Passage 1: The Bone Wars and the Birth of Paleontology
1 Who discovered the first dinosaur fossil? No one knows for sure. But many experts believe that dinosaur fossils were first discovered thousands of years ago by our ancient ancestors. The discovery of these fossils may have led to mythological creatures such as dragons, giants, ogres, griffins, and sea serpents.
2 Eventually, dinosaur fossils were found all over the world, including North America. But most people were not impressed with these fossils because the majority of the fossils were very small. This changed when a nearly complete dinosaur skeleton was found on a New Jersey farm in 1838. This discovery eventually led to the famous "Bone Wars."
3 At this time in American history, competition to find and document new dinosaur species was fierce. Two scientists, named Othniel Marsh and Edward Cope, were determined to find the most dinosaur fossils. At first, Marsh and Cope were friends and worked together to find dinosaur bones. However, big egos and jealousy got in the way of their friendship. And a feud called the "Bone Wars" began.
4 The feud was so out of control that both men paid others to steal fossils from each other. They were also dishonest about the authenticity of the fossils they were finding. And it was this dishonesty that led to one of Marsh’s greatest discoveries being dismissed by the scientific community.
5 During the Bone Wars, Marsh found an almost complete dinosaur skeleton. The skeleton was missing a head. So he used the skull of another dinosaur in order to complete the skeleton. Marsh named this dinosaur Apatosaurus. Drawings of this dinosaur were published in magazines and newspapers all over the country.
6 Later, Marsh received another dinosaur skeleton. Marsh believed this skeleton was an entirely new species of dinosaur, which he named Brontosaurus. In 1905, this new skeleton was put on display in Yale’s Peabody Museum. Marsh’s mistake was revealed when a scientist named Elmer Riggs discovered that the Brontosaurus was not a new species of dinosaur. Riggs determined that the Brontosaurus was really an adult Apatosaurus. Ironically, even though Riggs proved Marsh wrong, the Brontosaurus became a much beloved dinosaur and has been portrayed in movies and books.
7 There is no doubt that Marsh and Cope were the founding fathers of paleontology. They brought the past to life. While some scientists criticized the pair for their deceptive tactics, Marsh’s and Cope’s enormous contributions cannot be dismissed. They discovered over one hundred and thirty dinosaur species, collected thousands of fossils, and created hundreds of drawings. The Bone Wars unleashed a vast amount of information about dinosaurs and inspired many people to become future paleontologists who would go on to unlock the secrets of the dinosaurs that had been buried for millions of years.