Monday, February 23, 2009

Earl and Apatosaurs louisae

This is the third article in a monthly series featured in the Vernal Express celebrating 100 Years of Discovery at Dinosaur National Monument, written by Dinosaur National Monument Park Guide Matthew Greuel. You can read his first article here, and the second article here, both on the Vernal Express website [my previous blog link1, 2].

It was a beautiful sight
by Matthew Greuel (02.11.09)

"At last, in the top of the ledge where the softer overlying beds form a divide, a kind of saddle, I saw eight of the tail bones of a brontosaurus in exact position. It was a beautiful sight.”

Earl Douglass wrote this in his diary on Aug. 17, 1909. Earlier that day he laid eyes on eight tail vertebrae of what was popularly known as Brontosaurus but today is known as Apatosaurus. He had found the dinosaur so dearly desired. The entire fossil animal totaled 76 feet long and 15 feet tall when reconstructed. This specimen was so complete that it is the type specimen of Apatosaurs louisae – the specimen against which all other Apatosaurs louisae are compared. It was named after Andrew Carnegie’s wife, Louise.

Removing this first dinosaur proved time consuming, but efficiency improved as Douglass and the crew became more familiar with their tasks. Douglass would remark that “…during the last ten months we have taken out much more than during the previous twenty months.” Part of this increase in efficiency was the mapping of the quarry face. Douglass would paint a grid-lines on the rock [see picture], then draw the locations of fossils a scale model grid on paper. Each fossil had an alpha-numeric code written on it. This system, still in use today, made it possible for the dinosaurs to be reconstructed upon arrival at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

There was barely a road to the new fossil quarry for transporting the bones, let alone for visitors to travel for a glance at the work being performed. Douglass and the crew, however, welcomed around 400 visitors annually the first few years of work. Douglass wrote of the visitors the first Sunday after discovery, “Today two loads of people came from Vernal to see the Dinosaur and there were several loads from other places…For a time the rocks that never had the impress of a woman’s foot and seldom that of a man swarmed with people of all ages. Mothers and grandmothers ascended the steep, almost dangerous slopes, with babes and there were men and women well along in years…” The power of dinosaurs to capture the imagination of scientist and non-scientist alike was on display....."

Keep reading the article here.

Original article © Vernal Express; photo of Earl Douglass © the Special Collections department of the University of Utah, Marriott Library Earl Douglass Photography Collection.

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