The Felch Quarry brachiosaur skull

May 23, 2015

A couple of months ago, Darren (the silent partner in the SV-POW! organisation) tweeted this photo …

felch-quarry-brachiosaur-skull

… describing it as “Skull of the Morrison Formation Brachiosaurus at Denver Museum of Nature & Science”.

Well.

As Darren knows well (but didn’t have have space to explain in the tweet), it’s not quite as simple as that. What follows is adapted from Taylor 2009:789.

In 1883, a large sauropod skull (81 cm in length) was found in Felch Quarry 1, Garden Park, Colorado. It was shipped to O. C. Marsh in Yale that year and an illustration of the skull was used in his second attempt at reconstructing the skeleton of Brontosaurus (Marsh, 1891: plate 16).

Marsh's second attempt at reconstructing the skeleton of Brontosaurus, based primary on the holotype YPM 1980, using a skull based on the Felch Quarry specimen. From Marsh (1891:plate XVI)

Marsh’s second attempt at reconstructing the skeleton of Brontosaurus, based primary on the holotype YPM 1980, using a skull based on the Felch Quarry specimen. From Marsh (1891:plate XVI)

And here’s that skull in close-up:

Marsh1891-plateXVI-Apatosaurus-skull-UNREVERSED

This is often described as a “Camarasaurus-type” skull, but it’s not, really. It’s too long and low, and not stupid and ugly enough, to be Camarasaurus.

As we described in a previous post, this skull was also apparently the inspiration for the horrible, horrible sculpted skull that was originally used on the mounted Brontosaurus. (And let me reiterate my praise of the Yale museum for displaying this important historic object in their gallery instead of hiding it away.)

Anyway, the Felch Quarry skull was subsequently transferred to the National Museum of Natural History, where it was accessioned as USNM 5730. McIntosh and Berman (1975:195-198) recognized that whatever the skull was, it wasn’t Brontosaurus, but chickened out a bit by describing it as being “of the general Camarasaurus type” (p. 196). But McIntosh subsequently identified the skull tentatively as Brachiosaurus (Carpenter and Tidwell, 1998:70) and it was later described by Carpenter and Tidwell (1998), who considered it intermediate between the skulls of Camarasaurus and Giraffatitan, and referred it to Brachiosaurus sp.

The skull may be that of Brachiosaurus altithorax, but this is currently impossible to test due to the lack of comparable parts. Near this skull was a 99 cm cervical vertebra, probably of Brachiosaurus, but this was destroyed during attempts to collect it (McIntosh and Berman, 1975:196). Shame there are no photos.

References

  • Carpenter, Kenneth, and Virginia Tidwell. 1998. Preliminary description of a Brachiosaurus skull from Felch Quarry 1, Garden Park, Colorado. Modern Geology 23:69-84.
  • Marsh, Othniel Charles. 1891. Restoration of Triceratops. American Journal of Science, Series 3, 41:339-342.
  • McIntosh, John S., and David S. Berman. 1975. Description of the palate and lower jaw of the sauropod dinosaur Diplodocus (Reptilia: Saurischia) with remarks on the nature of the skull of Apatosaurus. Journal of Paleontology 49:187-199.
  • Taylor, Michael P. 2009. A re-evaluation of Brachiosaurus altithorax Riggs 1903 (Dinosauria, Sauropoda) and its generic separation from Giraffatitan brancai (Janensch 1914). Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 29(3):787-806.
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5 Responses to “The Felch Quarry brachiosaur skull”

  1. DK Fennell Says:

    I always suspected Naish of hiding things from us!

  2. Ben Says:

    So what’s a USNM specimen doing in Denver? If that’s a cast, it’s a very intricately painted one!

  3. Allen Hazen Says:

    Just to make sure I understand what’s going on here… The third illustration — the enlargement from G.D. Swamp’s skeletal reconstruction — shows what was actually preserved of the Felch Quarry skull? And the parts of the skull in the photo at the top that aren’t in this drawing are reconstruction?

    … The “orbit” — the space between the various arches that surround the eye — is HUGE. Are there any specimens preserving… is “scleral ring” the right term? … the ring of small bony plates that surround the eye in many sauropsids, or any other evidence as to just how big the actual eyes of sauropods were?

  4. Vahe demirjian Says:

    In the poster for the SVP abstract regarding Camarasaurus by Tschopp et al. (2014) (see http://lusodinos.blogspot.com/2014/11/quantos-camarasaurus-existem.html), USNM 5730 is recovered as sister to Camarasaurus annae as well as AMNH 467 in a cladistic analysis of Camarasaurus species. Is it possible that if USNM 5730 is the same animal as C. annae and AMNH 467, then C. annae is a macronarian intermediate between Camarasaurus and Brachiosaurus?


  5. […] At SVPOW!, Mike talks about “mega-journals” and their limits, and of possible Brachiosaurid skull remains. The first post mentioned is very interesting and I suggest you go read it here! The second post is just as interesting and can be found here. […]


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