Say it isn’t so! What about brontosaurus burgers… the Flintstones… Dino?
According to NPR, “scientifically speaking, there’s no such thing as a brontosaurus.”
It dates back 130 years, to a period of early U.S. paleontology known as the Bone Wars, says Matt Lamanna, curator at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh.
The Bone Wars was the name given to a bitter competition between two paleontologists, Yale’s O.C. Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope of Philadelphia. Lamanna says their mutual dislike, paired with their scientific ambition, led them to race dinosaur names into publication, each trying to outdo the other.
“There are stories of either Cope or Marsh telling their fossil collectors to smash skeletons that were still in the ground, just so the other guy couldn’t get them,” Lamanna tells Guy Raz, host of weekends on All Things Considered. “It was definitely a bitter, bitter rivalry.”
The two burned through money, and were as much fame-hungry trailblazers as scientists.
Then things got a bit ugly.
It was in the heat of this competition, in 1877, that Marsh discovered the partial skeleton of a long-necked, long-tailed, leaf-eating dinosaur he dubbed Apatosaurus. It was missing a skull, so in 1883 when Marsh published a reconstruction of his Apatosaurus, Lamanna says he used the head of another dinosaur — thought to be a Camarasaurus — to complete the skeleton.
“Two years later,” Lamanna says, “his fossil collectors that were working out West sent him a second skeleton that he thought belonged to a different dinosaur that he named Brontosaurus.”
But it wasn’t a different dinosaur. It was simply a more complete Apatosaurus — one that Marsh, in his rush to one-up Cope, carelessly and quickly mistook for something new.
Scientists spotted the ruse in 1903, but nobody noticed, or cared about, the correction.
Be sure to check out the whole story. It’s an interesting read.