Sauropod dinosaur research: a historical review

6th October 2010

Palaeobiology Research Group, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Portsmouth, Burnaby Road, Portsmouth PO1 3QL, UK and Department of Earth Sciences, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, UK
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Abstract: In the 169 years since Owen named a tooth as Cardiodon, the study of sauropod dinosaurs has gone through several distinct periods. In the early years, a sequence of descriptions of isolated skeletal elements gave rise to a gradually emerging understanding of the animals that would later be known as sauropods. The second phase began in 1871 with Phillips's description of Cetiosaurus oxoniensis, the first reasonably complete sauropod, and continued with the Marsh-Cope Bone Wars and the description of the nearly complete sauropods Camarasaurus and 'Brontosaurus' (= Apatosaurus). As these and other genera became better known, a third phase began, exploring not just the remains but the lives of these giants, with arguments about posture and habitat to the fore, and with the public becoming increasingly aware of sauropods owing to skeletal mounts. A 'dark age' followed during and after World War II, with sauropods considered uninteresting evolutionary dead ends and largely ignored. This was brought to an end by the 'dinosaur renaissance' that began in the late 1960s, since when work has recommenced with new vigour, and the public has been introduced to a more vigorous and terrestrial image of sauropods through film and television. Both diversity and disparity of sauropods continue to increase through new descriptive work, and the group is now seen as more fascinating and worthy of study than ever before.


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