The Brontosaurus- that iconic and beloved dinosaur we all saw Fred slide down in every episode of the Flintstone’s, is one of the most popular dinosaurs ever discovered. Second only to the T-Rex, some might argue.
Well friends- Fred was sliding down a lie! The Brontosaurus, in actuality, never existed. But how could such a considerable error occur? And why were we lead to believe it was real for so long? Here’s the story…
In the 1860’s two American paleontologists, Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh, became competitors in the race to make the next big fossil discovery. They fought over digging rights, claimed that the other’s team had damaged fossils, etc. The rivalry was so bitter that much of the “data” collected was inaccurate and would take future paleontologists years of analysis to discover these oversights.
This contention between the two would lead to the mistaken identity of the Brontosaurus. Marsh, in a rush to beat Cope, had constructed the bones of an Apatosaurus, which his team had discovered. This particular set of bones was missing a skull and Marsh mistakenly used another dinosaur’s head to complete the skeleton. The skull used was believed to be from a Camarasaurus. This error caused him to mistake the dinosaur as a new species.
The error was caught early in the 20th century, but the name continued to be used and illustrations of the pseudo-dinosaur were in books, TV, and even the symbol of the petroleum supplier Sinclair. In the 1970’s, the error was officially rectified and The Museum of Natural History in New York and The Carnegie Museum in Pittsburg corrected their “Brontosaurus” structures. The beloved dinosaur was removed from existence.
But wait! There’s good news for your broken heart. Just this year a study was released stating that the Apatosaurus excelsus (formerly known as Brontosaurus) is distinct enough from its Apatosaurian kin as to be in its own class. Thus, the dinosaur once known as Brontosaurus may regain the title once again. But this rests on the decision of the paleontological experts.