SHARE

Friday, October 30, 2015

Happy Retirement to Chris Mills!


This week, Chris Mills, Head of Library, Art, and Archives at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, celebrates his retirement. Chris has served as the Head of the Library at Kew since 2006, before which he served as the Head of Collections and Services at the Natural History Museum, London.

The Library, Art and Archives at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, has the distinction of being one of BHL's 10 founding institutions, and now represents one of BHL's 16 Member Libraries. Chris has served as Kew's representative to BHL since its beginning, and has been an important member of BHL's community.

"Chris made sure that Kew Gardens was a founding member of the Biodiversity Heritage Library and has continued faithful representation as a valued colleague on the BHL Members Council," emphasized Dr. Nancy Gwinn, Chair of the BHL Executive Committee and Director of the Smithsonian Libraries. "His wisdom and good humor will be missed!"

One of the most important botanical reference sources in the world, Kew's Library, Art and Archives contains more than half a million items, including books, botanical illustrations, photographs, letters and manuscripts, periodicals, biographies and maps. From this impressive collection, the Library has contributed over 13,000 pages to BHL to date, thanks in large part to Chris' leadership.

"We have all benefited widely by the expertise and humor that Chris has brought to BHL," stated Martin R. Kalfatovic, BHL Program Director and Associate Director, Digital Services Division, at the Smithsonian Libraries. "His personal contributions and support of Kew’s participation in the BHL will be greatly missed.”

Jane Smith, Head of Library and Archives at the Natural History Museum, London and Secretary of the BHL Executive Committee, also expressed her appreciation of Chris' contributions to the program. "Chris’s wit, lovely sense of fun and kindness makes him a good companion," she said. "His considerable knowledge, expertise and understanding of natural history collections, particularly of botanical art, and good judgement has made him a valued colleague."

David Iggulden, Electronic Resources Manager at the Library, Art, and Archives at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, will serve as the Kew Member Representative to BHL following Chris' retirement. David has long represented Kew on the BHL Staff Committee, making him highly qualified to now represent the Library on the Members Council.

“Chris first introduced me to BHL when I started at Kew in 2007," remembers David. "He explained how he and a few colleagues had come up with the idea originally for a joint union catalogue of their library resources which could be searched online. But as time and technology moved on, they decided that this wasn’t enough and that perhaps instead digitisation of the collections was the way to go. The aim then (as now) was to provide the digitised content free of charge to all, online via a web portal.

"Chris truly inspired me about BHL with his highly infectious enthusiasm for the resource and its aims. He quietly helped me to further develop my professional interest in BHL over the years and always supported our involvement even when times were tough. In 2009 I was delighted to deputise for Chris at the Institutional Council meeting in Boston, representing Kew in the discussions as BHL began to go global. After this he fully supported me to attend the BHL Life and Literature conference in 2011. This incredible event uncovered the huge potential for the BHL to further develop its services and content in response to the challenges of working with biodiversity literature.  
"Chris will be sorely missed but I very much hope to continue Kew’s involvement with BHL and progress towards Chris’s and the other founder members’ original vision for this ambitious resource.”

While he will indeed be greatly missed, we are excited to celebrate with Chris as he begins this next chapter in his life. We wish him happiness and a wonderful retirement, and extend a warm and hearty thanks for all of his wonderful contributions to BHL. We look forward to the many wonderful contributions to BHL still to come from Kew under David's able leadership.

Thank you, Chris, and Happy Retirement, from your Family at the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Eerie Anatomy: Vesalius’ De humani corporis fabrica

This post originally published on the Smithsonian Libraries blog Unbound. See it here.

Erin Rushing
Outreach Librarian
Smithsonian Libraries

Halloween is quickly approaching and with it comes the traditional decorations of bats, pumpkins, ghosts and of course, skeletons. Back in the 1500's, one man changed the way the medical world saw the skeletal and muscular systems of the human body. That man, Andreas Vesalius, illustrated anatomical features in his De humani corporis fabrica (On the structure of the human body) in a way never before seen. Although the pages below may seem pretty gruesome, they come from one of the most influential anatomy books of all time.

Portrait of Vesalius from De humani corporis fabrica, 1543. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/48714916.

Born in Brussels in 1514, Andreas Vesalius came from a family of doctors and apothecaries. When he became a physician himself and began teaching medical school in the 1530's, most of the standard texts were based on animal dissections and the observations of an ancient Roman doctor named Galen. Vesalius took the unconventional step of performing dissections live in front of his medical students and using human bodies, in some cases those of convicted criminals.

Standing figure from De humani corporis fabrica, 1543. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/48715058.

In 1543, 29 year old Vesalius published De humani corporis fabrica with elaborate wood-cut illustrations of human dissections. But these bodies weren't just lying still, as if on a mortuary slab. They were depicted in classical contrapposto. In many instances, layers of tissue artfully fall away to reveal the muscles and ligaments which lie beneath. Despite the artistic quality, the book is considered one of the first anatomical works, accurately representing and describing various systems in the body.

Vesalius gave detailed notes to the printer, helping to assure that the descriptive text matched the appropriate figure and that the artistic style of the plates was preserved. The printer, Johannes Oporinus, felt that these notes were so important that he included them in the publication itself (see “Printer’s Note to the Reader” here: http://vesalius.northwestern.edu/books/FA.b.html). In the text of the book, Vesalius not only describes the systems of the body, but also his recommendations for obtaining skeletons, putting them together and dissecting cadavers.

Standing figure from De humani corporis fabrica, 1543. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/48715045.

The so-called “Muscle Men” of the book are depicted on a background that is thought to be Padua, where Vesalius taught medicine. If pieced together, the plates’ backgrounds form a full landscape. Vesalius dedicated the book to Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and later went to work as the Emperor’s personal physician.

