In praise of Jack McIntosh

December 14, 2015

A short one today, and a sad one.

I heard last night on Twitter that Jack McIntosh has died at the age of 92. It would be hard to overstate what an inspiration he’s been to me. As a professional in a non-palaeo field who went on to do crucial work in sauropod palaeontology, he blazed a trail that I have tried in my small way to follow. I think it’s true to say that, without his example, I would never have got into palaeo research — never even considered it a possibility.

Jack McIntosh, still going strong at a conference late in life. Picture from this tweet by ReBecca Hunt-Foster.

Jack McIntosh, still going strong at a conference late in life. Picture from this tweet by ReBecca Hunt-Foster. Hans-Dieter Sues for scale.

Others have written more about McIntosh’s crucial work — for example, determining the correct skull skull for Apatosaurus (McIntosh and Berman 1975), his careful historical work in collections (McIntosh 1981), his detailed monographic descriptions (e.g. McIntosh et al. 1996) and most recently his re-evaluation of Barosaurus (McIntosh 2005). When I made my own start in palaeo, around 2000, his chapter in The Dinosauria (McIntosh 1990) was the definitive overview of the sauropods.

Perhaps the best overview of his life and work is the interview that Jeff Wilson and Kristi Curry Rogers conducted with him for the afterword of the volume that they edited in his honour in 2005 (Wilson and Curry Rogers 2005). It’s well worth reading.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA --- Leading sauropod expert Jack McIntosh beneath Apatosaurus Louisae at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, a forty-ton vegetarian named after Andrew Carnegie's wife, which is over seventy-seven feet (over 23 meters) long and is the longest mounted dinosaur in the world. --- Image by © Louie Psihoyos/Corbis

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA — Leading sauropod expert Jack McIntosh beneath Apatosaurus Louisae at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, a forty-ton vegetarian named after Andrew Carnegie’s wife, which is over seventy-seven feet (over 23 meters) long and is the longest mounted dinosaur in the world. — Image by © Louie Psihoyos/Corbis

I’ll close with my own brief experience of meeting Jack, a privilege that I had only once. It was the 2007 SVP meeting in Austin, Texas. I somehow got invited to a sauropod workers’ lunch one day. By careful manoeuvring, I managed to sit myself next to Jack. At that stage I had two very minor papers to my name — the 2005 note on the phylogenetic taxonomy of diplodocoids and the 2006 Mesozoic Terrestrial Ecosystems short-paper on dinosaur diversity. In short, I was a nobody.

But Jack was fascinated by what I was working on. At that time, the Xenoposeidon paper was in press — no-one had seen it but Darren (my co-author), the handling editor and three peer-reviewers. I sketched the holotype dorsal vertebra — literally on a napkin, if I remember rightly — and explained all the unique features. At this point, Jack was 84 years old and could certainly have been forgiven for just wanting to have his lunch in peace, but he was deeply interested. Even at the time I was aware of the honour of showing this work to a man who’d been at the forefront of my field for four decades.

I don’t remember whether we discussed it at the time, but I’d spent the previous week, with Matt, Randy Irmis and Sarah Werning, in the collections at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, working on the remains of a sauropod from the Hotel Mesa quarry in the Cedar Mountain Formation. When the paper finally came out four years later (Taylor, Wedel and Cifelli 2007), we named the new dinosaur Brontomerus mcintoshi in Jack’s honour. Very nearly but not quite a year earlier, Chure et al. (2010) had beat us to the punch by naming their brachiosaurid Abydosaurus mcintoshi after him.

To the best of my knowledge, that makes Jack the only person in history to have had two sauropods named after him in a year. A fitting tribute indeed.

Update 1 (16 December)

Ken Carpenter writes: “Mike, Here is the electronic card I made for McIntosh’s 90th birthday. I’d like to have posted at SVPoW.”

For Jack

Update 2 (16 December)

Jeff Wilson has written a piece that goes into much more detail about McIntosh’s scientific achievements. Well worth a read.

