October 29, 2011 - Happy Birthday, Othniel Marsh

The Bone Wars!

The Great Dinosaur Rush!

Our birthday boy (born in New York on this day in 1831) grew up to be a fossil hunter who fought a “war” of discovery with another fossil hunter.

Othniel Marsh was a paleontologist. He led fossil-hunting excursions in the U.S., and they uncovered more than a thousand fossils, including 500 new species of fossil animals. Fossils of flying pterosaurs, dinosaurs, toothed birds, and early horses...all sorts of fossils poured into the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale, because of Marsh.

Marsh (on the right)
vs. Cope (on the left)
But Marsh's rival, who used to be his friend, a man name Edward Drinker Cope, was very competitive and was trying just as hard to uncover and discover fossils just as fast as Marsh was. Both sides of the rivalry acted badly, using underhanded methods and even resorting to bribery and theft! Worse still, some bones were destroyed in the rivalry—so now nobody can learn whatever story those bones would have told! Isn't that sad?

By the end of the Bone Wars, both Marsh and Cope had exhausted their funds. But Marsh considered that he “won,” since he found 80 new species of dinosaurs, and Cope only found 56.

To learn more about the Bone Wars, check out Wyoming's Tales and Trail's page. 

Better yet, find the book The Bone Wars, by Kathryn Lasky.  (Amazon says “for grades 8 and up.”)

Another book called Bone Wars is a science fiction/alternate history book written by Brett Davis. This book takes reality – the Marsh/Cope rivalry – as its basis but adds a girl (or woman?) masquerading as a cowboy, some Sioux Indians, and two aliens – all of whom join Marsh and Cope in the Great Dinosaur Rush. Apparently the book is written for adults, and I wonder if there is content that would upset kids. If anyone has read it, leave a comment. 

There is also a game called “Bone Wars: The Game of Ruthless Paleontology.” 

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