As discussed previously, the early years of the 20th century saw a bit of a scientific scuffle over the proper posture of sauropod dinosaurs.

American paleontologists, after much research, had determined that sauropods walked on upright limbs that were held directly under their bodies. At the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, scientists had mounted a skeleton of Diplodocus carnegii in just this position. The museum's benefactor, Andrew Carnegie, was much impressed by this skeleton that bore his name and commissioned plaster replicas to be sent to museums across the world.

Not everyone agreed with these upstanding sauropods, however. Many naturalists, more familiar with sprawling reptiles like lizards and crocodiles, felt that it was more appropriate to mount these skeletons with their legs splayed out to the sides, like great swan-necked salamanders. Dr. Oliver Hay was one of the more outspoken critics that took this view.

A great deal of scientific, financial, and political clout had been invested in the Carnegie sauropods, and eventually the criticisms became too much to bear. Here, The HMNH Library proudly presents the final argument in this tale—an authoritative, well illustrated smackdown of the sprawling sauropod hypothesis presented by no less a figure than the director of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Dr. William J. Holland:


The American Naturalist, 44:259–283. 1910.

A Review of Some Recent Criticisms...

...of the Restorations of Sauropod Dinosaurs Existing in the Museums of the United States, with Special Reference to that of Diplodocus carnegiei in the Carnegie Museum1

Dr. W. J. Holland

Carnegie Museum

Plate 1

Plate 1. The skeleton of Diplodocus carnegiei, mounted in the Carnegie Museum, Pittsburgh
The length from the tip of the nose to the end of the tail over curves is 84 1/2 feet; the height at the hips is about 14 feet. Replicas thus mounted are located in Berlin, Paris, Vienna and Bologna

All paleontologists are familiar with the figure of Brontosaurus excelsus Marsh, which was originally published in the American Journal of Science in August, 1883, and republished with modifications in the same periodical in 1895. This figure has since been frequently reproduced in text-books. Paleontologists are also familiar with the restoration of the skeleton of Diplodocus carnegiei Hatcher, which originally appeared in the Memoirs of the Carnegie Museum, and is reproduced in the second volume of the English translation of Zittel's "Text-book of Paleontology," by C. R. Eastman. Since the time when Mr. Hatcher made this restoration the acquisition of new material has thrown much light upon the subject, and certain changes in the pose have been suggested, which are reflected in the accompanying illustration (Plate I), which is taken from a photograph of the splendid specimen in the Carnegie Museum, replicas of which have been generously presented by Mr. Andrew Carnegie to a number of the leading museums of Europe.

In The Field (London) of August 26, 1905, Mr. F. W. Frohawk, a well-known English illustrator, published a note, in which he said, among other things:

The visitor to the Reptile Gallery of the Natural History Museum can not fail to be struck by the extraordinary pose of the gigantic skeleton. ...It would be interesting to know the reason for mounting the specimen so high on its legs, like some huge pachyderm. As it is a gigantic lizard, why should it not be represented in the attitude usually assumed by such animals? ...Doubtless there is some good reason for mounting it in such an attitude; if so, information on the subject would be welcome.

No reply was given to this query, except incidentally by Professor (now Sir) E. Ray Lankester, who said in a newspaper interview that "the laterally compressed form of the body, according to the opinion of American student, precludes the idea that the animal could have crawled upon its belly."

Shortly after the restored skeleton of Brontosaurus excelsus, which is one of the ornaments of the American Museum of Natural History, had been erected, Messrs. Otto and Charles Falkenbach, assistants in the paleontological laboratory of that museum, made a model, in which they attempted to show the Brontosaurus in a crawling attitude. I am indebted to Dr. W. D. Matthew for an illustration of this model, which is herewith reproduced (Fig. 1).

Figure 1

Fig. 1. Small model of Skeleton of Brontosaurus excelsus Marsh, made by Messrs. O. and C. Falkenbach.

This model was discussed at the meeting of the American Society of Vertebrate Paleontologists held at the American Museum of Natural History in 1906, and by common consent was judged for many reasons to represent the impossible.

In October, 1908, there appeared in Vol. XLII of The American Naturalist an article from the pen of Dr. Oliver P. Hay, "On the Habits and Pose of the Sauropod Dinosaurs, especially of Diplodocus." Dr. Hay maintains that in assembling the fossil remains of these animals they should have been given a crocodilian attitude. At the conclusion of his article he sums up his views in the following words:

It seems to the writer that our museums which are engaged in making mounts and restorations of the great sauropoda have missed an opportunity to construct some striking presentations of these reptiles that would be truer to nature. The body placed in a crocodile-like attitude would be little, if any, less imposing than when erect; while the long neck, as flexible as that of an ostrich, might be placed in a variety of graceful positions.

