How our week at the Carnegie Museum went

March 17, 2019

In a word, amazingly. After 6 days (counting public galleries last Sunday), 4300 photos, 55 videos, dozens of pages of notes, and hundreds of measurements, we’re tired, happy, and buzzing with new observations and ideas.

We caught up with some old friends. Here Mike is showing an entirely normal and healthy level of excitement about meeting CM 584, a specimen of Camarasaurus from Sheep Creek, Wyoming. You may recognize this view of these dorsals from Figure 9 in our 2013 PeerJ paper.

We spent an inordinate amount of time in the public galleries, checking out the mounted skeletons of Apatosaurus and Diplodocus (and Gilmore’s baby Cam, and the two tyrannosaurs, and, and…).

I had planned a trip to the Carnegie primarily to have another look at the Haplocanthosaurus holotypes, CM 572 and CM 879. I was also happy for the chance to photograph and measure these vertebrae, CM 36034, which I think have never been formally described or referred to Haplocanthosaurus. As far as I know, other than a brief mention in McIntosh (1981) they have not been published on at all. I’m planning on changing that in the near future, as part of the larger Haplocanthosaurus project that now bestrides my career like a colossus.

The real colossus of the trip was CM 555, which we’ve already blogged about a couple of times. Just laying out all of the vertebrae and logging serial changes was hugely useful.

Incidentally, in previous posts and some upcoming videos, we’ve referred to this specimen as Brontosaurus excelsus, because McIntosh (1981) said that it might belong to Apatosaurus excelsus. I was so busy measuring and photographing stuff that it wasn’t until Friday that I realized that McIntosh made that call because CM 555 is from the same locality as CM 563, now UWGM 15556, which was long thought to be Apatosaurus excelsus but which is now (i.e., Tschopp et al. 2015) referred to Brontosaurus parvus. So CM 555 is almost certainly B. parvus, not B. excelsus, and in comparing the specimen to Gilmore’s (1936) plates of CM 563, Mike and I thought they were a very good match.

Finding the tray of CM 555 cervical ribs was a huge moment. It added a ton of work to our to-do lists. First we had to match the ribs to their vertebrae. Most of them had field numbers, but some didn’t. Quite a few were broken and needed to be repaired – that’s what I’m doing in the above photo. Then they all had to be measured and photographed.

It’s amazing how useful it was to be able to reassociate the vertebrae with their ribs. We only did the full reassembly for c6, in part because it was the most complete and perfect of all of the vertebrae, and in part because we simply ran out of time. As Mike observed in his recent post, it was stunning how the apatosaurine identity of the specimen snapped into focus as soon as we could see a whole cervical vertebra put back together with all of its bits.

We also measured and photographed the limb bones, including the bite marks on the radius (above, in two pieces) and ulna (below, one piece). Those will of course go into the description.

And there WILL BE a description. We measured and photographed every element, shot video of many of them, and took pages and pages of notes. Describing even an incomplete sauropod skeleton is a big job, so don’t expect that paper this year, but it will be along in due course. CM 555 may not be the most complete Brontosaurus skeleton in the world, but our ambition is to make it the best-documented.

In the meantime, we hopefully left things better documented than they had been. All of the separate bits of the CM 555 vertebrae – the centra, arches, and cervicals ribs – now have the cervical numbers written on in archival ink (with permission from collections manager Amy Henrici, of course), so the next person to look at them can match them up with less faffing about.

We have people to thank. We had lunch almost every day at Sushi Fuku at 120 Oakland Avenue, just a couple of blocks down Forbes Avenue from the museum. We got to know the manager, Jeremy Gest, and his staff, who were unfailingly friendly and helpful, and who kept us running on top-notch food. So we kept going back. If you find yourself in Pittsburgh, check ’em out. Make time for a sandwich at Primanti Bros., too.

We owe a huge thanks to Calder Dudgeon, who took us up to the skylight catwalk to get the dorsal-view photos of the mounted skeletons (see this post), and especially to Dan Pickering, who moved pallets in collections using the forklift, and moved the lift around the mounted skeletons on Tuesday. Despite about a million ad hoc requests, he never lost patience with us, and in fact he found lots of little ways to help us get our observations and data faster and with less hassle.

