Investigating sauropod vertebral pneumaticity the old-fashioned way

August 17, 2020

Long before Matt and others were CT-scanning sauropod vertebrae to understand their internal structure, Werner Janensch was doing it the old-fashioned way. I’ve been going through old photos that I took at the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin back in 2005, and I stumbled across this dorsal centrum:

Dorsal vertebra centum of ?Giraffatitan in ventral view, with anterior to top.

You can see a transverse crack running across it, and sure enough the front and back are actually broken apart. Here there are:

The same dorsal vertebral centrum of ?Giraffatitan, bisected transversely in two halves. Left: anterior half in posterior view; right: posterior half in anterior view. I had to balance the anterior half on my shoe to keep it oriented corrrectly for the photo.

This does a beautiful job of showing the large lateral foramina penetrating into the body of the centrum and ramifying further into the bone, leaving only a thin midline septum.

But students of the classics will recognise this bone immediately as the one that Janensch (1947:abb. 2) illustrated the posterior half of in his big pneumaticity paper:

It’s a very strange feeling, when browsing in a collection, to come across a vertebra that you know from the literature. As I’ve remarked to Matt, it’s a bit like running into, say, Cameron Diaz in the corner shop.


  • Janensch, W. 1947. Pneumatizitat bei Wirbeln von Sauropoden
    und anderen Saurischien. Palaeontographica, supplement

6 Responses to “Investigating sauropod vertebral pneumaticity the old-fashioned way”

  1. KHon Says:

    Was the vertebra partially separated before Janensch split it? The edges seem rather jagged.

  2. Mike Taylor Says:

    I don’t know this history, but to me this looks like a good, honest break — maybe done during excavation, maybe an accident in collections — that they took advantage of by prepping the matrix out of the insides.

  3. dinogami Says:

    Janensch also broke apart Tendaguru skulls. When I wanted to photograph one that was in several pieces, I had to tie the pieces together through various cranial nerve openings with dental floss…

  4. Matt Wedel Says:

    This particular centrum is getting to be a minor celebrity here at SV-POW!, having also been the subject of this post and this one. It’s the SII C8 of dorsal centra.

  5. Mike Taylor Says:

    Wow, my memory is not doing a good job of keeping past SV-POW! posts catalogued. (Still, there are 1,407 of them, so I am not without excuse.)

  6. Matt Wedel Says:

    Hey, you showed _two_ views that I hadn’t (ventral, and the other half of the cross-section), so there’s plenty of added value here. No foul.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: