Apatosaurus (right, opposite a Diplodocus skeleton at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh), is what paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh actually found when he thought he’d discovered the Brontosaurus.

In the realm of dinosaurs, there exists a popular misconception surrounding a particular creature: the Brontosaurus. Despite its widespread recognition, scientific evidence indicates that the Brontosaurus never truly existed.

The genesis of this fallacy can be traced back to the historical rivalry between two prominent paleontologists, O.C. Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope, during a period known as the Bone Wars. Amidst their fervent competition, Marsh unearthed a partial skeleton in 1877, which he named Apatosaurus. However, lacking a complete skull, Marsh hastily reconstructed the dinosaur in 1883, erroneously incorporating the skull of another species, believed to be a Camarasaurus.

Subsequently, in a bid to outshine his rival, Marsh misidentified a subsequent discovery as a distinct dinosaur, which he christened Brontosaurus. Yet, this purportedly new species was later revealed to be another Apatosaurus specimen, leading to the perpetuation of the Brontosaurus myth.

Despite scientific rectification in 1903, the Brontosaurus persisted in popular culture, immortalized in various media forms. Even the renowned Carnegie Museum of Natural History inadvertently perpetuated the misconception by displaying an Apatosaurus skeleton adorned with the erroneous head until 1979.

Ultimately, the truth prevailed when diligent researchers uncovered the genuine Apatosaurus skull in 1910, prompting the correction of the museum’s exhibit. Thus, the saga of the Brontosaurus serves as a cautionary tale of scientific rivalry and the enduring power of misinformation in shaping public perception.

Othniel Charles Marsh was a professor of paleontology at Yale who made many dinosaur fossil discoveries, including the Apatosaurus — and the fictional Brontosaurus.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
This photograph from 1934 shows the Carnegie Museum’s Apatosaurus skeleton on the right — wearing the wrong skull.
Carnegie Museum of Natural History

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