As I was clearing out some old documents, I stumbled on this form from 2006:

This was back when Paul Upchurch’s dissertation, then only 13 years old, contained much that still unpublished in more formal venues, notably the description of what was then “Pelorosaurusbecklesii. As a fresh young sauropod researcher I was keen to read this and other parts of what was then almost certainly the most important and comprehensive single publication about sauropods.

I remember contacting Paul directly to ask if he could send a copy, but he didn’t have it in electronic form. So I wrote (on his advice, I think) to Cambridge University Library to request a copy from them. The form is what I got back, saying sure I could have a copy — for £160.08 if I wanted a photocopy, or £337.80 for a microfilm. Since inflation in the UK has run at about 2.83% per year since 2006, that price of £160.08 back then is equivalent to about £243 in today’s money.

Needless to say, I didn’t pursue this any further (and to my shame I’m not even sure I bothered replying to say no thanks). To this day, I have never read Paul’s dissertation — though 28 years after it was completed, it’s obviously less relevant now than it was back in the day.

What is the point of this story? What information pertains?

My point isn’t really “Look how exploitative Cambridge University Library’s pricing is” — I have no experience in running a library, and no realistic sense of what it costs in staff time and materials to make a photocopy of a substantial dissertation. Perhaps the price was only covering costs.

The point instead is: look how things have changed. Newly minted Ph.Ds now routinely deposit copies of their dissertations in repositories where they can be freely read by anyone, anywhere. Here is one recent example from my own university: Logan King’s 2021 dissertation, Macroevolutionary and Ontogenetic Trends in the Anatomy and Morphology of the Non-Avian Dinosaur Endocranium.

This is important. I often think about the Library Loon’s 2012 blog-post Framing Incremental Gains. It’s easy, if you’re in open-access advocacy, to feel the burden of how ssslllooowwwlllyyy things seem to change. Sometimes I’ve heard people claim that nothing has changed in the last 30 years. I completely understand the frustration that leads people to say such things. But it’s not true. Things have changed a lot, and are still changing fast. We seem to be past the tipping point where more than half of all newly published papers are open access. There is a lot to celebrate.

Of course that’s not to deny that there’s plenty more work to be done, and plenty of other ways our present scholarly publishing infrastructure desperately needs changing. But in pushing for that, let’s not neglect how much things have improved.

Back in June, I saw a series of tweets by sculptor and digital artist Ruadhrí Brennan, showing off the work he’d been doing on sculpting brachiosaurid skulls: Giraffatitan, Brachiosaurus (based on the Felch Quarry skull USNM 5730) and Europasaurus. Impressed, I asked if he would send a Giraffatitan skull, and here it is!

Right lateral view

You can immediately see two things: one, it’s good. (I’ll have more to say about this.) And second, it’s small, It’s leaned up against a stack of smallish coins in this photo, to give me the true lateral perspective I wanted, and those coins (10p, 20p, 20p, 5p) also make a decent ad-hoc scalebar.

In fact, it’s sculpted at 1:10 scale — about 9 cm from the tip of the premaxilla to the rearmost projection of the parietals, implying about 90 cm total length for the skull MB.R.2223.1 (“t 1”) — a figure surprisingly difficult to find in the literature (can anyone help?) but consonant with how big it seems in real life.

Anterior view

At that scale, the detail is pretty amazing. Its not just that the overall proportions of the skull are so true, but the visible junctions between the bones — as for example between the paired ascending processes of the two premaxilae, as apparent in anterior view — but the texture of the bone, including things like vascular foramina for the lips but also just straight-up bone surface. It’s a lovely job.

Right anterodorsolateral view

This view is a pretty good match for what we used in the second Shedloads of Awesome post back in 2008 — in fact, let’s just put them side by side so we can compare more easily.

As you can see, I slightly muffed the photography of the model — I could do a better job of matching the aspect I tried. But we’re in the ballpark, and it’s easy to see from this angle how much the model skull really couldn’t be anything other than what it is. That said, there are a few places where it seems the bone junctions don’t quite match those of the real skull. Most obviously, in the real skull the lacrimal seems to laterally overlap the nasal dorsally and the maxilla/jugal ventrally, whereas in the model it fits in more neatly with both. But I am inclined to think this is not so much a mistake as a correction to allow for poor articulation and distortion in the original — a restoration, in other words.

Here’s a different oblique view:

Left anterodorsolateral view, from a rather more dorsal and less lateral perspective than the previous image.

The story here really is just what an odd shape this familiar skull is when viewed in this perspective, and a valuable reminder that we should all try to avoid getting too suckered in by the over-familiar lateral views of various things. 3D objects are weird. They trick you. That’s why, for example, two scapulae that look very different in photos might actually be very similar in reality: the difference is in the angle of the photograph, not in the photographed bones.

Anyway, moving on from that cautionary tale …

The key takeaway is really just that this Giraffatitan skull is very nice, and it leaves me wishing I also had the Camarsaurus one for comparison … even though camarsaurs are ugly and stupid.

Oh, what’s that you say? You want a Giraffatitan skull of your very own? Well, you can have one: get it from the Scaled Beasts shop!

FMNH P13018 with me for scale. Photo by Holly Woodward.

Some of the Burpee Museum folks and PaleoFest speakers visited the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago after the 2020 ‘Fest. I hadn’t been there since 2012, and a lot had changed. More on that in future posts, maybe. Here I am with FMNH 13018, a right femur referred by von Huene (1929) to Argyrosaurus superbus (note, though, that Mannion and Otero 2012 considered this specimen to be Titanosauria indet., hence the hedge in the title of the post). It’s 211cm long, which is pretty darn big but still well short of the record.

Speaking of the record, here’s a list of the largest sauropod femora (as always, updates in the comments are welcome!):

  1. 250cm – Argentinosaurus huinculensis, MLP-DP 46-VIII-21-3 (estimated when complete)
  2. 238cm – Patagotitan mayorum, MPEF-3399/44
  3. 236cm – Patagotitan mayorum, MPEF-PV 3400/27
  4. 235cm – Patagotitan mayorum, MPEF-PV 3400/27
  5. 235cm – “Antarctosaurus” giganteus, MLP 26-316
  6. 214cm – Giraffatitan brancai, XV1
  7. 211cm – cf. Argyrosaurus superbus, FMNH P13018
  8. 203cm – Brachiosaurus altithorax, FMNH P25107
  9. 200cm – Ruyangosaurus giganteus, 41HIII -0002 (estimated when complete)
  10. 191cm – Dreadnoughtus schrani, MPM-PV 1156

The list is necessarily incomplete, because we have no preserved femora for Puertasaurus, Notocolossus, Futalognkosaurus, or the largest individuals of Sauroposeidon and Alamosaurus, all of which probably had femora in the 210-250cm range. For that matter, most elements of the giant Oklahoma apatosaurine are 25%-33% larger than the equivalent bones in CM 3018, which implies a femur length of 223-237cm (scaled up from the 178.5cm femur of CM 3018). I’m deliberately not dealing with Maraapunisaurus or horrifying hypothetical barosaurs here.

In any case, it’s still a prodigious bone, and well worth spending a moment with the next time you’re at the Field Musuem.


  • Mannion, P.D. and Otero, A., 2012. A reappraisal of the Late Cretaceous Argentinean sauropod dinosaur Argyrosaurus superbus, with a description of a new titanosaur genus. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 32(3):614-638.
  • Von Huene, F. 1929. Los saurisquios y ornitisquios del Creta´ceo Argentino. Anales del Museo de La Plata 3:1–196.