The 130th Anniversary of the Naming of Diplodocus

Diplodocus one of the best known of all the dinosaurs, a regular entry in the annual Everything Dinosaur survey of children’s most popular prehistoric animals, was named in 1878.  This year marks the 130th anniversary of the naming of this long-necked Sauropod.  A number of species of Diplodocus are now recognised, indeed recently the single specimen of the huge Seismosaurus has been reclassified by some palaeontologists as a Diplodocus (D. hallorum).

To read more about this: The Demise of Seismosaurus

Diplodocus means “double beam”, the name is derived from the unusual shape of the bones on the underside of the tail.  These bones, called chevrons, in most dinosaurs are simple V-shaped structures, but with Diplodocus the chevrons are striking and unusual.  They are shaped like side-on letter Ts, projecting both forwards and to the rear, as to their precise function, this remains unclear.  However, scientists now believe that Diplodocus held its tail straight out behind it, lifted off the ground.

Diplodocus owes much of its fame to the 19th Century American businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.  He funded a number of expeditions to collect dinosaur fossils in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  He was one of the principals behind the funding of the Natural History museum of Pittsburgh, named the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in his honour.  When an almost complete skeleton of a Diplodocus was unearthed in the USA, he commissioned 11 casts of the massive skeleton and donated them to museums all over the world – including the Natural History Museum in London.

This species of Diplodocus – D. carnegii was named in recognition of Mr Carnegie’s services to science.   In the late 1980’s new studies into Diplodocid anatomy concluded that the long tail was held off the ground.  This rethink over the Diplodocus stance and posture led to a revision in museum displays.  The graceful 87½ feet long skeleton had to be reconstructed, depicting the tail raised off the ground.  This work was undertaken in 1994.  The Carnegie Diplodocus dominates the main entrance and hallway of the Natural History museum.

Further Diplodocus finds from the Western USA led American palaeontologist Steven Czerkas to propose that there may have been a row of spines running down the back and tail of Diplodocus, but this theory is controversial.

This explains one of the dilemmas facing model makers when they come to reconstruct Diplodocus.  Some manufacturers have chosen to produce a Diplodocid with spines, such as the Natural History Museum model (seen below).

Natural History Museum Diplodocus

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

In this model, Diplodocus is depicted with spines running from over the sacral vertebrae down to the tip of the tail.  The animal’s colours have been inspired by elephantine colouration, dark, mottled greys.

To view the model: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur Models

In contrast, the American company Safari, took a very different approach.  In their larger 1:30 scale model of Diplodocus, introduced this year, partly to mark the anniversary of the naming of this Dinosaur, the animal is depicted without spines.

Safari Carnegie Diplodocus

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

This particular model of a Diplodocus has been coloured differently in contrast to the British influenced and designed Diplodocid.  The head area has been given a flash of blue, perhaps indicating that the head and neck could have been used to send signals to other animals within the herd.

To view this model: Dinosaur Models – Dinosaur Toys

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