You can learn more about Vesalius and the history of anatomy books during a live tour in the Smithsonian's Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology via Periscope on Thursday, October 29th at 1pm (EST). Head of Special Collections, Lilla Vekerdy, will highlight a few of the rare books, including Vesalius', that helped transform the way that medical professions studied the human body. 


If you’d like to explore more of De humani corporis fabric on your own, check out the recently-added copy from the Getty Research Institute (via the Internet Archive) in BHL.

We hope you'll join us on Oct. 29 for the Eerie Anatomy Periscope. Make no bones about it, it will be a ghoulishly good time!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

From Scarborough to Svjatoj Nos: BHL's latest in-copyright additions

What do the Scarborough District, tigers, Socieded Cientifica Argentina, Auckland Institute and Museum, birds and the Svjatoj Nos wetlands have in common?

Actually not much…

…except that they are the newest in-copyright additions to the BHL collection!

If you still think that BHL is strictly about legacy literature, think again. Although still a very small portion of our collection, in-copyright titles now total over 400 from 170 licensors. Please see our Permissions page to learn more about the in-copyright content in our collection.

Where possible, BHL acquires permission in the form of a signed license agreement from copyright holders to digitize post-1922 publications. These publications are available for open access under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license. Users are welcome to reuse the in-copyright content in BHL so long as they adhere to the terms of the CC license, meaning:

  • you attribute the content to the copyright holder,
  • use the content for non-commercial purposes such as educational or personal use
  • share the content under the same license (CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Our latest (bio)diverse mix of titles hails from all over the world:

The Natural History of the Scarborough District
Since 1889, the Scarborough Field Naturalists' Society has encouraged the organization of "amateur naturalists' with interests throughout the spectrum of natural history." BHL is pleased to include this publication in our collection as we feel we are the perfect place for these types of smaller scholarly society publications.

Tracking tigers : a review of the status of tiger, Asian elephant, gaur, and banteng in Vietnam, Lao, Cambodia, and Yunnan (China), with recommendations for future conservation action by Will Duckworth and Simon Hedges (1998)
In 1998 the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Indochina programme commissioned a report on the status of large mammals. "It was an incredible piece of work and represents an expertly pieced together compilation of data and information from every source possible" explains Michael Baltzer, Director of the WWF Tigers Alive Initiative. As the first in-copyright WWF publication to become a part of the BHL collection, we hope this is a good sign for additional WWF publications to come.

Anales de la Sociedad Cientifica Argentina
A pioneering institution for scientific study in Argentina since 1872, the Sociedad Cientifica Argentina has published its Anales for over 130 years. BHL is thrilled to be able to provide this complete publication through the present day. Digitization of the Anales is underway and should be available shortly.

Bulletin of the Auckland Institute and Museum and Poirieria
The Auckland Museum Institute dates back to 1867 when it assumed the management of the Auckland Museum and became the regional representative of the Royal Society of New Zealand. Its Bulletin covers a spectrum of topics related to natural and human history. The Auckland Shell Club was formed in 1931 as a section of the Auckland Museum Institute, dedicated to "all things molluscan, ie: shell collecting (recent and fossil), conchology and malacology (study of shells and shellfish), and molluscan ecology and conservation." These publications will be available in BHL soon.

Ornithological Society of Turkey Bird reports and Ornithological Society of Turkey Bulletins 
In 1978, the Ornithological Society of the Middle East (OSME) formed as a successor to the Ornithological Society of Turkey. Its purpose is to promote research and address conservation issues for birds in the region between, "between Europe, China and the Horn of Africa on two major migration flyways crossing Central Asia’s wind-swept steppes, the Caucasus’s towering mountains, Arabia’s wide arid deserts and the tropical seas of the Indian Ocean." Previously, the OSME gave permission for BHL to include Sandgrouse and its Bulletin in our collection. It has now added 2 more titles, published under its former name. Please stay tuned for digital copies of the Bird reports and Bulletins to appear in the coming weeks.

Ecology of the Svjatoj Nos wetlands, Lake Baikal by J. Mlíkovský & P. Stýblo (eds.)
These stunning wetlands are located on the Kola Peninsula along one of the most northeastern coasts in Russia. BHL is pleased to make this work available in our collection soon.







Digitization is in progress for these titles and you can see them appearing via our recent additions list.

Want to see more in-copyright content in BHL? Let us know what you’d like to see!

-Bianca Crowley, BHL Digital Collections Manager

Friday, October 16, 2015

From the Experts: Recommended Fossil Books!

We hope you've been enjoying the fossil-mania this week with Fossil Stories! We've been exploring the fascinating history of paleontology, learning some great fossil facts, and hearing from experts (via a series of live webcasts) about current fossil research.

Our posts have demonstrated the important role that natural history publications have played in the history of paleontology. These works disseminated new research and ideas, documented the evolution of human knowledge about fossils and their origins, and recorded the first scientific descriptions of many ancient creatures.

But this literature is important not just for the historical information it provides. It is also highly relevant to modern paleontological research.

"Traditional ways of knowing about the fossil record are still relevant for modern questions in paleontology because specimens matter," explains Dr. Nicholas D. Pyenson, Curator of Fossil Marine Mammals at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. "Many important fossils were intially described and published in monographic, folio formats, and in many cases, those descriptions can be still be used 100-150 years later. I use them all the time."

And indeed he does. During a recent trip to Argentina, Dr. Pyenson was able to compare specimens in the Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales with illustrations of those specimens in BHL alongside 3D scans of the related cetacean.

