Why “brontosaurus” is no longer a dirty word for dinosaur hunters

A team of palaeontologists is claiming to have “resurrected” Brontosaurus, the famous long-necked, pot-belled dinosaur. No, they haven’t conducted some mad DNA cloning experiment. They have built a big new family tree of long-necked dinosaurs and argue that Brontosaurus is distinctive enough to be classified separately from its closest relatives.

Confused? I don’t blame you. Brontosaurus is of course an iconic dinosaur. If you could only name a few dinosaurs, you would probably come up with Tyrannosaurus, Triceratops and Brontosaurus. Ever since 1903, however, you would have been mistaken with the last one. That was the year that palaeontologists determined that Brontosaurus was nearly identical to another dinosaur called Apatosaurus and was not the appropriate name to use.

Needless to say, this never filtered down to pop culture. You have never needed to look far to see Brontosaurus name-dropped in films, books, postage stamps and wherever else. We scientists would sometimes secretly scoff at friends and family who used the name – a sure sign of those uninitiated to our fossil fraternity. But now it looks as though pop culture had it right all along. After all these years, Brontosaurus may now cease to be a dirty word among palaeontologists.

The argument that Brontosaurus is different from Apatosarus is being put forward by a team led by young palaeontologist Emanuel Tschopp from Universidade Nova de Lisboa in Portugal, published on April 7 in the open-access journal PeerJ. Their paper is nearly 300 pages long, with vast tables of measurements and photos of fossils. More here Why “brontosaurus” is no longer a dirty word for dinosaur hunters.

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