The article of Dr. Hay was followed by a paper from the pen of Dr. Gustav Tornier, who, taking his cue from Dr. Hay, has tried to show that American paleontologists have totally erred in their conception of the structure of the sauropod dinosaurs, and has given his views as to the manner in which the bones of the Diplodocus should have been assembled. His paper is embellished by a number of cuts. Professor Tornier's paper was followed in the popular scientific journal Aus der Natur by an article from the pen of Dr. Richard Sternfeld, in which he endorses the views of Tornier and endeavors to hold American paleontologists up to ridicule, asserting that they have "literally, from head to foot, misconstructed the Diplodocus, and probably also its near allies." Sternfeld enlarges upon Tornier's views and gives some illustrations of his own.

In the manner of a man who has made a wonderful discovery, Tornier announces at the outset of his paper that Diplodocus is a genuine reptile—"ein echtes Reptil." No student of the sauropoda has ever doubted this. But having predicated the genuinely reptilian character of the animal, Tornier proceeds thereafter to speak of the Diplodocus as a lacertilian—"ein Eidechse." There are reptiles and reptiles. Having assured himself of the truly reptilian character of the animal, it was a bold step for him immediately to transfer the creature from the order Dinosauria, and evidently with the skeleton of a Varanus and a Chameleon before him, to proceed with the help of a pencil, the powerful tool of the closet-naturalist, to reconstruct the skeleton upon the study of which two generations of American paleontologists have expended considerable time and labor, and squeeze the animal into the form which his brilliantly illuminated imagination suggested. The fact that the dinosauria differ radically from existing reptiles in a multitude of important structural points seems not to have greatly impressed itself upon the mind of this astute critic. He intimates that the pelvis of Diplodocus is distinctly lacertilian. He states that the great trochanter of the femur, which he does not designate as such, articulated with the ischial peduncle, and takes care to show the point of union by means of a lettered diagram, which I herewith reproduce (Fig. 2).

Figure 2

Fig. 2. Reproduction of the figure given by Dr. Tornier in which he endeavors at the left to show the hind limb of Diplodocus as mounted, and at the right the position which he claims the limb should have.

He takes pains to show that (e) the great trochanter, articulates with (c) the ischial peduncle. It may be said in passing that Dr. Tornier takes very great liberties with the outlies of the bones. His drawing is very far from accurate. Unfortunately actual experiment shows, first, that it is impossible except by smashing the ilium or breaking the femur to jam the head of the latter into the position demanded for it by the learned professor; but, second, this is the only time, it is believed, in the history of anatomical science that any one has discovered that the great trochanter of the femur ought to be and is by nature intended to be articulated with the ischial peduncle of the ilium, thus locking the femur into a position utterly precluding all motion whatsever.

The next step taken by this wonder-working comparative anatomist was to dislocate the knee-joint. This he proceeds to do in a most nonchalant manner, and leaves the articulating end of the femur peering forth into space (see Fig. 2, g), while the tibia and the fibula are mae to articulate with the posterior edges of the interior and exterior condyles of the femur. Having adopted this change, he succeeds in so lowering the hind quarters of the Diplodocus that they must rest upon the anterior extremity of the pubic bones, which, with the fragile ends of the ribs, not much greater in size than those of an ox, have thrown upon them the entire weight of the carcass. To obviate the inconveniences of this pose the lead pencil is again brought into requisition and the anterior vertebræ are hoisted into the air and propped up upon the scapulæ, the dorsal ends of which have been glued into a hypothetical suprascapula to the lateral processes of the last cervical vertebræ (see Fig. 3). This transference of the scapula to the Tornerian position is done in order to give, as the author says, an opportunity to so place the scapula that horizontal motion backward and forward may be allowed to the humerus, which he takes pains to inform us is strikingly like that of a Varanus. Upon the latter point it is quite possible to differ from the learned critic.

The anterior portion of the trunk having been thus elevated, the fore legs are again dislocated at the juncture of the humerus with the radius and ulna and stuffed underneath the skeleton, while the great neck is thrown upward in the form of a reversed letter "S," the Hogarthian lines of which no doubt suggested themselves to the learned reconstructionist as possessing soulful grace. A reproduction of the skeletal monstrosity perpetrated by Tornier is here given (Fig. 3).

Figure 3

Fig. 3. The skeleton of Diplodocus mounted according to Tornier in the correct position "Richtige Stellung."

As a contribution to the literature of caricature the success achieved is remarkable. It reminds us somewhat of those creations carved in wood emanating from Nuremburg, which were the delight of our childhood, and which came to us stuffed in boxes labeled "Noah's Ark," and stamped "Made in Germany."

I should prefer to end my communication at this point, commending the perusal of the articles by Hay, Tornier, and Sternfeld to the attention of those of you who are familiar with the osteology of the sauropoda as amusing illustrations of the manner in which it is possible for gentlemen possessing entirely inadequate acquaintance with a subject to "darken counsel by words without knowledge."

1 The substance of this paper was communicated to the Annual Meeting of the Paleontological Section of the Geological Society of America on December 30, 1909. The paper at that time was freely illustrated by means of the stereopticon, and a number of the pictures and diagrams then used are herewith reproduced. Back

Dr. Holland, however, does continue, and the next part of this article is available in Part Two of Dr. Holland and the Sprawling Sauropods