Isn’t this a beauty?

Alleged "Diplodocus dorsal bone", posterior view

Alleged "Diplodocus dorsal bone", posterior view

What is it, you ask?   We will never know.  A friend of mine pointed me to a forthcoming fossil auction by I. M. Chait, and as I scrolled through all the crappy ornithopod skeletons and suchlike, my eye was caught by this bone, described as a “Diplodocus dorsal bone”, from the Bone Cabin quarry in Wyoming.  “The dorsal bone most likely came from close to the back of the head[?!]”.

Whatever it is, it ain’t Diplodocus: the metapophyses are too low, the intraspinal trough is not deep enough, the diapophyses are too high up, they’re laterally rather than ventrolaterally inclined, the hyposphene is way too big and too triangular, the centrum is subquadrangular rather than ovoid, the centropostzygapophyseal laminae are absent … I could go on.  If you don’t believe me, here is the complete set of Dipodocus carnegii dorsals, from Hatcher (1901: plate VIII): posterior to anterior running from left to right; anterior, posterior and right lateral views from top to bottom.

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Hatcher 1901, plate XIII: dorsal vertebrae of Diplodocus carnegii CM 84

Not even close.

So what actually is the for-sale vertebra?  Of course there is only so much you can say from a single photograph, but it looks very much as though this is something new, as yet undescribed.  Unknown to science, in fact.  I say that largely because of the those bizarre dorsolaterally oriented struts which extend from the sides of the neural arch to meet and merge with the diapophyses.  I don’t recall ever having seen anything like that.  In general proportions, too, this vertebra is distinctly odd.

Unknown to science it is, and unknown to science it will remain — if, as seems likely, some rich idiot buys this as a trophy to sit on his cocktail bar.  Hence the righeous fury alluded to in the title: so far as the wider world is concerned, so far as our understanding of Morrison Formation ecological diversity is concerned, so far as our understanding of sauropod disparity is concerned, this vertebra might just as well have stayed in the ground.

Unless.

If anyone reading this blog is a rich benefactor, then just maybe this vert could be rescued: bought by someone who appreciates its scientific significance, and donated to an accredited museum, where it can be properly reposited and scientifically studied.  So if any of you out there have $5000 to spare and fancy a decent chance at getting a sauropod named after you, you know what to do.

I’ve hestitated about publishing this post, because of the danger that it will become sufficiently widely known to push the price up.  The last thing I want is to make more money for the fossil dealers responsible for taking this thing out of the hands of scientists.  But I figured it’s worth the risk.  Let’s hope I’m right.

[To be absolutely clear: I. M. Chait did not solicit me to write this, neither do they even know about it, and I am pretty sure they would not be happy about it if they did.]

Reference

  • Hatcher, Jonathan Bell.  1901.  Diplodocus (Marsh): its osteology, taxonomy and probable habits, with a restoration of the skeleton.  Memoirs of the Carnegie Museum, 1: 1-63 and plates I-XIII.

Update (23 March 2009)

We have heard from an SV-POW! reader who is looking into buying this specimen and donating it to a museum.  Which would be awesome.  (I won’t mention his or her name at this stage until he or she authorises me to do so.)  That being so, please no-one else try the same thing — we last thing we want is for two readers to get into a bidding war!

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Here are the first two cervical vertebrae of the Carnegie Apatosaurus, from Gilmore’s 1936 monograph. As you can see, they are fused together. It is a bit weird that we haven’t covered the morphology of the atlas-axis complex here before. And sadly we’re not going to cover it now. I needed to get an image of these verts to a group working on…something secret…and this turned out to be the fastest way to get them the information in a format that would be easy to find for future reference. Hope you don’t feel used.

UPDATE: Here’s something weird: the both verts have facets for cervical ribs, but the cervical ribs had not fused to the vertebrae, even though they normally do, and despite the fact that the vertebrae had fused to each other, even though they normally don’t.