Comparing specimens to digitized literature and 3D scans. Dr. Nicholas D. Pyenson conducting research at the Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales. Photo by Nicholas D. Pyenson, via Twitter: https://twitter.com/PyensonLab/status/647111438222389248.

The importance of historic literature to modern fossil research is echoed by those in the field of paleobotany as well.

"Just as in research on living plant and animal biodiversity, research on the fossil record of plants and animals depends crucially on the published literature," emphasizes Dr. Patrick Herendeen, Director of Systematics and Evolutionary Biology at the Chicago Botanic Garden. "Plant systematics literature goes back hundreds of years, and having access to this literature is essential for ongoing research in plant taxonomy and systematics. This is equally true for paleobotany."

Knowing that historic literature is so important to modern paleontological work, we asked paleontologists at several BHL partner institutions to share some of their favorite historic publications with us. We think the results constitute a pretty awesome Recommended Reading List for Paleontology Enthusiasts!

Dr. Hans-Dieter Sues 
Chair, Department of Paleobiology. Curator of Fossil Vertebrates.
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

"Not surprisingly, my favorite early book on paleontology is Recherches sur les ossemens fossiles de quadrupèdes by G. Cuvier (first published in 1812, with three later editions). Not only did it found the scientific study of fossil vertebrates but it is written in a clear yet elegant style but that makes it a pleasure to read. Cuvier did not just describe fossils but tried to interpret their anatomy in functional terms. As a foundational work in the field, it will always be relevant to researchers interested in the fossil record of backboned animals."

Cuvier, Georges. Recherches sur les ossemens fossiles de quadrupèdes. v. 3 (1812). http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/40078532. Digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

Dr. Maria A. Gandolfo 
Senior Researcher, L.H. Bailey Hortorium, Plant Biology Section 
School of Integrative Plant Science, Cornell University

Dr. Gandolfo's favorite early paleobotany book is Ancient Plants, written by Mary C. Stopes in 1910. When asked why it is her favorite, Dr. Gandolfo referred to a quote from the book: "The lore of the plants which have successively clothed this ancient earth during the thousands of centuries before men appeared is generally ignored or tossed on one side with a contemptuous comment on the dullness and 'dryness' of fossil botany." According to Dr. Gandolfo, "This book was written in 1910 and even after 105 years of incredible advances in the field of Paleobotany, this sentence still reflects what people feels about Paleobotany."

Dr. Peter J. Makovicky
Department Chair and Associate Curator, Department of Geology
The Field Museum

The Ceratopsia are a group of herbivorous, beaked dinosaurs that thrived during the Cretaceous Period. They include such iconic genera as Triceratops and Montanoceratops. The name Ceratopsia was coined by Othniel Charles Marsh in 1890, and in 1907 he, along with John B. Hatcher and Richard S. Lull, published a monograph on the group, entitled The Ceratopsia. According to Dr. Makovicky, this work is one of his favorites and a classic amongst the pre-1923 published materials.

The Ceratopsia. 1907. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/39875988. Digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

Dr. William A. DiMichele 
Research Paleontologist and Curator 
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Dr. DiMichele's favorite historic paleontology work is Description of the Coal Flora of the Carboniferous Formation in Pennsylvania and Throughout the United States, by Leo Lesquereux (1879-80). According to Dr. DiMichele, "This is the foundational book/atlas on American Carboniferous (coal age) floras and contains detailed descriptions and illustrations of many of the species that occur commonly in coal fields of the eastern and midwestern US. Many of the species that occur in the rocks I study were first described in this set of volumes, so the books remain a primary source of information to which I turn regularly."

Lesquereux, Leo. Description of the coal flora of the Carboniferous formation in Pennsylvania and throughout the United States. Atlas (1879). http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/46854192. Digitized by Wellesley College Library.

Dr. Karl J. Niklas 
The Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor of Plant Biology 
Cornell University

Dr. Niklas' favorite historic paleontological work is The Origin of a Land Flora (1908) written by F. O. Bower. According to Dr. Niklas, "This book presents the first conceptualization of the evolution of 'The Alternation of Generations' in the land plants. I have worked on the evolution of plant body plans and the evolution of plant life cycles," thus making this work particularly relevant to Dr. Niklas' research.

Bower, F.O. The Origin of Land Flora. (1908). http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/1312200. Digitized by the MBLWHOI Library.

Dr. Nicholas D. Pyenson
Curator of Fossil Marine Mammals
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Dr. Pyenson's favorite historic paleontology book is Ostéographie des cétacés vivants et fossiles (1868-79), by Pierre Joseph Beneden and Paul Gervais. "This work showcased specimens and species that no one had really seen outside of the areas where the specimens were collected," explains Dr. Pyenson. "It's a catalog of the world's whales, and the authors didn't discriminate between fossil and modern species. It's cool that these were integrated together into one work this early on, before it was fashionable to do so."

Modern whale skulls alongside fossil skulls. "You can tell which are the fossil skulls by the condition of the specimens," explains Dr. Pyenson. Ostéographie des cétacés vivants et fossiles. (1869-79). http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/41066967. Digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

Thanks to all of our experts for sharing their favorite historic publications with us! We hope you've enjoyed our series of blog posts this week highlighting key works in the history of paleontology. Can't get enough of the fossil publications? Then check out other great works in the BHL Fossil Stories digital book collection.

Finishing #FossilFossick with #FossilStories

On October 9, we challenged Smithsonian Transcription volunteers to transcribe the field notes of Ladd, Ward, and G. Arthur Cooper. See the details of the challenge here.

It took exactly three and a half days for volunteers to completely transcribe 9 sets of field notes totaling 252 pages. An average of 14 people contributed to each project. The range? 35 people co-opted our longest Cooper journal, while only 3 tackled his shortest 6 page journal.

