow part is that since we all got used to thinking of Elaphrosaurus as the deadliest small predator in Jurassic Africa, it’s pretty hard to internalize the notion of a toothless version… yet the similarity to Limusaurus complicates things in that regard. This drawing is maturing into “vintage” faster than anything I’ve seen before :0

  22. brian engh Says:

    Yeah man i know how it goes. Sometimes it’s really hard to let go of old characterizations of various extinct monsters as new science sheds more light on how they lived. Ultimately it seems like no matter how much research you put into a piece some new discovery inevitably comes along that makes part of it scientifically inaccurate… Which is probably a good thing.

    For what its worth, your illustration is badass and it communicates the really important thing: Dinosaurs were awesome. We don’t know every detail of how they were awesome but if they are anything like animals living today their lives were at least as dramatic and rife with struggle as your illustration depicts, even if in totally different and unexpected ways.

    Even the grossly scientifically inaccurate dinosaur illustrations of the early 20th century fascinated and inspired people to investigate and explore natural history further.

  23. Jamie Stearns Says:

    Yes, I think we can all agree that dinosaurs (and all prehistoric creatures) were awesome. And for what it’s worth, so is the drawing. The sense of “that brachiosaur is so doomed and yet its still putting up a teriffic fight” is conveyed well.

  24. Nima Says:

    Thanks! That’s exactly what I was going for. The fierce struggle against a pyrrhic and inevitable end… The beauty and darkness of the epic moment all at once. This looks even better in a tinted version:
    Tragedy of the Archbishop

  25. Peter Adlam Says:

    The neck is too bendy

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