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Re: What went wrong all those years ago? LONG.
Caleb Lewis wonders about the "Dark Ages" of dinosaur paleontology "when all
the views of dinosaurs went drastically wrong". This is an excellent question
which I doubt has any single answer. But I'll make a stab at it since all the
big shots are probably popin' open their first cold ones in the Windy City at
this very moment.
First you may be looking at the early days through rose colored lenses.
Knight's Dryptosaurs done under Cope's supervision and Knight's rearing
Diplodocus were more exceptions than the rule, generating good pub for Osborn
and the AMNH in Century Magazine and the cover of Scientific American
respectively. Century Magazine had much the same impact as Life Magazine had
in the good old days.
I talked to elderly folks in the 60's who still fondly remembered Knight's
work in the pages of Century. Remember that these were the embryonic days of
VP at the AMNH and Osborn found marketing Knight's work very useful in
generating enthusiasm and funds. J.P.Morgan became Knight's patron and Knight
painted a portrait of his collies.
But by the twenties and thirties, however, the robber barons began dying
off, the depression hit, and Osborn died. I really don't think Osborn was
that interested in dinosaurs, elephants, rhinos and horses being his main
occupation- as well as running the museum. Knight, too, was,or seemed to be,
more interested in cats and early man. Knight's main advisor W.D.Matthew,
author of the first dinosaur book, left for Berkeley at this time also.
Dinosaurs became too expensive (as they are begining to become today). Barnum
Brown was left as the main dinosaur man here in the U.S. Brown was a great
field man but he never went in much for functional morphology. Richard Lull
did a few dinosaur studies but that was about it. The young students went in
for studying the much less money- intensive mammals. Then most of them were
sucked up into WW2.
It really wasn't until well after the war that Edwin H.Colbert took over
Brown's job, spruced up the AMNH halls and wrote a couple of very influencial
books, and had two students at Columbia named Dale Russell and John Ostrom,
that the modern age of dinosaurs began.
The short answer is practically nobody was studying them. Also some of the
representations made during the Dark Ages were excellent, I envy all those in
Chicago looking up at Knight's Tyrannosaurus/Triceratops mural at our Sistine