Here’s what happened in the numbers:

  • 12 total projects completed in those days, including our 9 #FossilFossick Projects! 
  • 30 New volunteers! 
  • 252 pages completed - and 712 Pages total over the challenge dates! 
  • 3.5 Days from launch to completely transcribe and review the #FossilFossick field notes! 
  • Visits from 48 countries including Germany, Ecuador, Turkey, India, and New Zealand 

Sharing the Challenge 



Through 114 #FossilFossick Tweets and other communication, the #FossilFossick challenge gathered 192.7k impressions. The challenge announcement e-mail was opened by 1,895 people, who in total clicked on links 177 times. The update campaign e-mail sent 3 days later, pushing us through the last 29 pages, was opened by 1,121 people and resulted in 101 link clicks.

Surfacing Connections 


We also asked volunteers to help us track correspondents, specimens, and locations. This part of the challenge is on-going! You can still help by reading the completed field notes (perhaps by downloading the PDF) and entering details in this Google Spreadsheet: http://bit.ly/FossilFossick

Finds From #FossilFossick Hunters 


What did volunteers find interesting about this challenge? Handwriting to buddies to technology and the real personalities behind scientific field work. First, our volunteers were more than amused by Harry Ladd’s adventures and his playful personality, as well as his colorful pals.

Other volunteers tried to determine whether Ward took a street car, golf cart, or automobile from Alexandria to Mount Vernon.

Still others shared information to help one another tackle the challenge - great collaboration even from the start of the event!

What’s Next? 


A total success deserves a totally fantastic reward: be sure to tune into the behind-the-scenes tour of Smithsonian fossil collections with Dr. Nicholas Pyenson, Curator of Fossil Marine Mammals at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, via the BHL Periscope on October 26 as a reward for the successful completion of the challenge. More details to come on Twitter and Facebook.

You can explore the field notes in BHL:



You can also read all of the completed #FossilFossick projects by visiting the project pages with these links and downloading the PDFs:


Thanks again to all of our wonderful volunteers who contributed to this challenge! When we collaborate for citizen science, everyone wins!

Dr. Meghan Ferriter
Project Coordinator
Smithsonian Transcription Center

Illustrating Fossil Plants: The Enigmatic Artis

Phytology is an historic term, not widely used today, for the study of plants. Antediluvian was a term much used by early paleontologists to describe the "time before the great Biblical flood." These two terms are necessary to understand the title of an important work in paleobotany: Antediluvian Phytology (1838), by Edmund Tyrell Artis.

The formal study of paleobotany has roots in 1828, when Adolphe-Théodore Brongniart, known as the Father of Paleobotany, published Histoire des végétaux fossiles. A decade after this publication, Artis' work was published. It was remarkable for including some the best paleobotanical illustrations published up to that time, describing many new-to-science species, and interpreting fossils through the lens of the individual that actually collected the fossils: Artis himself. At the time, many paleontologists obtained fossils from collectors, but did not collect themselves. Understanding the context in which a fossil is found, and the surrounding environment, can have important implications in the analysis and interpretation of the specimen.

Artis, Edmund Tyrell. Antediluvian Phytology. 1838. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/39307886. Digitized by the California Academy of Sciences.

These accomplishments are even more remarkable considering the humble origins of Artis himself, which also contributes to much of the mystery surrounding him and his work.

Artis was the son of a carpenter, born in 1789 in the small village of Sweffling in Suffolk, England. After moving to London to work in the wine trade with his uncle, he opened a confectionary shop, where his work caught the eye of the Earl Fitzwilliam, who asked Milton to join his staff at Milton Hall near Castor. Artis proved very adept, and was promoted to House Steward within three years.

Artis often accompanied the Fitzwilliams on their visits to the other family property, Wentworth Woodhouse in south Yorkshire. The region boasted some of the most important coal mines in England, and Artis soon began collecting plant fossils from the area. He amassed a collection of between 1,000-1,500 plant fossils, some of which he described in his only publication, Antediluvian Phytology. The work included 24 illustrations, some based on his own paintings and the rest the work of leading natural history illustrator John Curtis.

Artis, Edmund Tyrell. Antediluvian Phytology. 1838. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/39307868. Digitized by the California Academy of Sciences.

Artis and his publication are something of a mystery. For instance, it's unclear who paid for the publication of his work. There's no evidence of pre-subscriptions that could have funded the work, or that Fitzwilliam contributed funds to it. Artis himself is not likely to have been able to afford such a venture. Furthermore, Artis was evidently familiar with the relevant natural history literature of the day, but how he gained access to it is alsoa mystery. Artis also apparently had influential friends. He claimed to have met Georges Cuvier, and William Buckland sponsored Artis to become a Fellow of the Geological Society in 1824. How he met Buckland, or when he would have had occasion to meet Cuvier, are unknown.

Artis would later find an interest in archeology, becoming famous for his excavations of the Roman remains near Milton Hall. In 1847, he fell ill, possibly due to exposure to a harsh winter while excavating ruins in Northamptonshire. He died on Christmas Eve, 1847.

Artis, Edmund Tyrell. Antediluvian Phytology. 1838. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/39307762. Digitized by the California Academy of Sciences.

Although much mystery still surrounds this enigmatic man, his contributions to the field of paleobotany are forever immortalized through his Antediluvian Phytology.


Fossil Stories

Stay tuned all week for more great fossil fun with our #FossilStories campaign, including:
Follow #FossilStories on Twitter and Facebook to learn more.

