Bone Wars

The Bone Wars were an infamous period in the history of paleontology when the two pre-eminent paleontologists of the time, Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh, competed to see who could find the most, and more sensational, new species of dinosaur. This competition was marred by bribery, politics, violations of American Indian territories and virulent personal attacks.


These strange creatures flapped their leathery wings over the waves, and often plunging, seized many an unsuspecting fish; or, soaring, at a safe distance, viewed the sports and combats of more powerful saurians of the sea. At night-fall, we may imagine them trooping to the shore, and suspending themselves to the cliffs by the claw-bearing fingers of their wing-limbs.

—Cope, describing the Pterodactyl

The Bone Wars were triggered by the 1858 discovery of the holotype specimen of Hadrosaurus foulkii by William Parker Foulke in the marl pits of Haddonfield, New Jersey. It was the first nearly-complete skeleton of a dinosaur ever found, and sparked great interest in the new field of paleontology. The skeleton was sent to the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, where it was named and described in 1858 by Joseph Leidy, who was perhaps the leading paleontologist of the time.
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Othniel Charles Marsh
Edward Drinker Cope worked for Leidy, and soon was working in the marl pits of southwest New Jersey. Together they made a number of discoveries, including the second almost-complete skeleton of a dinosaur, a carnivorous Dryptosaurus aquilunguis. They made arrangements for the companies digging up the marl, which was being used as a fertilizer, to contact them whenever any fossilized bones were unearthed. Cope moved to Haddonfield to be near the discoveries, and soon rivaled his mentor in fame.

At the time, Marsh was a professor at Yale University (which was still called Yale College), in New Haven, Connecticut, studying fossilized dinosaur tracks in the Connecticut Valley. As the first American professor of paleontology, the discoveries in New Jersey were of intense interest. He visited Cope, whom he knew from the University of Berlin, and was given a tour of the discovery sites. Together they unearthed some new partial skeletons, but the rivalry started soon after when Cope learned that Marsh had secretly returned and bribed the marl company managers to report any new finds directly to him.[1]

In 1870, the attention shifted west, and in 1877, specifically to the Morrison Formation in Kansas, Nebraska, and Colorado, which during the Cretaceous was on the shore of a great sea. Since both were wealthy — Cope was the scion of a wealthy Quaker family, and Marsh was the nephew of George Peabody, for whom Yale's museum is named — they used their own personal wealth to fund expeditions each summer, and then spent the winter publishing their discoveries. Small armies of fossil hunters in mule-drawn wagons were soon sending quite literally tons of fossils back East.
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Edward Drinker Cope
But their discoveries were accompanied by sensational accusations of spying, stealing workers, stealing fossils, and bribery. Among other things Cope repeatedly accused Marsh of stealing fossils, and was so angry that he stole a train full of Marsh's fossils, and had it sent to Philadelphia. Marsh, in turn, was so determined that he stole skulls from American Indian burial platforms and violated treaties by trespassing on their land. He was also so protective of his fossil sites that he even used dynamite on one to prevent it from falling into Cope's hands.

They also tried to ruin each other's professional credibility. When Cope made a simple error, and attached the head of an Elasmosaurus to the wrong end of the animal (the tail, instead of the neck), he tried to cover up his mistake. He even went so far as to purchase every copy he could find of the journal it was published in; but Marsh, who pointed out the error in the first place, made sure to publicize the story. Marsh was no more infallible, however. He made a similar error, and put the wrong head on the skeleton of an Apatosaurus (which was still being called the Brontosaurus). But his error was not discovered for more than a hundred years. In 1981, the Peabody Museum of Natural History finally acknowledged the mistake, and exhibits around the world had to be redone.