References

  • Chure, Daniel, Brooks B. Britt, John A. Whitlock and Jeffrey A. Wilson. 2010. First complete sauropod dinosaur skull from the Cretaceous of the Americas and the evolution of sauropod dentition. Naturwissenschaften 97(4):379-91. doi:10.1007/s00114-010-0650-6
  • McIntosh, John S. 1981. Annotated catalogue of the dinosaurs (Reptilia, Archosauria) in the collections of Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Bulletin of the Carnegie Museum 18:1-67.
  • McIntosh, John S. 2005. The Genus Barosaurus Marsh (Sauropoda, Diplodocidae). pp. 38-77 in Virginia Tidwell and Ken Carpenter (eds.), Thunder Lizards: the Sauropodomorph Dinosaurs. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Indiana. 495 pp.
  • McIntosh, John S. 1990. Sauropoda. pp. 345-401 in: D. B. Weishampel, P. Dodson and H. Osmólska (eds.), The Dinosauria. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles.
  • 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(1):187-199.
  • McIntosh, John S., Wade E. Miller, Kenneth L. Stadtman and David D. Gillette. 1996. The osteology of Camarasaurus lewisi (Jensen, 1988). BYU Geolgy Studies 41:73-115.
  • Taylor, Michael P., Mathew J. Wedel and Richard L. Cifelli. 2011. A new sauropod dinosaur from the Lower Cretaceous Cedar Mountain Formation, Utah, USA. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 56(1):75-98. doi: 10.4202/app.2010.0073
  • Wilson, Jeffrey A., and Kristina A. Curry Rogers. 2005. A conversation with Jack McIntosh. pp. 327-333 in: Kristina A. Curry Rogers and Jeffrey A. Wilson (eds.), The Sauropods: Evolution and Paleobiology, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles and London. 349 pages.
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17 Responses to “In praise of Jack McIntosh”

  1. Kenneth Carpenter Says:

    It has been my great pleasure to have known Jack for my entire career, having first met him at the 1975 SVP at the University of Colorado. I was at that time a lowly first year Freshman, yet had already heard of the great man through his work (with Berman) on the palate of Diplodocus published earlier than year. It was not until years latter, at the Laramie SVP that I had my first conversation with him and he regaled me with stories of Barnum Brown, whom he knew, as well as others at the American Museum.

    I stayed with him for a few days in the late 1990s (I heard many stories) and saw his as yet unpublished monograph on Barosaurus. It had already been reviewed and was supposed to be published years earlier as a Bulletin of the Carnegie Museum. He was unhappy, however, with the figures and wanted to re-photograph some of the vertebrae at the American Museum, but felt that he was getting to old to move the big bones around. Years latter I prevailed upon him to submit the manuscript to the book on sauropods that Tidwell and I were pulling together. I said I would work on the figures digitally and run the results by him. He agreed and sent me the original black and white photos to work from. He was pleased with the proofs and gave go ahead to publish the paper as a chapter in the book. That is the story how I snagged Jack’s work on Barosaurus for “Thunder Lizards.”

    Jack is a giant upon whose shoulder I and many others have stood upon. If we have seen farther, it is because of him. He found a niche early in his life and did much to revive interest in sauropods. He was a great supporter of SVP, having been one of its early members. He also supported students and loved to hear what they were doing (as Mike Taylor can attest). The phrase I most associate with Jack is when asked a tough question was, “Oh, boy!” pause, then the answer.

    Thanks, Jack, for your years of support. You will be missed.

  2. dale Says:

    My god … Jack is gone. Met him in late 70s. Always open … always there when you needed to talk brontosaurs. One of the nicest palaeontologists ever. Yes. He will be sorely missed by many. You could feel the FORCE with this man … this Ben Kenobi of sauropods.

  3. Tim W Says:

    Three sauropods have been named after him; in addition to the two you mention, also Ultrasaurus macintoshi by Jensen (1985). I don’t know why Jensen added the ‘a’ (to make it phonetic?).

  4. Mike Taylor Says:

    True; but of course Ultrasaurus macintoshi was convincingly synonymised with Supersaurus vivianae by Curtice et al. (1996). So only two valid McIntosh sauropods remain. (The species name macintoshi is responsible for my thinking for some years that McIntosh’s name was spelled MacIntosh.)

  5. JayN Says:

    Add to that list Parabrontopodus mcintoshi (ichnospecies, but a sauropod one at least)

    Even though I never met Jack, like many aspiring sauropod students, I’m very saddened to hear he is gone.

  6. Brad McFeeters Says:

    Back in the ’80s, the ICZN recommended (but never required!) that “Mc” names be changed to “mac” when formulating a taxonomic name. The current edition doesn’t have any recommendation about this, so “mc” is becoming more popular when appropriate. The various species named after Malcolm McKenna have also used both spellings.

    Is McIntosh the only person with multiple sauropods named after him, ever? I can’t think of any others, but I don’t work on sauropods.

  7. Mickey Mortimer Says:

    And with the loss of McIntosh, we have the loss of our best hope to confirm Apatodon’s identity. As I wrote for my Theropod Database Apatodon entry earlier this year-

    “Olshevsky (pers. comm., 2015) based his synonymy with Allosaurus on a tip from Molnar, which in turn was originally suggested by McIntosh (pers. comm. to Molnar, 2015). McIntosh is said to have located a paper claiming Marsh mistook an Allosaurus neural spine for a mammal jaw, which would be a probable reference to the Apatodon type. Unfortunately, neither Olshevsky nor Molnar remember the citation for this paper and I have not located it or heard back from McIntosh. As such, this is an intriguing idea that remains unconfirmed.”

