The Mathew J. Wedel Memorial Tripod

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”.

Carl replied:

Thanks so much for the tripod – I KNOW it will come in handy!

My response:

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.

Carl’s reply:

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!

15 Responses to “The Mathew J. Wedel Memorial Tripod”

  1. ech Says:

    And of course Mathew J. Wedel owns all copyright to any images taken of the tripod.

  2. Mark Robinson Says:

    I presume that to be correctly named “The Mathew J. Wedel Memorial Tripod”, Matt has made arrangements for his passing – hopefully something fitting such as being crushed by a falling Brachiosaurus dorsal. Mike, if you’re going to be there at the time, could you please take some photos, preferably with a proper tripod?

    Alternatively, it could be named “The Mathew J. Wedel Visit Memorial Tripod” and thus avoid the possibility of damaging any sauropod vertebrae.

  3. Steve P Says:

    AMNH 675 – designated as *Brontosaurus* sp. by Osborn (1904), made the type of *Apatosaurus minimus* by Mook (1917). Needed literature and was helped by the fact that you said you were at the AMNH…

    Mook, C.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, H.F., 1904. Manus, sacrum, and caudals of Sauropoda. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 20, 181-190.

  4. Mike Taylor Says:

    “I presume that to be correctly named “The Mathew J. Wedel Memorial Tripod”, Matt has made arrangements for his passing.”

    No, we’re just planning ahead.

  5. Mike Taylor Says:

    Excellent work, Steve P — it is indeed “Apatosaurusminimus AMNH 675.

    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, 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, 53–69. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Upchurch, Paul, Paul M Barrett, and Peter Dodson. 2004. “Sauropoda.” In The Dinosauria, 2nd Edition, 259–322. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

  6. chris y Says:

    But what actually is it? Well, at the moment, no-one knows.

    If you conclude that it definitely can’t be assigned to any named genus, does it get to be Brontosaurus again?

  7. Mike Taylor Says:

    chris y asks:

    If you conclude that it definitely can’t be assigned to any named genus, does it get to be Brontosaurus again?

    Nice idea, but no — it doesn’t work that way. The type species of the genus Brontosaurus is B. excelsus, and that name is forever tied to its type specimen, YPM 1980 (the mounted skeleton in the public gallery at the Yale Peabody Museum). So the only way we can ever get the name Brontosaurus back is if someone shows that this animal is not, after all, congeneric with the Apatosaurus ajax holotype YPM 1860. (Insert standard disclaimer about how genera aren’t real and the congeneric status of any given pair of species is to some degree in the eye of the beholder.)

  8. […] 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 […]

  9. […] bad name. It struggles to hold a point-and-shoot digital camera steady, let alone a telescope, so I donated it to a museum. But the eyepieces are serviceable, the carry bag is fine, and the telescope itself is […]

  10. […] a tripod (not included, nor would you want any tripod they could include at this price point–trust me) and use it handheld. This is surprisingly effective, and London and I have taken to carrying his […]

  11. […] tripod is wretched, and struggles to hold a small point-and-shoot digital camera stably, let alone a […]

  12. […] It’s Matt’s birthday today. I’d like to dedicate a sauropod to him, but I don’t have the authority to do that. So instead, I dedicate this blog-post to him, and declare it the Mathew J. Wedel Memorial Blog Post. […]

  13. […] in 2012, when Matt and I were at the American Museum of Natural History to work on “Apatosaurus” minimus, we also photographed some other sacra for […]

  14. […] I want to be clear that everyone we dealt with at the AMNH was as helpful as they could be. No-one that we met there was in any way obstructive. Yet the fact remains, the crucially important […]

  15. […] in February 2009, when we were mostly there to look at “Apatosarus” minimus (and then again in 2012). As soon as our eyes lit on it, we couldn’t help but be captivated by its bizarre biconcave […]

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