Othniel Marsh

(October 29, 1831 - March 18, 1899)

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Othniel Charles Marsh was undoubtedly one of the luckier palaeontologists, born into wealth in Lockport, New York in 1831his career was impressive but his papers do not live up to the same reputation. Marsh is famous for being the "armchair palaeontologist", spending more time indoors than his famous rival Edward Cope ever did. Marsh spent only four seasons in the field, between 1870 and 1873. Marsh was egotistical often very difficult to work with, not helped by his bitter rivalry with Cope with underhand competition between the two men, originating, it is thought from when Marsh paid some of Cope's workmen to send fossils to him and not to Cope. To worsen the situation, he was delighted to point out that Cope had accidentally placed the skull of an Elasmosaur on the tail rather than the neck. Workmen for Cope and Marsh are known to have dynamited each other's localities, spyed on each other and even take each others specimens. The competition meant that both Marsh and Cope's papers were distinctly lacking in quality, making frequent and often major mistakes such as mixing up bones of animals and  naming the same dinosaur twice. In 1877 for example, Marsh described a new species of sauropod dinosaur, which he named Apatosaurus and in 1879 named Brontosaurus, now obviously the same species. Not only this, but the skull of a Brontosaurus skeleton Marsh reconstructed, actually belonged to a Camarasaurus. The two men did however describe over 130 species of dinosaurs, Marsh describing Stegosaurus and Triceratops to name a couple. His collection was vast and has provided an immense amount of data for palaeontologists since. He is famous for finding the first American pterosaur fossils in May 1871 and also discovered the remains of early horses, a previously enigmatic family.

Othniel Marsh is also credited with collecting vast amounts of data supporting Darwin's theory of  evolution and is thought to be one of the first Americans to accept this idea. He managed to fill large gaps in the fossil record which Darwin was troubled by and was often criticised for, such as early birds like Ichthyornis, and later came to support the idea that dinosaur evolved in to birds (see Archaeopteryx and Evolution and Recent Finds)

He died in 1899.

See also - Archaeopteryx and Evolution
                Edward Cope
                Recent Finds
                The Bone Rush Of America

References and Further Reading


othniel marsh