Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Curious Case Of Brontosaurus

The Curious Case of Brontosaurus

This is the story of the great Brontosaurus; how mistaken identity, stubborn preconceptions, and the public's staggering devotion to the name are all what gave the Brontosaurus its legendary status.

Contrary to popular belief, dinosaurs were never mentioned in the Unholy Bible because Old Man Moses along w/ God's
'so-called' apostles & disciples who wrote the prefabricated biblical fables a.k.a. 'Word Of God' didn't discover these
 ginormous Earth-shattering giants — therefore, they were omitted from ancient fairy tales. 
[NOTE: Bible
states that God created different kinds of land animals on Day 6; around 
6,000 years-ago
'Creation Week' whilst modern day pathologists has scientifically-proven
that these prehistoric mammoths existed approx. 
235 million years ago
and went extinct approx. 
65 million years ago.]

The Apatosaurus at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Brontosaurus
was believed to be an Apatosaurus mistakenly classified as a new species.
Brontosaurus Is Back: New Study Says the Dino Is Real After All
The dinosaur name that would not die now doesn't have to. After 112 years of controversy, some paleontologists say the Brontosaurus really is its own dinosaur, not a mistake.

The long-necked, long-tailed, 30-ton Brontosaurus is one of the most famous dinosaurs of all time. And if you ask most paleontologists, it's also not real.

Paleontologists have spent the last century insisting that the species and its name (Latin for "thunder lizard") are invalid—that the first fossil was incorrectly or deceptively described, or that what was called Brontosaurus is really another similar dinosaur, the Apatosaurus. Nevertheless, from comic books to high literature to the Flintstones, the name brontosaurus has invaded popular culture and refuses to die.

Maybe it doesn't have to. A team of paleontologists led by Emanuel Tschopp at the New University of Lisbon in Portugal has just completed a massive computer analysis of fossils in a group of dinosaurs called Diplodocids that includes ol' thunder lizard (or whatever it really is). And to their surprise, they say they found that Brontosaurus really is in its own group. Its fossils share distinct, incomparable bone features—enough for it to reclaim its iconic genus name.

"We were definitely surprised when we saw the Brontosaurus might really come back," Tschopp says. "But in all our differing statistical approaches, we came to this same result."

Brontosaurus backlash backstory
According to Jason Poole—the head of the fossil preparation lab at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, and who was not involved in the research—the case for the name resurrection is convincing. "[Tschopp's] research is really solid and very thorough, especially given how much work they had to do" he says. Even so, Poole says, this could be a hard one for paleontologists to accept, as they have had plenty of reason to doubt the Brontosaurus name for more than a century.

Historic life restoration of Brontosaurus as semi-acquatic animal, and with Diplodocus
in the background on land (by Charles R Knight, 1897)

The problems start with the original Brontosaurus holotype. That's what they call the fossil that gets named, and to which every other fossil is compared. The Brontosaurus holotype was found in Montana in 1877 during a period of fierce, unwieldy fossil hunting known as the Bone Wars—where the prestige of naming a new dinosaur often trumped scientific scruples.

The dino's discoverer was notable rapscallion Othniel Charles Marsh, the leading paleontologist at Yale. He named the remarkably complete fossil of Brontosaurus excelsus after declaring it to be a new species. But in 1903, paleontologists decided that this naming had been hasty. Marsh's finding, they said, seemed to be little more than a smaller version of another closely related dinosaur called Apatosaurus. They declared the name invalid and that's been generally agreed upon up until today (even if the public loves the name Brontosaurus).

Later in the 20th century, the case against the thunder lizard got even stronger. Remember what we said about scientific scruples? Paleontologists who went back to the original find in the 1970s uncovered this eyebrow-raising fact: Marsh's original finding was actually a mishmash of two completely different dinosaurs from two entirely different quarries, Poole tells PM. The skull was taken from one (now known to be the skull of Camarasaurus) and just plopped onto the skeleton from another.

Return of the thunder lizard
With that kind of skullduggery around the supposed skull and bones of Brontosaurus, the name seemed an unlikely candidate for a scientific renaissance. Yet that's where Tschopp ended up.

The Brontosaurus in the Yale Peabody Museum's Great Hall was discovered by
pioneering Yale paleontologist O.C. Marsh

First, he and his colleagues Octavio Mateus and Roger Benson collected a major trove of fossil data on almost all the known Diplodocid fossils. This group includes apatasaurus and most of the other long-necked, long-tailed dinosaurs, though not creatures like Brachiosaurus that have larger front legs than back or massive titanosaurs like Dreadnoughtus. The scientists then ran the data through statistical programs which grouped the dino fossils based on their various bone peculiarities. For the most part, the computer groups matched how paleontologists currently view the evolutionary tree of these dinosaurs—this convinced the team they were on the right track, says Tschopp. But it led them to a few surprises, including Brontosaurus.


According to Tschopp, there are seven specific bone differences that make the body of the original Brontosaurus its own species and genus, not just some other big dino that's been mislabeled. Most of are rather subtle, including facts like this: The tail vertebrae in dinosaurs related to Brontosaurus have spiny prominences called "neural spines," he says, "and for most of these dinosaurs these spines project kind of backwards, but in Brontosaurus they're more straight up." Brontosaurus's hips are unusual, with two bones (the ilium and pubis) meeting a curious junction. And its lower leg fibula meets its ankle bones in an equally unusual manner. Like we said, we're talking about subtle differences. But these are the differences that make a species.

The allure and mystique of dinosaurs

Brontosaurus as researchers imagined it in the late 1800s: aquatic, and with a large, robust skull.

The algorithms Tschopp used to do this research aren't too complex. The scientists could only do this research now because we've only just now found enough fairly complete skeletons of these enormous dinosaurs that paleontologists can establish "a general backbone to compare the rest against," he says.

Poole says he's excited that Brontosaurus has been corralled back into the realm of science, if only because "there's something in that name that's exciting. It's awesome and has really become a piece of Americana. It's also added to this allure and mystique of paleontology," he says. He says it's telling that the 112-year-old defunct name still pops up at his museum, "all the time. It's still amazing to me. Practically anybody over the age of 20 knows about Brontosaurus," he says.

"This team has pretty much put the thunder back in dinosaur, he says, "and that's a big deal." —
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