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Immaculate Misconceptions: Brontosaurus is back

Another wonderful addition to our Immaculate Misconceptions feature! Akash Beri sets the record straight that the Brontosaurus dinosaur did, in fact, exist!

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dinosaurs-wallpaper-4(1)Ever since Jurassic Park, many of us have fallen in love with dinosaurs and they have inspired the imagination of children everywhere. The
Tyrannosaurs Rex, the Velociraptor, the Stegosaurus: names which hold
incredible value to the scientific understanding of our planet’s past. However, one dinosaur in particular has had a problematic history, as a debate
spanning over 100 years questioned whether it existed at all. This, was the Brontosaurus excelsus. Meaning ‘thunder lizard’ in Greek, this genus of sauropod dinosaur was discovered and named in 1879 by Othneil Charles Marsh. Enormous in size, with a long reaching neck and plodding walk, it became one of the most famous
dinosaurs of all time, a poster child for the dino period.

PSM_V34_D488_Brontosaurus

At the time, the infamous ‘Bone Wars’ was being raged between Marsh and his rival Edward Drinker Cope, who both attempted to outdo one another in the field of palaeontology. As a result, the research and publications of Marsh and Cope were rushed and incomplete, which left the Brontosaurus thesis vulnerable to criticism.

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Apatosaurus Skeleton (wikipedia)

This came in the form of Elmer Riggs in 1903, who argued that the Brontosaurs was not distinct enough from the Apatosaurus to justify its own genus.

“In view of these facts the two genera may be regarded as synonymous. As the term ‘Apatosaurus’ has priority, ‘Brontosaurus’ will be regarded as a synonym”.

Consequently, the scientific community shifted its argument and almost all 20th-century palaeontologists agreed that both species should be classified under the same name of Apatosaurus excelsus.

Despite contention from prominent palaeontologists like Robert T. Bakker, this view went virtually unchallenged until April 2015, when leading scientists at the University of Oxford deemed the Brontosaurus unique enough to warrant its own genus. Dr. Roger Benson, a co-author from Oxford University, said:

“The differences we found between Brontosaurus and Apatosaurus were at least as numerous as the ones between other closely related genera, and much more than what you normally find between species”

Using sophisticated computer software, they were able to calculate small differences and variations between the two dinosaurs. Emanuel Tschopp, a swiss national who led the study during his PhD, said: “Our research would not have been possible at this level of detail 15 or more years ago. In fact, until very recently, the claim that
Brontosaurus was the same as Apatosaurus was completely reasonable, based on the knowledge we had.”

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Benson and his colleagues have now concluded the Brontosaurs should be resurrected, based on the 300-page study which analysed 477 different physical features of 81 sauropod specimens over five years. Following the
summer blockbuster Jurassic World, I can think of no better time to dig out your Brontosaurus action figure.

Because, he’s back baby.

Akash Beri

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