Uncovering the Truth about Fossil Feces: Buckland, Anning, and Coprolites

When most people think about fossils, they generally think of body fossils, which are fossilized remains of parts of an organism's body. But there is another type of fossil: trace fossils. Trace fossils are geological records of biological activity, and they provide important insight into an animal's behavior.

One important trace fossil, which provides information about an animal's diet, is the coprolite. That's a fancy way of saying fossilized feces.

When coprolites were first discovered, they were identified as fossilized fir tree cones or bezoar stones. Bezoar stones were undigested masses found trapped in the gastrointestinal system, and were once believed to have magical properties, capable of neutralizing any poison. As an interesting aside, this claim was put to the test by surgeon Ambroise Paré in 1575. A cook caught stealing was sentenced to death by hanging, but at Paré's request, agreed to be poisoned instead and fed a bezoar in the hopes that it would prove to be an antidote. The cook died in agony seven hours later.

Coprolites. Buckland, William. Transactions of the Geological Society of London. ser. 2, v. 3 (1835).  http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/36239898. Digitized by the California Academy of Sciences.

William Buckland, famous for describing and validly naming the first dinosaur genus, Megalosaurus, had a theory about coprolites. He first became interested while studying cave deposits at Kirkdale. He suspected that the deposits that he found were actually preserved carnivore droppings, and even compared them with spotted hyena droppings in an attempt to prove his hypothesis.

In the mid-1820s, Buckland received the evidence he needed. Famous fossil-hunter Mary Anning provided Buckland with coprolites she discovered in the cliffs near her home in Lyme Regis, England. Anning's attention was drawn to these objects, as she usually discovered them within the ribs or near the pelvis of the ichthyosaur fossils she was discovering. She also noticed that, when the coprolites were broken open, they sometimes contained fossilized fish bones, scales, and the bones of smaller ichthyosaurs. Mary herself believed them to be fossilized feces.

Coprolites containing scales of fishes and undigested bones. Buckland, William. Transactions of the Geological Society of London. ser. 2, v. 3 (1835). http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/36239900. Digitized by the California Academy of Sciences.

Buckland published his theory about the true nature of these fossils, and provided the name coprolite, in a paper which he read before the Geological Society of London in 1829 and was later published in the Society's Transactions in 1835. Buckland recognized Mary Anning by name, giving her credit for her discoveries and deductions.

Fossil Stories

Stay tuned all week for more great fossil fun with our #FossilStories campaign, including:
Follow #FossilStories on Twitter and Facebook to learn more.

The Birth of Dinosaurs: Richard Owen and Dinosauria

Humans have been encountering the fossilized remains of dinosaurs for millennia. The myth of the dragon, for instance, may be based on discoveries of dinosaur fossils. As an example, Chinese historian, Chang Qu mislabeled such a fossil as a dragon in the 4th century B.C.E.

The concept of dinosaurs as a group, however, occurred much more recently...in the nineteenth century, in fact.

The first published description of what is now known to be a dinosaur bone (but was thought to be the thighbone of a giant human at the time) occurred in the seventeenth century. The early nineteenth century saw the first scientifically named dinosaurs, including Megalosaurus and Iguanodon. But the relationship between these extinct giants - as dinosaurs - was not uncovered until the 1840s.

Iguanodon. Owen, Richard. History of British Fossil Reptiles. (1849-84). http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/31985623. Digitized by: Missouri Botanical Garden.

English biologist, comparative anatomist and paleontologist Richard Owen conducted extensive research on fossils during his career. He is perhaps most famous for being the first person to introduce the concept of dinosaurs as a group.

The name Dinosauria is first published in Owen's Report on British Fossil Reptiles, which was published in 1842 as part of the Report from the 11th meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.  Owen used three genera to define his dinosaurs: the carnivorous Megalosaurus, the herbivorous Iguanodon, and armored Hylaeosaurus.

Megalosaurus. Owen, Richard. History of British Fossil Reptiles. (1849-84). http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/31985705. Digitized by: Missouri Botanical Garden.

Owen was fascinated by the specimens his peers had discovered. He examined William Buckland's Megalosaurus specimens at Oxford and Gideon Mantell's Iguanodon and Hylaeosaurus specimens housed in the British Museum. From these, and examinations of other collections (most notably a sacrum from an Iguanodon in the collection of fossil collector William Devonshire Saull that likely first inspired Owen's discovery), Owen determined that these three animals shared unique anatomical features that united them together while also separating them from other known groups. It was the fusion of five vertebrae at the base of the spine, observed in some of the Megalosaurus and Iguanodon fossils that Owen consulted and inferred in the Hylaeosaurus fragments - a feature unknown in other reptiles - that fueled Owen's confidence in his new group.

Hylaeosaurus. Owen, Richard. History of British Fossil Reptiles. (1849-84). http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/31984756. Digitized by: Missouri Botanical Garden.

The realization of this relationship among these specimens was Owen's chief contribution to the field of Dinosaur research. It was a connection other paleontologists of the time had not uncovered. Thus, on the basis of this research and with the publication of his report in 1842, Richard Owen erected the clade Dinosauria and kindled a human love affair with dinosaurs that lasts to this day.

Owen's chief memoirs, particularly those relating to the relationship between reptiles and extinct forms, were republished as a connected series in his History of British Fossil Reptiles (4 vols. London 1849–1884).

Fossil Stories

Stay tuned all week for more great fossil fun with our #FossilStories campaign, including:
Follow #FossilStories on Twitter and Facebook to learn more.

Mantell and the Armored Dinosaurs

British geologist and paleontologist Gideon Mantell is famous for his contributions to the scientific discovery of dinosaurs. In 1825, he described and validly named the second dinosaur genus, Iguanodon. In 1833, he described another dinosaur, which was later used, along with Iguanodon and Megalosaurus, to define Dinosauria.

