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"Bone Wars"

Written by Paul Sutter on Monday, 18 September 2017. Posted in From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

To help us prep for the upcoming natural history exhibit at COSI, starting this week I've invited my biology- and paleontology-leaning friends from OSU to guest blog about dinosaurs and evolution. Up first is Dr. Katherine O’Brien, a postdoctoral fellow at OSU and the community outreach specialist for the Museum of Biological Diversity. Her goal is to increase diversity in STEM by developing connections between universities, the arts, museums, and the communities they serve. To support this mission, Katherine also organizes the Columbus Science Pub and is an active member of the STEAM factory.

She writes:

If you can’t wait to explore the new Dinosaurs exhibit from the collections of the American Museum of Natural History this fall at COSI, you are not alone. People have been fascinated by dinosaurs since the first skeleton was identified in Haddonfield New Jersey in 1858. By 1868 this Hadrosaurus was displayed for the public in Philadelphia at the Academy of Natural Science after being carefully assembled into a life-like pose by Dr. Joseph Leidy and Edward Drinker Cope. People from across the United States flocked to Philadelphia to see this display. The number of annual visitors to the Academy of Natural Science jumped from 30,000 to over 100,000 in just 2 years, which forced the curators to find a larger building to accommodate public interest.

All this excitement led to the Bone Wars; a period from 1870-1897 where two paleontologists—O.C. Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope—competed to make dinosaur discoveries. Marsh and Cope engaged in some sensational behavior including stealing bones from western dig sites, revealing each other’s research sites, and running press smear campaigns.

The American Museum of Natural History, a pet project of Teddy Roosevelt, opened in 1877 in the mist of the Bone Wars. By 1912, the AMNH contained one of the most extensive collections of fossils in the world. Now the vast majority of their dinosaurs are not even displayed. One dinosaur on display is the Allosaurus skeleton that Cope initially assembled backwards, although it is now assembled correctly.

To learn more, check out the “Bone shards, Cowboys, and Thunder Lizards” graphic novel available at Columbus libraries and “The Bone Wars” by Katheryn Lasky.

About the Author

Paul Sutter

Paul Sutter

Paul Sutter is COSI's Chief Scientist. He is an astrophysicist and offers a wealth of knowledge about our universe. In addition to his COSI position, Paul Sutter is a Cosmological Researcher and Community Outreach Coordinator at The Ohio State University's Center for Cosmology and AstroParticle Physics (CCAPP).