Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Dinosaur Tracks, Bones, Teeth, and Eggshell

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More than 100 years ago, Othniel C. Marsh and Edward D. Cope were America's leading paleontologists. A paleontologist is a scientist who studies fossils to learn about ancient life. Fossils are the hardened remains of bones, teeth, claws, and prints of plants and animals that lived and died long ago.

The men traveled far from home to hunt for fossils. They both grew up in big cities in the eastern United States. But they discovered fossils in the wild, remote lands of the West. They hired workers to dig for fossils in places like Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana.

Marsh and Cope were both hungry for new scientific knowledge. They loved the attention they got from their discoveries. As young men, they were friendly with each other. But as their careers advanced, their friendship turned to hatred. For reasons we don't completely understand today, Marsh and Cope hated each other as adults. In public, they said mean things about one another. In private, their workers spied on each other.

In their competition to name more new dinosaurs than the other one did, each man rushed through his discoveries. In their hurry, they sometimes misnamed dinosaurs. But strangely, their fight had benefits.

Before the Cope and Marsh "Bone Wars," only nine kinds of dinosaurs had been found in North America. As the two scientists competed, however, they made many new discoveries. Each man found and named dozens of new dinosaurs.

Even more important for science, the two men discovered many complete skeletons. The best discovery for a paleontologist is a complete skeleton, with the bones still connected. With a complete skeleton, there is no guessing about what the animal looked like. These discoveries gave paleontologists a better understanding of many dinosaurs.

Cope and Marsh did more than discover and study a lot of dinosaurs. Marsh helped establish the Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven, Connecticut. Cope studied amphibians (like frogs), reptiles (like snakes), and fish. Today, a leading magazine for scientists who study these creatures is called Copeia, named for Cope.

Cope and Marsh may have hated each other, but they made great contributions to American science.

Learn more at www.peabody.yale.edu

illustrated by Kevin Menck

Source Citation
Weinstein, Mike. "Bone wars and fossil feuds: some of the greatest dinosaur discoveries in history were made by two men who hated each other." Appleseeds Jan. 2005: 10+. Popular Magazines. Web. 4 May 2010.
Document URL

Gale Document Number:A130052043

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