A gunpowder explosion at a quarry in Tilgate Forest, West Sussex, revealed a collection of about fifty fossil bone pieces that were acquired by Mantell in 1832. Mantell discovered that the pieces could be combined into a single, partially articulated skeleton, the most complete dinosaur skeleton known at the time. Mantell was at first inclined to attribute the fossils to his previously-named Iguanodon, but William Clift, the curator of the Royal College of Surgeons, doubted the identification, pointing out that several plates and spikes found amongst the fossils were likely body armor, thus indicating that this was a new species. Thus, Mantell decided to create a new genus for the specimen, naming it Hylaeosaurus.

Hylaeosaurus. Mantell, Gideon. The geology of the south-east of England. 1833. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/48441272. Digitized by: Natural History Museum, London.

Mantell originally intended to publish the new name within a journal article, but was informed that the paper he had prepared was too long for publication. Rather than rewriting the paper, Mantell decided to publish a book on his fossil finds and include a chapter on Hylaeosaurus within it. Within three weeks, Mantell compiled his notes on his fossil finds together into a single manuscript. Furthermore, being warned by Sir Henry Thomas De la Beche, the first director of the Geological Survey of Great Britain, that new nomenclature conventions required that a full species name, rather than just a genus, were required for authorship recognition, Mantell gave his specimen the binomial Hylaeosaurus armatus. The description was published in 1833 within Mantell's book The Geology of the South-East of England.

Hylaeosaurus was the first ankylosaur (which include the majority of armored dinosaurs) to be scientifically named. Though additional Hylaeosaurus species were named over the years, Hylaeosaurus armatus is currently considered the only valid species in the genus.

Fossil Stories

Stay tuned all week for more great fossil fun with our #FossilStories campaign, including:
Follow #FossilStories on Twitter and Facebook to learn more.

Live Webcast Today! Behind-the-Scenes Tour of the NHMLA Dino Lab

The Dino Lab at the Natural History Museum, Los Angeles County, is a busy place. The lab is responsible for cleaning and repairing the fossils uncovered by its paleontologists, sculpting missing bones to help fill in fossil gaps, and photographing and archiving the fossils held at the museum. It offers an incredible opportunity for museum visitors to get a true picture of what it takes to prepare a fossil for further research or display in a museum.

How would you like to get a behind-the-scenes tour of the Dino Lab at NHMLA? Well, you're in luck! Tune in today, October 16, 2015, at 3pm EST on the NHMLA Periscope account for a live tour of the Dino Lab as part of our Fossil Stories event. You'll get up close and personal with the specimens being worked on and the people who care for these incredible fossils.



To join, simply follow @NHMLA on Periscope (you'll then receive a notification via Periscope once the event is live) or follow @NHMLA or @BioDivLibrary on Twitter. We'll tweet out the link to the Periscope event on those accounts once it's live.

One of the highlights in the Dino Lab is a real T. rex toe bone that museum visitors can actually touch. The toe bone, approximately eight inches long, was collected in northeastern Montana in the 1960s.

The first partial skeleton of a T. rex was discovered by Barnum Brown, assistant curator of the American Museum of Natural History, in eastern Wyoming in 1900. Brown then found another partial skeleton in the Hell Creek Formation in Montana in 1902. H. F. Osborn described both skeletons in a 1905 paper, originally assigning the 1900 skeleton the name Dynamosaurus imperiosus. Within that same paper, he used the 1902 skeleton as the holotype to describe Tyrannosaurus rex. His paper also included a skeletal restoration of T. rex (by William D. Matthew, vertebrate paleontologists and curator at the American Museum of Natural History), the first reconstruction ever published. In 1906, Osborn realized that the D. imperiosus skeletal actually belonged to the same species as the T. rex, and he selected Tyrannosaurus rex as the valid name for the species.

First published reconstruction of the Tyrannosaurus rex.. Tyrannosaurus and other Cretaceous carnivorous dinosaurs. Bulletin of the AMNH ; v. 21, article 14. 1905. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/bibliography/89582.

You can see the first publication about the T. rex in BHL, and be sure to tune in today, October 16, at 3pm EST on the NHMLA Periscope account to see the behind-the-scenes tour of the Dino Lab!


Thursday, October 15, 2015

Naming the Second Dinosaur: Mantell and Iguanodon

The second validly-named dinosaur was Iguanodon, but the identification of its fossils as a distinct and extinct species was a somewhat long and arduous process.

In 1822, Gideon Mantell, English geologist and paleontologist, came into possession of some large fossil teeth, discovered either by himself or his wife, Mary Ann. At the time of the discovery, Mantell had been acquiring and studying British fossils for several years, and he was in the process of publishing his first book, The Fossils of South Downs (1822).

Realizing that the teeth were something unique, but not certain what they were, Mantell presented them to several members of the Geological Society of London, including William Buckland, who described and validly named the first dinosaur genus, Megalosaurus. Geologist Charles Lyell also showed some of the teeth to the "Father of Paleontology," Georges Cuvier. The teeth were initially dismissed as belonging to fish or a rhinoceros (even Cuvier at first attributed them to a rhinoceros). However, after his publication on Megalosaurus, Buckland again viewed Mantell's collection of teeth, this time concluding that they were in fact teeth from a giant reptile, which he believed to be carnivorous. Emboldened by Buckland's opinion, Mantell again sent some of the teeth to Georges Cuvier, who this time responded that he believed they were actually reptilian, belonging to an herbivore of some kind.

The original Iguanodon teeth described by Mantell. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. v. 115. 1825. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/48364668. Digitized By: Natural History Museum, London.
Hoping to elucidate the nature of the teeth further, Mantell visited the Royal College of Surgeons in 1824, where he discovered that his teeth resembled those of an iguana skeleton recently prepared by the College's assistant-curator, Samuel Stutchbury.

