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Digging Into Dinosaur Science History

I love old books and papers. It is important to stay on top of the latest peer-reviewed articles and symposium volumes, but every now and then I like to pull a yellowing old science book from the shelf and see what scientists of centuries past had to say.One of my favorite volumes in my little libr...

The skeleton of Ceratosaurus, from The Dinosaurs of North America.


I love old books and papers. It is important to stay on top of the latest peer-reviewed articles and symposium volumes, but every now and then I like to pull a yellowing old science book from the shelf and see what scientists of centuries past had to say.

One of my favorite volumes in my little library is a copy of O.C. Marsh's 1896 masterpiece The Dinosaurs of North America. Marsh was one of the foremost American paleontologists of the late 19th century, and he had a major role in establishing the study of dinosaurs as we know it today. Printed by the U.S. Geological Survey, the huge monograph contains descriptions of many of the most famous dinosaurs like Triceratops, Ceratosaurus and Stegosaurus. Many of these scientific descriptions are matched with beautifully printed plates depicting individual bones and restored skeleton. Beyond its scientific importance, it is really a beautiful book to look at.

Until recently it was pretty difficult to find this volume. Only a few copies were in circulation and you had to pay through the nose if you wanted to own one. Fortunately, though, the book is so old that it is now in the public domain and can be shared freely on the internet. If you want to have a look at it yourself, check out the O.C. Marsh Papers Web site. It contains a copy of the book in PDF format, as well as numerous other papers written by Marsh. It is a treasure trove of classic paleontology, and hopefully we will someday see a similar repository of papers written by Marsh's famous professional rival, E.D. Cope.
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About Brian Switek
Brian Switek

Brian Switek is a freelance science writer specializing in evolution, paleontology, and natural history. He writes regularly for National Geographic's Phenomena blog as Laelaps.

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