Extinction and Discovery, Denial and Redemption: The Brontosaurus Roller Coaster
The Brontosaurus is one of the most easily identified dinosaurs in popular culture. Just think about Little Foot, the main character in the animated movie, The Land Before Time, or about Fred Flintstone chowing down on a brontosaurus burger.
Despite this popularity, since 1903 this animal has officially been considered a non-entity. Rather than representing a singular genus of dinosaur, it was believed that the available fossils were actually those of a species of Apatosaurus, that archaeologists misidentified the bones. Thus, the lone species of the genus, Brontosaurus excelsus, was reassigned as A. excelsus.
Earlier this month, though, some members of the scientific community turned an about-face and accepted that the two genera of dinosaur, Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus, are distinct enough from one another to receive individual classification. Once again, Brontosaurus is a valid term. You can read more about the debate in nomenclature and cladistics in the articles listed at the end of this post.
So what does this have to do with the MHS?
Within our holdings is a publication created by Othniel Charles Marsh, the man credited with original identification and description of both the Brontosaurus and Apatosaurus, among many others. The Dinosaurs of North America (1896) is an extract from the 16th annual report of the U.S. Geological Survey.
In this report, Marsh looks at three main time periods in turn, beginning with the Triassic period, then Jurassic, then Cretaceous. In each period he splits his descriptions among three distinct orders of dinosaurs: theropods, sauropods, and predentata. The first part of the book is devoted to narrative description. As he begins a new order of animal he gives brief and broad descriptions of typical characteristics and geographic dispersal. Then he gets more specific, identifying major families and genera within each order.
Theropods were typically bipedal and carnivorous. The most famous of all the theropod dinosaurs must be Tyrannosaurus rex. Marsh, however, looks at some of its smaller cousins that were located in North America, like the Allosaurs and Ceratosaurs.
Sauropods were large four-legged herbivores (mostly), characterized very generally by huge, barrel-shaped bodies with long slender tails and necks, and relatively small heads. It is into this order that the genera Brontosaurus and Apatosaurus fall. Other fairly well-known names in this type are the brachiosaurs and diplodocidae.
The third and most varied order handled by Marsh in this book are the predentata, now known more widely as ornithischia. This order contains the armored stegosaurs and ankylosaurs, the horned ceratopsians, and the duck-billed hadrosaurs.
Following all of this narrative information are dozens of plates featuring detailed drawings of skeletons and individual bones. All of the images in this post come from this volume and are a small sampling of those present.
Unfortunately, when searching our online catalog, ABIGAIL, this item is the only one that comes up under the subject Dinosaurs. Still this volume is wonderful look at the work which laid the foundation for our modern understanding of these long-extinct creatures. Do you have any favorites that appear here? What do you think of the potential resurrection of the Brontosaurus?
For further reading
- Choi, Charles. "The Brontosaurus is Back." Scientific American (2015). Accessed April 25, 2015. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-brontosaurus-is-back1/
- Naish, Darren. "That Brontosaurus Thing." Scientific American (2015). Accessed April 25, 2015. http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/tetrapod-zoology/2015/04/24/that-brontosaurus-thing/
- Switek, Brian. "Back to Brontosaurus? The Dinosaur Might Deserve Its Own Genus After All." Smithsonian (2015). Accessed April 25, 2015. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/back-brontosaurus-dinosaur-just-might-deserve-its-own-genus-species-science-180954892/?no-ist
| Published: Saturday, 25 April, 2015, 12:01 PM
This Week @ MHS
On Tuesday, 28 April, we have an Immigration and Urban History seminar. "Due Credit: Chinese Workers and the Central Pacific Railroad" is presented by Manu Vimalassery of Barnard College, with Hidetaka Hirota of Columbia University providing comment. The talk begins at 5:15PM and is free and open to the public, RSVP required.
And closing out the month on Wednesday, 29 April, there is an author talk with Jasmine Nicole Cobb, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Northwestern University. "Picture Freedom" explores the earliest illustrations of free Blacks and reveals the compliated route through visual culture toward a vision of African American citizenship. The talk begins at 6:00PM and is open to the public with a fee of $10 (no charge for Fellows and Members). There is a reception preceding the talk at 5:30PM. Registration is required, so please RSVP.
Entering the new month, there are two events on Saturday, 2 May. First up, beginning at 10:00AM is the History and Collections of the MHS. This 90-minute docent-led tour explores all of the public spaces in the Society's home on Boylston Street and is free and open to the public. Larger parties (8 or more), please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or email@example.com in advance.