    McIntosh seemed to be one of the few links between the post-Marsh/Cope generation of American dinosaur paleontologists and the generation that started work in the 70s. His Dinosauria section on sauropods was one of the best in that volume, with mini-descriptions of every genus and series of figures that each illustrated 20 or so elements in identical views.

  8. Mickey Mortimer Says:

    “Is McIntosh the only person with multiple sauropods named after him, ever? I can’t think of any others, but I don’t work on sauropods.”

    Dashanpusaurus dongi and Dongbeititan dongi both after Dong Zhiming. I think that’s it for valid names though.

  9. Meg Price Says:

    What a lovely tribute! Jack was my beloved great uncle and I am really touched to hear that so many things that we loved about him as a family were also loved by his colleagues. His enthusiasm for learning was contagious, and his exclamations of “oh boy!” and “well that’s just grand!” invited everyone to share in his wonder. I remember when I was a young child asking questions about dinosaurs, Jack always took my questions very seriously and responded with respect and sincerity. He made me feel warmly welcomed into the world of lifelong learners. Thank you again for this touching piece.

  10. Mike Taylor Says:

    Thanks, Meg, it’s lovely to hear a non-palaeontologist perspective!

  11. Ginny Keim Says:

    I just heard the news of Jack’s death and decided to do a Google search of his name. I too am a relative by marriage, as Meg Price, my cousin’s daughter is a relative by blood, and not by profession. Having only known him within the context of family, it pleases me to read how utterly well respected he is in his chosen lifelong passion.
    I know his death will be difficult for many but knowing he lived such a worthwhile and inspiring life should be of great comfort.
    We have lost a giant among men and dinosaurs.

    Ginny Keim

  12. Jim Kirkland Says:

    Wonderful tribute to a wonderful man. Jack had boundless enthusiasm for dinosaurs; for sauropods even; before it was cool. ALWAYS positive! To aspire to be more like Jack is the most fitting tribute we can make.

  13. Tom Johnson Says:

    I knew Dr. McIntosh only through correspondence, beginning in the early 1980s, but was always impressed with his kindness in typing out long and detailed replies to my questions about Morrison sauropods. He seemed to have encyclopedic knowledge of any specimen I asked about. I’m grateful to Jeffrey Wilson and Kristina Curry Rogers for their excellent interview with Dr. McIntosh. What a guy.

    Tom Johnson

  14. Matt Rolfes Says:

    Sad to hear about Dr. McIntosh passing away. Had the great fortune of meeting him at my first SVP meeting in 95, in of all places the Carnegie Museum, I was just a teenager than. I always liked sauropods, and wanted very badly to meet and talk to Jack. I was shy back then, and my friend Dr. Greg McDonald introduced me to him at the museum. He was very friendly and very approachable.
    The highlight with Dr. McIntosh, came after the reception at the museum. He invited me to talk with him one on one in the lobby of the hotel. We literally stayed up till 2am in the morning talking sauropods, the topics ranged from biomechanics to phylogenetics. He gladly answered any questions I had on sauropods, and he did not seem bothered one bit, which is great for a paleo newbie. It was a evening I will never forget.
    The next day he said hi whenever he saw me, and even signed the Camarasaurus skull monograph for me, that he Madsen and Berman wrote together. This was another memorable event at the meeting.
    In 2006, I e-mailed him a request for a copy or reprint of his Apatosaur skull paper. A few days later it came in the mail, and turned out to be one of his last copies, he even signed for me. It is now one of the most, if not the most prized paper in my sauropod library. He really made my interest in sauropods grow due to taking time and discussing them with me. As mentioned in the post Dr. McIntosh was not only a great scientist, but a wonderful person as well.


  15. I made a brief review of the status of Brontosaurus wherein I mention Jack’s contribution. Upon hearing the sad news I posted a link to his obituary in the description box

  16. Chase Says:

    He was a cutting-edge researcher and certainly ahead of his time. He will be missed & my sympathies go out to his family and friends.

  17. Nima Says:

    I didn’t even think what paleontology would be without Jack McIntosh. He was always the godfather to the giant-seekers. No one person has done as much to advance sauropod studies as much as him, let alone literally change the face of one of the most iconic dinosaurs known. A great inspiration to generations of paleontologists and enthusiasts alike. I met him at SVP 2010 in Pittsburgh and he stood out as one of the friendliest and most approachable people there, it seemed as if I picked up decades of knowledge in just 5 minutes. And to think his academic qualifications were in Chemistry, yet he advanced the paleo field considerably more than most people formally trained in paleontology.

    RIP Jack, you will be missed.


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