41. Apatosaurus Gets a Head, 1936


The great Carnegie Museum specimen of Apatosaurus louisae was discovered by Earl Douglas in 1909 and mounted by 1913. William Holland spent the next twenty years preparing drawings and working on a memoir, but he died in 1935 without having published it. The material was turned over to Charles Gilmore, who produced the desired monograph in short order.

The illustration reproduced at right is a little known but quite charming charcoal drawing by A. Avinoff, who was the new Director of the Museum, and obviously quite an accomplished artist. The casual viewer will not be surprised to note that Apatosaurus is shown with a head, but in fact the skeleton had stood in the Museum for twenty years without a head, because Holland was unsure as to what head it should wear. No skull had ever been found directly associated with an Apatosaurus skeleton. Marsh had drawn a Camarasaurus-like skull on his restoration (then called Brontosaurus, see item 18), and the American Museum had followed Marsh's lead and had mounted a similar short, wide skull on their restored skeleton.

A Camarasaurus-like skull was found in the Carnegie quarry, but Holland had his doubts that it belonged to the specimen, and he leaned toward a long, narrow Diplodocus-like skull that had been found in the same quarry. But he never had the nerve, or the backing, to mount it. After his death, tradition prevailed, and a cast of the Camarasaurus-like skull was mounted on the skeleton, although Gilmore too was unsure that it belonged.

Holland's reservations about the skull turned out to be well founded. In the 1970s it was conclusively demonstrated that all Apatosaurus mounts were wearing a Camarasaurus skull, and in the early 1980s, in a wave of skeletal revisionism, camarasaurid heads everywhere were removed and exhanged for the proper diplodocid model.


It is interesting to note that Avinoff, in his restoration, seems to have borrowed the facial expression of his Apatosaurus from Christman's sketches of 1921 (see item 39), which now seems utterly appropriate, since Christman was sketching a Camarasaurus, and the Carnegie specimen is here wearing a Camarasaurus head.

For a photograph of the Carnegie Apatosaurus mount, with a detail of the disputed head, click on the image at left.


Gilmore, Charles W. "Osteology of Apatosaurus, with special reference to specimens in the Carnegie Museum," in: Memoirs of the Carnegie Museum, vol. 11, no. 4 (1936), pp. 175-300. This work was on display in the original exhibition as item 41.

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