Also on 2 May is a rare Saturday evening event. May Day Mayday! is a conversation among three eminent historians - William Fowler, Nathaniel Philbrick, and Michael Tougias - sharing stories of catastrophes at sea. This program is open to the public and registration is required with a fee of $20 (no charge for Fellows and Members). Please RSVP here. There is a reception preceding the talk at 5:30PM with the event starting at 6:00PM.
| Published: Saturday, 25 April, 2015, 10:52 AM
This Week @ MHS
The Society is closed on Monday, 20 April, in observance of Patriot's Day. Good luck to the marathon runners!
On Tuesday, 21 April, there are three events taking place that all focus on comics and history. First, beginning at 2:00PM, is "Comic History: Making Your Own Comic History." This Family Day program for young historians, parents, and grandparents features historian John L. Bell telling the story of the riots that followed the passage of the Stamp Act in 1765 from a child's point of view. Follwoing the talk, local comic book artists will help the young historians create their own historical comics. Finished products will be part of a temporary display. Registration is required at no cost; please RSVP.
Then, at 6:00PM, join us for "Colonial Comics." Editor Jason Rodriguez, Fulcrum Publishing, will speak about the process of putting together a collection of twenty stories focusing on the colonial period from 1620 to 1750. Registration is required at no cost; please RSVP. A reception will precede the talk starting at 5:30PM. Following the event, at 7:30PM, MHS Associate Members (age 40 and under) are invited to join Mr. Rodriguez for Colonial Comics Happy Hour, a chance to continue the discussion about historical events as subject matter for comic books and graphic novels. The event will take place at a nearby restaurant. Registration required at no cost. Please call 617-646-0543 for more information.
On Thursday, 23 April, join us for a History of Women and Gender seminar discussion. "Mildred Jefferson and the Right to Life Revolution of 1976" is presented by Jennifer Donnally of Hollins University with Sara L. Dubow, Williams College, providing comment. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required. Subscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.
Finally, on Saturday, 25 April, there is a special event taking place at the Society starting at 9:00AM. "Massachusetts History Lab" is a program designed for students in grades 5-8 to learn more about the behind-the-scenes activities at one of the country's oldest organizations devoted to our nation's history. Registration is required at no cost; please RSVP. Students must register with an adult chaperone. For more information, contact the Education department at firstname.lastname@example.org or 617-646-0557.
| Published: Sunday, 19 April, 2015, 12:00 AM
Untangling North Atlantic Fishing, 1764-1910, Part 3: The Reciprocity Treaty of 1854
By Andrea Cronin, Reader Services
As discussed in a prior post, Great Britain and the United States negotiated fishing rights throughout the early 19th century. One of the important agreements made between the British North American colonies and the United States regarding trade, tariffs, and fishing was the Reciprocity Treaty of 1854. Under this agreement, negotiated by British North American Governor General Lord James Bruce Elgin and Secretary of State William L. Marcy, the provinces offered the right to coastal and inshore fisheries and the use of the St. Lawrence River to the United States. In exchange, the United States established free trade with the provinces by removing tariffs from natural products including grain, meats, produce, coal, timber, and lumber.
Reciprocity, by definition, is the exchange of privileges with others for mutual benefit. Free trade meant that the United States’ markets faced an exponential flood of British North American products without any protective tariffs to secure the national, regional, and local markets. Additionally, many Americans did not view the treaty favorably because the rights to coastal fishing in Canada had previously been theirs in the Treaty of Paris in 1783. While the American agricultural markets faced market saturation, the Reciprocity Treaty favored New England and New York fishing industries due to Secretary of State William L. Marcy’s negotiations. Born in Southbridge, Mass., and residing in Albany, New York, Americans accused Marcy of sectionalism, referring to the Reciprocity Treaty contemptuously as “Mr. Marcy’s treaty.”
An author using the nom de plume “Middle State Farmer” raised several objections to the agreement in his pamphlet The Agriculture Interest in 1854:
But we have thrown our markets as wide open as though these British provinces were States of this Union – markets which they will seek to sell in, receiving only in payment our precious metals, or exchange on England, to pay for the goods they buy of her. Everything they can grow on soil, produce from their forests or their mines, we shall have to take on these terms.
What do they give us in return besides their river to navigate, which they can’t navigate much themselves – being frozen tight six months in the year, and a hazardous navigation the other six – and a right to catch fish where we had always caught them before? What real reciprocity can they offer us in the way of markets?
