Archives: The Bone Wars

Marsh and Cope Have a Falling Out

My good friend Jeff Mann, the true Yard Ramp Guy, has asked me to revisit some of my original posts. This week in my From the Archives series: it ain't easy studying dinosaurs.


The Marsh-Cope Feud

Beware of Humans

There's one field of geology notably unrepresented at the United States Geological Survey: paleontology. This seems like a fairly major omission, and it's all thanks to a series of events known as the Bone Wars.

During the Gilded Age (the last thirty years or so of the 1800s in America), paleontology was an incredibly competitive field. At the time, we collected dinosaur fossils more rapidly than ever before. Two figures stood out above all the rest—Edward Drinker Cope, of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, and Othniel Charles Marsh.

Marsh and Cope began as friends when they first met in Berlin (Germany has always been a paleontological treasure trove), but their relationship began to sour quickly. By the early 1870s, things heated up to an absurd degree. A series of mishaps, oddities, and minor snubs, along with the fundamentally incompatible personalities of the two men, irrevocably ruined things between them.

In 1873, the Bone Wars began in earnest. The first shots fired were academic ones: renaming and reclassifying species to mess with the other, publicly pointing out one another's errors, and the like.

If things had stayed like that, it wouldn't have made history the way it did; academic rivalries are, as they say, a dime a dozen. However, the confrontation escalated rapidly from there.

Marsh and Cope began hiring employees away from one another, bribing officials to advantage themselves and hurt the other, stealing fossils from one another's sites, and so on and so forth. They actively tried to destroy one another's reputations, and even turned to destroying fossils rather than letting the other get his hands on them.

Financially and professionally, the rivalry eventually ruined both of them, and they never abandoned it.

The two scientists discovered 136 new species during the Bone Wars, including Triceratops and Stegosaurus. (Before then, we had only nine named species of dinosaur in North America.)

Unfortunately, the Bone Wars also did much to damage the reputation of American paleontology. It resulted in the loss of numerous fossils, the USGS losing its paleontology division, and a severe, decades-long blow to the reputation of American paleontology.

Yard Ramp Guy Blog: Warehouse Connection

This week, my friend The Yard Ramp Guy reminds us of his focus on safety and ⏤ what's this? ⏤ describes a ramp that's a level plane? Blasphemy, I say.

Click HERE to be bothered by it all.

Archive: Corinth Canal

Or: Taking Their Time to (Not) Get it Right

My good friend Jeff Mann, the true Yard Ramp Guy, has asked me to revisit some of my original posts. This week in my From the Archives series: what became of the longest construction project in history?


That's Some Celebration

The longest construction project in history lasted almost two thousand years.

The Corinth Canal is a four-mile-long, seventy-foot-wide canal that separates the Peloponnese peninsula from mainland Greece, technically making it an island.

The Corinthian Tyrant Periander first proposed the canal in the seventh century BCE. It swiftly became too expensive, and Periander instead constructed a Diolkos, a stone road designed to use to drag (or portage) ships across the narrow isthmus. (You can still see remnants of the Diolkos alongside the canal.)

The canal idea was next resurrected in the third century BCE by Diadoch Demetrius Poliorcetes, one of the generals who warred over the remnants of Alexander the Great's empire after his death. His surveyors, however, miscalculated and feared that the canal would result in large-scale flooding, so the project was abandoned.

McCoy Fields, at rest

Me: Taking My Time, Too

Roman Emperors Julius Caesar and Caligula both considered constructing the canal, but both were assassinated before they could begin. Emperor Nero became the first ruler to actually move forward with the construction of the canal—and, in fact, was the first person to labor on it, digging up the first basket of soil with a pickaxe. Construction officially began in 67 AD, after centuries of false starts.

Almost immediately afterward, of course, Nero got assassinated.

For nearly two thousand years after that, the idea never progressed farther than another proposal. Several conquerors of Greece throughout its history considered the idea, but nothing happened.

Then, in the 1830s, Greece gained its independence from the Ottoman Empire. New proposals immediately started back up, and construction finally started in the 1880s. (That’s a pretty short amount of time, as far as the Corinth Canal goes.)

Finally, on July 25, 1893, Greece completed the Corinth Canal. And, of course, it was too narrow, too windy, and had currents that were too severe for it to be of much use, except to a small number of ships a year.

