Tyrant king of the paleontologists?

18 07 2007

Even though I won’t have a chance to start reading it until later this week (or next), I flipped through Henry Fairfield Osborn’s The Origin and Evolution of Life this morning and came across something a bit surprising. Preceding the book is a black and white photo of the Tyrannosaurus rex Barnum Brown found (and Osborn named) that resides in the American Museum of Natural History, the dinosaurs posture being the old tail-dragging one, of course. Underneath the photograph, however, is this caption;

Tyrannosaurus rex, THE KING OF THE TYRANT SAURIANS

The climax among carnivorous reptiles of a complex mechanism for the capture, storage, and release of energy. Contemporary and destroyer of the large herbivorous dinosaurs.

While I am not a personal H.F. Osborn historian, I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a special fondness for the iconic dinosaur that he named (although Tyrannosaurus could have wound up with a very different moniker is history went differently). Even beyond the high profile public status of the dinosaur, Tyrannosaurus was apparently the biggest, the most fierce, and the overall “highest” of the dinosaurs, and given Osborn’s ideas about orthogenesis (essentially a driving, vital force behind evolution towards a more perfect or complex goal) and aristogenesis (more on this as I read the book) I’m not surprised that he would have a fondness for a dinosaur that embodied nearly limitless power and unstoppable competition. Indeed, Osborn seems to focus on the “energy” behind evolution and how that energy gives bodies form, chastising naturalists for looking at evolution’s end-products and working backwards in the book’s introduction. How these ideas will take shape due to Osborn’s ideas and beliefs, I have yet to find out, although given that this book is forgotten I’m not expecting to find much especially prescient or wise in the pages.


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5 responses

18 07 2007
Zach Miller

You know, the original Tyrannosaurus rex description (seriously!) is at the American Museum Novitates library for free download. It’s a wonderfully colorful paper to read, but the real fun comes from the plate at the end showing a skeletal restoration. I didn’t realize that Brown hadn’t dug up an entire animal (legend says he did).

18 07 2007
laelaps

Zach; Yup, I actually refer back to the free AMNH papers whenever I’m bored, and I referenced a post in which I referred back to it; (https://laelaps.wordpress.com/2007/06/04/a-t-rex-by-any-other-name/)

I’ll have to look up how much Brown actually found, but whenever I see the somewhat distorted skull or a replica (like we have at the state museum), the first words in my head are usually “That’s Barnum Brown’s rex!”

19 07 2007
Neil

Osborn was shooting for a more dynamic (pun intended) mount, something like this, but without the luxury of featherlight synthetic polymers to cast the skeleton in, they wound of with something out of Weekend at Bernie’s.

The first Brown rex (aka Dynamosaurs was ~ 13%, the 1916 mount was a combo of two partial skeletons found by Brown in 1902 and 1908 which together formed nearly an entire skeleton minus some ribs etc. and some forelimb elements, I think.

I’m guessing the photo in Origin and Evolution…is Abram Anderson’s 1915 photo: on view here. That photo is interesting in that it was retouched to remove the armature, perhaps giving the mount a more ‘natural’ appearance than it would have otherwise had and helping to perpetuate that erroneous view of T. rex posture.

19 07 2007
laelaps

Neil; thanks for the confirmation about Brown’s find. I had covered the double rex pose in my Dragons of Eden post for the creation museum opening, although I hear that the Carnegie museum has two Tyrannosaurus facing off in the same spirit as Osborn’s idea (albeit in updated poses).

You’re also right that the photo in the book is Anderson’s, and thanks for the fact about the armature! That’s part of the reason why I love the AMNH so much; even when mounts and displays become outdated, there’s still so much history to them. Thanks again for sharing your greater knowledge of the subject.

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