Those were the days before the well-populated dinosaur halls we're lucky enough to wander through today. One Mesozoic denizen of the Field was a reproduction of America's first complete and mounted dinosaur, Joseph Leidy's Hadrosaurus foulkii, towering over a pair of Cenozoic mammals, as if to boast, "I'm basically a Mesozoic cow, y'all!"
Besides the simple enjoyment of old photos, online galleries like this one sometimes contain unexpected glimpses into paleontology as it happened. One of the photos shared by the Field library is this sauropod leg found in 1899, identified as Morosaurus impar. Morosaurus is probably one of the most hilariously awful names ever imposed on a dinosaur, meaning "stupid lizard." This was a flash of genius from the Great Dismal Swamp himself, O.C. Marsh.
Much of the plate was painted white to mask out the leg for photographic reproduction. That reproduction was then used for a 1901 paper written by Field geology curator Elmer S. Riggs. Besides describing this forelimb, Riggs briefly touches on the taxonomic status of Morosaurus and another sauropod, Atlantosaurus. In the kind of taxonomic bloat that characterized the Bone Wars era, Marsh had assigned about a dozen specimens between the two genera to their own species (see Morosaurus and Atlantosaurus at the Dinosaur Encyclopedia). Having visited with Henry Fairfield Osborn recently - who was preparing a monograph on E.D. Cope's Camarasaurus - Riggs foresaw the demotion of both of the genera, writing,
"In his original description Cope predicted the unusually long humerus which the Museum specimen has so well demonstrated. The three specimens may thus be regarded as representatives of a single genus, which, in view of its priority, should retain the generic name Camarosaurus [sic]. The description of the type specimen promised by Dr. Osborn will doubtless throw further light upon the relationship of this interesting group."Though he produced a few works on sauropod anatomy in the years after Riggs wrote this, it wouldn't be until 1921 that Osborne's great monograph would be published. A mere four years later, it was topped by Charles Gilmore's monograph on Camarasaurus, starring what is still considered the finest sauropod skeleton ever excavated. Gilmore's monograph also spelled curtains for the stupid lizard, synonomizing it with Camarasaurus, which took precedent. Though "chamber lizard" isn't exactly glamorous, it's quite a step up from the demeaning epithet thought up by Marsh.
The famous Carnegie Camarasaurus, star of the Gilmore monograph. Photo by Kabacchi, via flickr.
For more on the Camarasaurus monographs of the early 20th century, check out these two pages at the wonderful Linda Hall Museum Paper Dinosaurs digital exhibition.