The Bone Wars

The Bone Wars

The Bone Wars were a decades-long contest between two paleontologists, Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope, in the late nineteenth century. They competed mostly to name more new species than the other, working primarily in the American west—a new frontier of dinosaur fossils. Their rivalry was intense to the point of absurdity, and they ended up destroying a lot of potentially valuable fossils in their titanic struggle.

Here are some True Facts that didn’t make it into the video:

· Cope was so humiliated by his misplacement of the Elasmosaurus skull that he tried to buy up every copy of the journal that contained the mistake. He ended up financially ruined.
· Cope and Marsh’s field crews once threw stones at each other when they found themselves in the same territory.
· Upon his death, Cope donated his brain to science, hoping Marsh would do the same and science could finally know whose was bigger. Marsh declined to donate his own brain. Victory?
· Don’t let our video fool you: this is not real footage of Marsh and Cope. Our Professional Costume Designer was able to disguise our Professional Actresses to create these stunning likenesses.

Here are some Falsehoods that you should not believe:

· Marsh’s name for a new basal ceratopsian, Copesmoustacheisterriblesaurus, was rejected by the scientific community.
· Although Marsh’s blade Devilsbane finally struck down Cope atop Como Bluff, Marsh failed to destroy Cope’s final phylactery, allowing the wealthy scholar’s vile soul to return to haunt the living a century later in 1997.
· Despite their best efforts, neither Cope nor Marsh were able to name enough species to impress Roxanne, the object of their mutual affection. Roxanne set the bar at one million, so this is understandable.


This video is one of four created by students taking my class Vertebrate Paleontology in the Spring of 2014 at the University of Rochester. The text above was also prepared by those students.

The assignment was to create a two to three minute video focused on some important question or misconception in vertebrate paleontology.

This was an experimental assignment. I had no idea if it was going to work out.

It’s possible that there are factual errors and other problems with the videos. However, I think my students did great, and will probably continue to do this kind of class project.

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