Mantell was finally ready to formally present his findings. In recognition of the resemblance between modern iguana teeth and his own fossils, Mantell gave his genus the name Iguanodon, meaning "iguana-tooth." The name and description were published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London in 1825 within his article "Notice on the Iguanodon, a Newly Discovered Fossil Reptile, from the Sandstone in Tilgate Forest, in Sussex."

Fossil Iguanodon remains described by Mantell. Now classified as Mantellodon carpenteri. Mantell, Gideon. The Wonders of Geology. v. 1 (1841). http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/40448764. Digitized by: Smithsonian Libraries.

Although the genus name Iguanodon means "iguana-tooth," Iguanodon represents ornithopod, herbivorous dinosaurs, which we now know are only very distantly related to modern snakes, lizards (like iguanas), and turtles (learn more about how dinosaurs, modern reptiles, and birds are related). Nevertheless, Mantell's description represents the second dinosaur genus to be described and validly named, and together with Megalosaurus and Hylaeosaurus, were used to define Dinosauria in 1842.


Fossil Stories

Stay tuned all week for more great fossil fun with our #FossilStories campaign, including:
Follow #FossilStories on Twitter and Facebook to learn more.

The First Described and Validly Named Dinosaur: Megalosaurus

In 1676, the lower part of a massive femur was discovered in the Taynton Limestone Formation of Stonesfield limestone quarry, Oxfordshire. The bone was given to Robert Plot, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Oxford and first curator of the Ashmolean Museum. Plot published a description of it in 1677 in the Natural History of Oxfordshire. The illustration that accompanied the description is the first known published illustration of a dinosaur bone.

First published illustration of a dinosaur bone. The Natural History of Oxfordshire. 1677. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/48062596. Digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

Plot first concluded that the bone belonged to a Roman war elephant, but later decided that it must instead represent the thighbone of a giant human like those described in the Bible. In 1763, Richard Brookes used Plot's illustration of the thigh bone in his six-volume publication A System of Natural History. His reproduction of the illustration includes a caption that reads Scrotum Humanum, referencing the visual similarity between the bone and the human scrotum. Though the name is not considered valid today, its structure, following the Linnaean system of binomial nomenclature, has caused some to argue that it represents the first species name ever applied to an extinct dinosaur, because this thighbone does not, in fact, belong to a giant human, as Plot concluded. It belonged to a dinosaur, probably a Megalosaurus, although, since the specimen has since been lost, it's impossible to know with certainty which species it belonged to.

Scrotum Humanum notwithstanding , Megalosaurus represents the first dinosaur genus to be described and validly named. In 1824, William Buckland gave the genus the name Megalosaurus in his article "Notice on the Megalosaurus or Great Fossil Lizard of Stonesfield," describing it as an extinct giant reptile. The lithograph of the Megalosaurus jaw that accompanied the description was based on drawings done by Buckland's wife, Mary Morland. Later in 1827, Gideon Mantell, in his The Geology of the southeast of England, assigned the type specimen its current valid binomial: Megalosaurus bucklandii.

Megalosaurus jaw and teeth. Transactions of the Geological Society. ser.2, v. 1 (1824). http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/36238855. Digitized by: California Academy of Sciences.

The carnivorous Megalosaurus, together with the herbivorous Iguanodon and armored Hylaeosaurus, were the three genera later used by Richard Owen to define Dinosauria.


Fossil Stories

Stay tuned all week for more great fossil fun with our #FossilStories campaign, including:
Follow #FossilStories on Twitter and Facebook to learn more.

Identifying the First Flying Reptile: Pterosaurs

Pterosaurs, flying reptiles that lived 228-66 million years ago, are the earliest vertebrates known to have evolved the capacity for powered flight.

The first known pterosaur specimen was described by Cosimo Alessandro Collini in 1784. Twenty years earlier, in 1764, Collini had been appointed to supervise the Naturalienkabinett at Mannheim, established as part of the Kurpfälzische Academy of Sciences, in present-day Germany. The first-known pterosaur specimen arrived at Mannheim sometime between 1767 and 1784, probably originating from Bovaria. Collini was baffled by the specimen, but deduced that it was not a bird or a bat. He concluded that it must have been some form of marine creature, since he assumed that the ocean depths were more likely than land to house unknown species.

Collini's pterosaur. Cuvier, Georges. Recherches sur les ossemens fossiles de quadrupèdes. t. 4 (1812). http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/40032094. Digitized by: Smithsonian Libraries.

In 1800, Jean Hermann, Professor of Medicine in Strasbourg, drew the legendary paleontologist Georges Cuvier's attention to the specimen through a letter that included the first restoration of a pterosaur. Hermann interpreted the figure as an intermediate form between birds and mammals and correctly deduced that the long fourth finger was used to support a wing membrane.

Reviewing Collini's description and conclusions, Cuvier declared that the animal was actually an extinct flying reptile, which he named "Ptero-Dactyle" (Greek for "wing finger"). Cuvier published his findings in a short description in 1801 and then followed it with a longer publication in 1809. In 1818, Lorenz Oken, Professor of Medicine and Natural History at Jena, latinized Cuvier's name to Pterodactylus.

In 1812, Samuel Thomas von Sömmerring at the Academy of Science of Bavaria published the first binomial for a pterosaur. Working from the Collini specimen, Sömmerring named the creature Ornithocephalus antiquus (now Pterodactylus antiquus), believing it to be a form between mammals and birds (with which Cuvier disagreed. He again described the pterosaur as a reptile in his 1812 publication). Even into the mid-1800s, despite mounting evidence for the reptilian interpretation, many still believed that Pterodactylus antiquus represented other groups. For instance, in 1830, German zoologist Johann Georg Wagler published a paper on amphibians in which he interpreted the pterosaur's wings as flippers.