Our biggest thanks go to collections manager Amy Henrici, who made the whole week just run smoothly for us. Whatever we needed, she’d find. If we needed something moved, or if we needed to get someplace, she’d figure out how to do it. She was always interested, always cheerful, always helpful. I usually can’t sustain that level of positivity for a whole day, much less a week. So thank you, Amy, sincerely. You have a world-class collection. We’re glad it’s in such good hands.

What’s next? We’ll be posting about stuff we saw and learned in the Carnegie Museum for a long time, probably. And we have manuscripts to get cranking on, some of which were already gestating and just needed the Carnegie visit to push to completion. As always, watch this space.


7 Responses to “How our week at the Carnegie Museum went”

  1. Mike Taylor Says:

    Quite a few [of the cervical ribs] were broken and needed to be repaired – that’s what I’m doing in the above photo.

    That is the truth; but not the whole truth. It’s also the case that quite a few of the cervical ribs became broken and needed to be repaired. (We were both guilty.)

    More importantly, I want to weigh in with a big agreement on Matt’s thanks to Calder Dudgeon, Dan Pickering and Amy Henrici. I’ve been to a lot of museums, and honestly never had the collections staff be anything but helpful at any of them. But I’ve never known a museum go so far above and beyond the call of duty as the Carnegie people did. We salute you!

  2. The most recent museum newsletter from the Australian Age of Dinosaurs has a report on the neck preparation for a local juvenile sauropod specimen “Judy”.
    “After almost a year of preparation the
    underside of Judy’s neck was finally
    completed in February. This fossil is simply
    breathtaking. All of Judy’s cervical ribs
    are still connected to the neck vertebrae
    and extend the length of three vertebrae.
    Sauropod fossils with this level of detail and
    completeness are rare and its preparation
    is a credit to our dedicated preparators. “

  3. Mike Taylor Says:

    Stephen, this sounds awesome! Apart from anything else, the preservation of articulation must be outstanding if all the cervical ribs of a juvenile sauropod — which would almost certainly have been unfused — are in placed. Is any of this published?

  4. Zachary Miller Says:

    So here’s a question regarding CM 555: It looks like the majority of the body of the vertebrae has been restored, and that the fossil components themselves are rather small and fragmented. Is that really the case? If so, what’s the restoration based on?

  5. Matt Wedel Says:

    Preservation varies wildly between vertebrae. For c1 through c8, the vertebral centra are in great shape, and the arches are mostly complete, lacking only the spine tips in most of the vertebrae. The last three cervicals in the sequence, c12-c14, are also mostly complete. The most heavily reconstructed are c9-c11, where the centra are essentially non-existent and the arches are also mostly reconstructed.

    The question of what the reconstructions were based on is a fascinating one. We don’t know (yet) when these were restored or by whom, but whoever it was put a heck of a lot of work into the recons. Crucially, the restorations look good – convincing, believable, “based on a true story” – and it’s always super-obvious what’s bone and what’s reconstructed, because the restorers didn’t paint or varnish over everything to hide the reconstructions – which happened all too often.

    It really looks to me like the vertebrae were restored with the intention of putting them on exhibit, but I don’t know that they ever were exhibited. As far as the basis for the recons, given the very close similarity to CM 563 (same locality, next quarry over), I suspect the restorers used that larger, more mature specimen as the basis for the restoration.

  6. […] and I would like to get together more often for scientific trips like the 2016 Sauropocalypse and this year’s visit to the Carnegie museum. These trips are amazingly productive and generate a ton of observations, photos and videos, which […]

  7. […] This one has spicy chorizo, bacon and roast chicken, topped with mature cheddar cheese and a squirt of BBQ sauce. It’s loosely inspired by the “T-Rex” pizza at Aiello’s Pizza, where Matt Wedel and I got lots of takeaways when we were staying in Pittsburgh to work in the Carnegie Museum. […]

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