The reciprocity agreement met increasing disapproval over the following decade. American protectionism, exemplified here in the Middle State Farmer’s argument, led to the abrogation of the treaty by the United States in 1866.
| Published: Friday, 17 April, 2015, 12:00 AM
An American Woman in Egypt, 1914-1915: Aysut to Asswan
By Anna J. Clutterbuck-Cook, Reader Services
Image: Watercolor from A Nile Journal by Emily Horby (1908)
In the previous installment of An American Woman in Egypt, we left our narrator journeying south from Aysut by steamer. During the first week of December, the travelers continue down the Nile stopping at a number of archeological sites and luxury tourist resorts along the way. In this post, I have interleaved our anonymous diarist’s narrative with excerpts from a contemporary travel guide and published memoir describing the same locations.
Dec. 1. Had early breakfast, reached Denderah & went ashore there at 8.30. Took donkies [sic] & rode to Denderah Temple in 2 hours. Temple of Hathor. Great vestibule of Pharaohs 24 columns with heads of Hathor. Went up on the roof for view. Got back for lunch. Just at tea time reached Luxor. Miss Goeller & we two went ashore with Dr. Hodson who took us over the Winter Palace Hotel & gardens. Then we walked out to Luxor temple & looked at ships.
Dec. 2. Started on donkies at 9.30 & rode to Karnak. Very hot day. Saw temple of Kurnah then rode dromedaries little way to temple of Ammon. Finally went on top for view and got home just before one p.m. Very warm & slept after lunch; had tea at 4 & then went out to see Luxor temple. A beautiful sunset & we stayed behind to see the color on the water then went to Winter Palace & P.O.
A short distance from the river, on the west bank, a little to the north of the village of Denderah, stands the Temple of Denderah, which marks the site of the classical Tentyra or Tentyris ... where the goddess Hathor was worshipped. ... The wonderfully preserved Temple now standing there is probably not older than the beginning of our era; ...hence it must be considered as the architectural product of a time when the ancient Egyptian traditions of sculpture were already dead and nearly forgotten. It is, however, a majestic monument worthy of careful examination.
--The Nile: Notes for Travellers in Egypt, 9th edition (London: Thos. Cook & Son, 1905).
Dec. 3. Breakfast at 7.30, left at 8.30 & sailed across to W. bank where we took donkies & road to mortuary chapel of Sethos I. Then rode on to tombs of Kings & reached 4 -- Ramses IX - Ramses VI - Sethor I - Amenophis II - then walked up over hill for view & down to rest-house for lunch. At 2 walked to temple of Darr El-Bahre of Queen Hatsh[epsut]. Then rode back to river & took boats home in time for tea. After it went to buy cards.
Dec. 4 - Early breakfast at 7.30. Left at 8 & rode first to ruins of Rames great temple of Ramses Srenk II, then road to temples of Derr-El-Medenah, judgement halls of Osiris, & temple of Ramses III. … finest in Egypt. Passed Colosses of Memmon (Amenophsis III) on way back to boat. Got back to steamer just for lunch. P.M. took pad[dle] on Nile for 1 hr with Miss Phelps & Miss Marell, mailed my Christmas cards after tea went to Hotel [illegible phrase] walked along shore to see sunset, then went into shops.
Came to a lovely grove of palm trees, where we lunched. Donkeys arrived...and we had a very pleasant ride on to Karnak, a good way further. Pigeons flying in clouds over fields. Must be very destructive, but picturesque. Soon the obelisk was seen in the distance, and at last we came to the avenue of the sphinxes, which has only been lately thoroughly uncovered. Enormous creatures, each with a little figure on their knees.
--A Nile Journal by E. H. [Emily Hornby] (Liverpool: J.A. Thompson, 1908)
Dec. 5. Sailed very early from Luxor & about 10 arrived at Esna after going thro’ a lock. Walked to the temple, as it was very near. Temple of Khnum goat-headed local deity. Pronave 24 columns in 6 rows with different floral capitals - similar to of temple Hathor at Denderah. From there sailed on & reached Edfou about 3, took donkeys & some walked to the temple of Horus, best preserved ancient temple in the world. A great [?] & we went to top up a dark stairway for view 242 steps. Crest surrounded on 3 sides by colonnade of 32 columns in the different floral (^ & palm) capitals [illegible phrase] wall also decorated. In evening we had a lecture on the Nile by the doctor. Got back from temple for tea.
Side-by-side it is possible to see how the genre of travel writing, published and unpublished, often contains strikingly similar observations, despite differences in tone (the Cook’s authoritative, the Hornby self-consciously poetic in her descriptions). It is likely that our diarist would have read one or more commercially-published travel guide before or during her tour, and it is clear that Dr. Hodson, mentioned in the December 5 entry above, mediates her interpretation of the archeological sites the group encounters.
In two weeks we will continue our journey down the Nile. In the meantime, I encourage you to explore the lavish watercolor illustrations and personable narration of Emily Hornby’s Nile Journal at Internet Archive.
| Published: Thursday, 16 April, 2015, 1:00 AM