Pterosaur with wings interpreted as flippers. Wagler, Johann Georg. Natürliches System der Amphibien. 1830. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/38966085. Digitized by: Smithsonian Libraries.

Although many additional Pterodactylus species were named over the years, these were found to belong to other genera or to be juvenile forms of P. antiquus, which is now the only valid species within this genus.


Fossil Stories

Stay tuned all week for more great fossil fun with our #FossilStories campaign, including:
Follow #FossilStories on Twitter and Facebook to learn more.

Uncovering the "Fish Lizard": Ichthyosaurs and Home

When the fossils of extinct species were first discovered, they were often misidentified. Case in point: Ichthyosaurs.

The first probable illustrations of ichthyosaur fossils were published by Edward Lhuyd in his Lithophylacii Brittannici Ichnographia, 1699. He attributed the fossils to fish. In 1708, Swiss naturalist Johann Jakob Scheuchzer attributed two ichthyosaur vertebrae to a man who drowned during the Biblical flood. In 1783, an ichthyosaur jaw with teeth was exhibited by the Society for Promoting Natural History as those of a crocodilian. In 1804, Edward Donovan discovered a four metres long ichthyosaur specimen that he described as a giant lizard.

Sometime between 1809-11, a young boy named Joseph Anning spotted a "crocodile" skull in the cliffs near his home in the seaside community of Lyme Regis, England. His sister, Mary Anning, excavated the skull from the rock and, a year later, also uncovered the torso of the same specimen. Mary would go on to discover many incredibly important fossils throughout her lifetime.

Ichthyosaurus skull discovered by Joseph Anning. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. v. 104. 1814. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/48435496. Digitized by: Natural History Museum, London.

The Anning specimen was sold and later acquired by the British Museum. British surgeon Sir Everard Home was intrigued by the specimen, and, in 1814, published a description of it in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. This article would later be recognized as the first scientific publication dedicated to an ichthyosaurus. Home believed the specimen was more closely related to fish than any other group, although he expressed some doubts, as several aspects of it resembled reptiles. He concluded that it represented a transitional form between fish and crocodiles, exhibiting, like the platypus, he argued, traits of many different groups.

Ichthyosaurus torso discovered by Mary Anning. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. v. 104. 1814. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/48435498. Digitized by: Natural History Museum, London.

In 1817, German naturalist Karl Dietrich Eberhard König referred to the specimen as Ichthyosaurus, or "fish saurian." Although he would not publish this name until 1825 (in his Icones fossilium sectiles), and despite the fact that in 1819 Home proposed the formal generic name of Proteosaurus in a scientific publication, other naturalists such as William Conybeare and Henry Thomas De la Beche adopted the name Ichthyosaurus in their own publications. By the standards of nomenclature, Home's name should have priority, as it was published first, but the prevalent use of the name Ichthyosaurus consigned Proteosaurus to a status of "forgotten" nomen oblitum.

Today, we use the order Ichthyosauria, which was proposed by Henri Marie Ducrotay de Blainville in 1835, to describe over fifty valid genera of marine reptiles that flourished during the Mesozoic era and went extinct in the Late Cretaceous.

Fossil Stories

Stay tuned all week for more great fossil fun with our #FossilStories campaign, including:
Follow #FossilStories on Twitter and Facebook to learn more.

Challenge Focus: G. Arthur Cooper

We're so excited that our #FossilStories Citizen Science Challenge was successfully completed on October 12, with 252 pages from 9 field books fully transcribed and reviewed in just 3.5 days! Be sure to tune into the behind-the-scenes tour of Smithsonian fossil collections with Dr. Nicholas Pyenson, Curator of Fossil Marine Mammals at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, via the BHL Periscope on October 26 as a reward for the successful completion of the challenge. More details to come on Twitter and Facebook.

Several of the field books that have been transcribed as part of the challenge are from G. Arthur Cooper. Cooper (1902-2000) was a paleobiologist at the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) and a recognized authority on the taxonomy and stratigraphy of Paleozoic brachiopods. Cooper worked at the Smithsonian, 1930 – 1974, first as assistant curator in the U.S. National Museum, later progressing through the ranks, becoming chairman of the Department of Paleobiology.  The Field Book Project includes records for 105 field books documenting his extensive field work in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. During his many years with the Museum, he amassed a fossil collection numbering in the thousands, now housed in the Paleobiology department, often part of the stratigraphic, Mollusca, or Bryozoa collections. His digitized field books document his work during the 1950’s and 60’s.

G. Arthur Cooper, c. 1957. Smithsonian Institution Archives, RU009524, Box 1, G. Arthur Cooper Oral History Interviews. Negative number 86-497.

During the #FossilFossick challenge, volunteers found great connections between the work documented in the field book and outside resources. Take, for instance:


Thanks to all of our volunteers for the awesome connections they made as part of this challenge! Stay tuned to our blog tomorrow for more highlights from the challenge!

To learn more, check out his publications and field books in BHL, as well as his field books and images on Smithsonian’s Collections Search Center.

You can also see interviews with Dr. Cooper on the Smithsonian Institution Archives' YouTube channel! Find out how he prepared and photographed fossil specimens (below) and see how fossil specimens are etched out of a rock.



Be sure to follow #FossilStories on Twitter and Facebook all week for more great fossil fun and more highlights from our #FossilFossick Challenge!

Lesley Parilla
Cataloger
The Field Book Project