By most standards, Marsh won the Bone Wars. Both made finds of incredible scientific value, but while Marsh discovered a total of 86 new species, due in part to his discovery of the Como Bluff site, near Medicine Bow, Wyoming (one of the richest sources of fossils known), Cope only discovered 56. Many of the fossils Cope unearthed were of species that had already been named, or were of uncertain identification. While the species Marsh discovered include household names, like Triceratops, Allosaurus, Diplodocus, and Stegosaurus, even Cope's most famous discoveries, like the Dimetrodon, Camarasaurus, Coelophysis, and Monoclonius were more obscure. But their cumulative finds defined the field of paleontology; at the start of the Bone Wars, there were only nine named species of dinosaur in North America; after the Bone Wars, there were around 150 species. Furthermore, some of their theories — like Marsh's argument that birds are descended from dinosaurs; or "Cope's law", which states that over time species tend to get larger — are still referred to today.

Cope is widely regarded as the more brilliant scientist, but more brash and careless. He was so prolific, publishing more than 1,200 scientific papers, that he set a record he still holds to this day. Marsh in turn was colder and more methodical but he was the better politician. He moved easily among the members of high society, including President Ulysses S. Grant and the Rothschilds. He even befriended Buffalo Bill Cody and the Lakota Indian chief Red Cloud.

Their rivalry lasted until Cope's death in 1897, but by that time they had both run out of money. Marsh got Cope's federal funding cut off (including his funding from the U.S. Geological Survey), and Cope had to sell part of his collection. Marsh in turn had to mortgage his home, and ask Yale for a salary to live on. Cope nonetheless issued a final challenge at his death; he had his skull donated to science so that his brain could be measured, hoping that his brain would be larger than his adversary; at the time, it was thought brain size was the true measure of intelligence. Marsh never rose to the challenge, but Cope's skull is still preserved.[1]

While their collective discoveries helped define the budding new field of study, the race also had some negative effects. Their animosity and public behavior harmed the reputation of American paleontology in Europe for decades. Furthermore, the use of dynamite and sabotage by employees of both men destroyed hundreds of potentially critical fossil remains. It will never be known how much their rivalry has damaged our understanding of life forms in the regions which they worked.

There have been books written about the Bone Wars. Two notable examples are "The gilded dinosaur : the fossil war between E.D. Cope and O.C. Marsh and the rise of American science" by Mark Jaffe and "The Bonehunters' Revenge, Dinosaurs, Greed, and the Greatest Scientific Feud of the Gilded Age" by David Rains Wallace.

Recently the Bone Wars has been the subject of a graphic novel, Bone Sharps, Cowboys, and Thunder Lizards, by Joe Ottoviani. It is not quite true to fact; the events have been randomized in order that the story reads more like a TV script. There is also a card game, "", by James L. Cambias and Diane Kelly. The Bone Wars was also featured, in more fantastical form, in the book Bone Wars by Brett Davis, which includes aliens also interested in the bones. [2]

External links


1. ^ The Dinosaurs!: Flesh on the Bones -Part 2/4 of the PBS 1994 Documentary
2. ^ [1]
Palaeontology redirects here. For the scientific journal, see Palaeontology (journal).

Paleontology, palaeontology or palæontology (from Greek: paleo, "ancient"; ontos
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Edward Drinker Cope (July 28, 1840–April 12, 1897) was an American paleontologist and comparative anatomist, as well as a noted herpetologist and ichthyologist.

Cope was born in Philadelphia to Quaker parents.
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Othniel Charles Marsh (October 29, 1831 - March 18, 1899) was one of the pre-eminent paleontologists of the 19th century, who discovered and named many fossils found in the American West.

