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Brontosaurus - The Dinosaur that Never Existed - Mystery Files

Updated on November 9, 2012
The Fabled Brontosaurus
The Fabled Brontosaurus | Source
We all love Dinosaurs
We all love Dinosaurs

We all love the Brontosaurus

Who amongst us did not have a passion, when we were children, for Dinosaurs. Those huge lumbering and sometimes terrifying creatures from a bygone age. Those primeval prehistoric leviathans, stars of museums TV and books, and immortalised on cellulose in such films as "Jurassic Park".

Many six-year olds are able to identify any number of exotic dinosaur after only a cursory glance at a picture or model of the beast, and one of the most readily-identified amongst the menagerie must surely be the Brontosaurus - That huge, yet docile herbivore with the incredibly long neck that would seek it's sustenance in the high leafy trees of the Jurassic forests.

So it will come as a shock to many of us to discover that it's just not true - there was no such thing as a Brontosaurus. The benign behemoths that we knew and loved as The Brontosaurus - just never existed.

No Brontosaurus? - You must be kidding!

Now the fact that the Brontosaurus never existed may be a revelation to you, but paleontologists have known the truth for some time, and from the 1970s onwards have been been quietly admitting as much.

The beast that you thought (along with everyone else for the past century or so), was a Brontosaurus, was actually, largely an Apatosaurus - Apatosaurus, interestingly enough means "Deceptive Lizard".

The Brontosaurus story began way back in 1874. A man called Othniel Charles Marsh discovered, in Wyoming, USA, the most complete dinosaur skeleton that had ever, up to that time, been unearthed.

We now know that it was an Apatosaurus - we also know that it was headless! However, in order to present a complete skeleton to the scientific community, Marsh "Borrowed" the head from a completely different dinosaur - a Camarasurus - which he had found some four miles away, and cobbled the disparate parts together. He then presented his hybrid in a scientific paper, heralding it as a completely new dinosaur - The Brontosaurus!

The scientific community were completely taken in - how could they not be? - Did Marsh not have a full Brontosaurus skeleton as evidence? So Marsh was lauded as a paleontological hero and the Brontosaurus went on to become one of the most instantly recognisable dinosaurs of all.

The completely different head of the Apatosaurus

Apatosaurus head (Top) compared with a Camarasaurus head (Bottom)
Apatosaurus head (Top) compared with a Camarasaurus head (Bottom) | Source

The Brontosaurus is Busted - Slowly.

By 1903, the game was largely up. Scientists by now were aware (largely due to the work of another paleontologist, Elmer Riggs), that the Brontosaurus was actually an Apatosaurus with the head of a Camarasaurus.

This information however, never seemed reluctant to escape it's own little scientific circle. The name of Brontosaurus continued to be used by Museums and the name was not formally removed from Paleontology records and textbooks until 1974 and the Brontosaurus exhibit at the Carnegie Museum finally received it's correct head in 1979.

This low-level, some would say stealthy, changing of information, left the majority of the people outside of the scientific community unaware that the Brontosaurus had never existed. Indeed, in 1989, the US Postal service issued a set of four stamps featuring Dinosaurs: Tyranosaurus, Pterandon, Stegosaurus and - You guessed it - Brontosaurus!

There was a media outcry, with the press accusing the post office of "fostering scientific illiteracy" by not checking for scientific accuracy before publishing, and there were demands that the stamps be recalled.

Apatosaurus Skeleton at the New York Museum of Natural History
Apatosaurus Skeleton at the New York Museum of Natural History | Source

Bye Bye Brontosaurus - Hello Apatosaurus.

Although the Brontosaurus is no longer with us, the skeleton that started it all is. It continues to be displayed at the prestigeous Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University in the USA.

The skeleton, at long last, now has the correct skull - that of an Apatosaurus.


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  • Gaizy profile image

    Gaizy 5 years ago from Denbigh, North Wales, UK

    Hi Greensleeves. Thanks for the kind words and I totally agree with you that the name "Brontosaurus" is too good to lose, to me it's almost an alternative word for "Dinosaur". Thanks also for the inclusion in your review. Much appreciated.

  • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

    Greensleeves Hubs 5 years ago from Essex, UK

    An interesting article Gaizy, particularly for me to see the difference in appearance of the heads of Apatosaurus and Camarasaurus - something which I was not aware of, even though I knew the basics of the removal of Brontosaurus from the list of recognised dinosaurs. It's such a good name though isn't it - I sometimes wish they could use the name Brontosaurus to christen the next similar sauropod to be discovered, so that the name survives into the future!

    Anyway, I wanted to say that I like this article and your explanation of the history of the dinosaur that never was, which I'm sure would be of interest to all who love these creatures. I have therefore included this hub in a review of ten prehistoric hubs which I've just published on HubPages. I hope my review brings a few more visitors to your hub. Alun.

  • Gaizy profile image

    Gaizy 6 years ago from Denbigh, North Wales, UK

    @ ruffridyer. I still thought it was called a Brontosaurus until I researched the story.

  • profile image

    ruffridyer 6 years ago from Dayton, ohio

    I thought the brontosaurus was just renamed. Silly me.

    Thank you for the info.

  • RNMSN profile image

    Barbara Bethard 6 years ago from Tucson, Az

    :) o

    ok that did it now I KNOW you are a kindred spirit and will need my pestering for a long time to come!!


    you are soooo welcome :)

    love to you

    barbara b

  • Gaizy profile image

    Gaizy 6 years ago from Denbigh, North Wales, UK

    @ RNMSN - I know.. Is nothing sacred? ;)

  • RNMSN profile image

    Barbara Bethard 6 years ago from Tucson, Az

    but he is one of my favourites!

    dadgumit first Pluto isn't a planet and now this?????

    what will we do? :)

    really cool hub Gaizy!!

  • Gaizy profile image

    Gaizy 6 years ago from Denbigh, North Wales, UK

    @ efeyas - Yes, I was also taken aback when I found out.

  • efeyas profile image

    efeyas 6 years ago from Some Sunny Beach, USA

    WOW I had no idea! Boy do I feel dumb! lol :) Great Hub!

  • Gaizy profile image

    Gaizy 6 years ago from Denbigh, North Wales, UK

    @ Electro-Denizen - Thanks for your comment.

  • Electro-Denizen profile image

    Charles 6 years ago from Wales, UK

    Hi Gaizy, interesting hub again!