Marsh was born in Lockport, New York.
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Dinosauria *
Owen, 1842

Orders & Suborders
  • Ornithischia
  • Cerapoda
  • Thyreophora
  • Saurischia

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indigenous peoples of the Americas are the pre-Columbian inhabitants of the Americas, their descendants, and many ethnic groups who identify with those peoples. They are often also referred to as Native Americans, First Nations
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Kaup, 1834


Rhamphorhynchoidea *

Pterosaurs (/ˈtɛ.
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18th century - 19th century - 20th century
1820s  1830s  1840s  - 1850s -  1860s  1870s  1880s
1855 1856 1857 - 1858 - 1859 1860 1861

Subjects:     Archaeology - Architecture -
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A holotype is one of several possible biological types. A type is what fixes a name to a taxon. A holotype is a single physical example (or illustration) of an organism, known to be used when the species (or lower-ranked taxon) was formally described.
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Leidy, 1858


H. foulkii Leidy, 1858 (type)
Hadrosaurus (Greek: ἁδρος, hadros + σαυρος, sauros = sturdy lizard
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William Parker Foulke (1816-1865) discovered the first full dinosaur skeleton in North America (Hadrosaurus foulkii, which means "Foulke's big lizard") in Haddonfield, New Jersey in 1858.
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Marls are calcium carbonate or lime-rich muds or mudstones which contain variable amounts of clays and calcite or aragonite. The term is most often used to describe lacustrine (lake) sediments but may also be used for marine deposits.
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Haddonfield, New Jersey

Haddonfield highlighted in Camden County
Country United States
State New Jersey
County Camden
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The Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia was founded in 1812 to expand knowledge of the natural world. In its early days it organized expeditions to explore the western part of the country, led by Stephen Long and Ferdinand Hayden.
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Nickname: "City of Brotherly Love", "The City that Loves you Back", "Cradle of Liberty", "The Quaker City", "The Birthplace of America", "Philly".
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Joseph Leidy (September 9 1823 – 30 April 1891) was an American paleontologist.

Leidy was professor of anatomy at the University of Pennsylvania, and later was a professor of natural history at Swarthmore College.
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Marls are calcium carbonate or lime-rich muds or mudstones which contain variable amounts of clays and calcite or aragonite. The term is most often used to describe lacustrine (lake) sediments but may also be used for marine deposits.
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State of New Jersey

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Nickname(s): Garden State[1]
Motto(s): Liberty and prosperity

Official language(s) English de facto

Capital Trenton

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Species: D. aquilunguis

Binomial name
Dryptosaurus aquilunguis
Marsh, 1877

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For other uses of the term, see Fossil (disambiguation)

FOSSIL is a standard for allowing serial communication for telecommunications programs under the DOS operating system.
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Yale University is a private university in New Haven, Connecticut. Founded in 1701 as the Collegiate School, Yale is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States and is a member of the Ivy League.
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New Haven, Connecticut

Nickname: The Elm City
Location in Connecticut
NECTA New Haven
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Humboldt University of Berlin (German Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin) is Berlin's oldest university, founded in 1810 as the University of Berlin (Universität zu Berlin
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Morrison Formation is a distinctive sequence of Late Jurassic sedimentary rock that is found in the western United States and Canada, which has been the most fertile source of dinosaur fossils in North America.
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State of Kansas

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Nickname(s): The Sunflower State
Motto(s): Ad astra per aspera

Official language(s) English[1]

Capital Topeka
Largest city Wichita
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State of Nebraska

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Nickname(s): Cornhusker State
Motto(s): Equality before the law

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State of Colorado

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Nickname(s): The Centennial State
Motto(s): Nil sine numine

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The Cretaceous Period is one of the major divisions of the geologic timescale, reaching from the end of the Jurassic Period (i.e. from 145.5 ± 4.0 million years ago (Ma)) to the beginning of the Paleocene epoch of the Tertiary Period (about 65.5 ± 0.3 Ma).
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Religious Society of Friends, whose members are commonly known as Quakers was founded in England in the 17th century as a Christian religious denomination by people who were dissatisfied with the existing denominations and sects of Christianity.
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George Peabody (February 18 1795 – November 4 1869) was an entrepreneur and philanthropist who founded the Peabody Institute. He was born in what was then Danvers, Massachusetts (now Peabody, Massachusetts), to a middle class family.
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American Indian and Alaska Native
One race: 2.5 million[1]
In combination with one or more other races: 1.6 million[2]
Regions with significant populations  United States

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