Yard Ramp Guy Blog: Peripheral Vision

This week, my friend The Yard Ramp Guy has compelling insight on the benefits of financing.

Click HERE to help your bottom line.

Archives: Very Superstitious

Cat Got Your Tongue?

My good friend Jeff Mann, the true Yard Ramp Guy, has asked me to revisit some of my original posts. This week in my From the Archives series: just be sure you throw it over your LEFT shoulder.


superstitions, explained

Dashingly Superstitious

I love researching the historical underpinnings of superstitions.

Take spilling salt, for example. A common superstition says that if you spill salt, you need to throw a little bit over your shoulder. This isn't actually the whole story, though.

You're supposed to throw it over your left shoulder (into the eye of the devil lurking over it) without touching the thrown salt with your thumb or index finger.

The superstition has a few possible origins. Some claim that Judas spilled salt at the last supper. Da Vinci actually painted Judas spilling salt in “The Last Supper.” Others think it came from the fact that salt was extremely expensive in the Middle Ages. That one seems rather reasonable to me, except that then throwing it over your shoulder as a cure for the bad luck doesn't make a ton of sense.

Another superstition says that you should hold your breath when passing a cemetery. If you don't, a spirit might fly into you. I'm actually going to argue that this one doesn't make sense anymore. In the Middle Ages, graveyards were dank, miserable places. Graves were cramped, placed close together, and often shared. Burials were often shallow, so bones would stick out. The gravestones were decorated with grim and gloomy reminders of eternal suffering. They were dank, awful places—both by design (to compel people to the Church) and by poor urban planning (cities tended to be cramped and without green space).

In the 1800s, this began to change. People began to have a very different view of humanity: rather than being doomed, sinful creatures, we instead began romanticizing humanity, and began considering it naturally good.

Graveyards became cemeteries. The word cemetery comes from the Greek koimeterion, meaning “place of rest.” We started honoring our dead, placing them more widely apart, and giving them beautiful, well-tended green space. In fact, the first cemeteries built this way were such popular tourist attractions that they began inspiring American cities to begin building parks and having more green spaces in the city.

So why doesn't that superstition apply anymore? Well, it would make perfect sense that spirits would want to leave a dank, miserable graveyard. A cemetery, though? Sounds to me like a pretty nice place to rest once you're gone.

Yard Ramp Guy Blog: Peripheral Vision

This week, my friend The Yard Ramp Guy takes care of the peripheral stuff so you can stay focused.

Click HERE to correct your vision.

Archive: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Or: Tainted Tuna Tartare

My good friend Jeff Mann, the true Yard Ramp Guy, has asked me to revisit some of my original posts. This week in my From the Archives series: oh, that flotsam and jetsam...


Trash Flow

There's a floating patch of garbage, larger than Texas, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

The Pacific Ocean contains huge, slow moving gyre-shaped currents. Debris that drifts into the calm centers of those gyres tend to stay there. It’s similar in some ways to the nearly self-contained gyre that’s the Sargasso Sea but caused by different things.

The debris that drifts into the biggest one, the North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone? Bits of plastic.

When you sail into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, you won't see a lot of chunks of garbage floating around, and you certainly can't walk on it. Instead, the plastic has broken down into tiny particles that float in the upper layers of the water. Fish frequently mistake it for food and often starve, with stomachs full of plastic.

Many other lifeforms find the plastic poisonous, and as the plastics break down, they leak toxic chemicals into the environment, including ones as nasty as PCBs. (Don't read about PCBs unless you really want to freak yourself out, but if you must, click HERE).

There are even bacteria that have learned to eat the plastics, but they end up producing even nastier toxins much of the time.

As the toxic chemicals and plastics are ingested by fish, jellyfish, and other marine animals, they grow increasingly concentrated, up the food chain, as predators eat toxin-laden critters. Many of those predators in turn, like tuna (which are shockingly high up the food chain) contain much higher levels of toxins than the water around them. And then we, the people in this story, eat them. Bon appétit.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch isn't alone. There is another major gyre in the Pacific, two in the Atlantic, and one in the Indian Ocean. They all contain garbage patches of their own. What are we doing to clean up these patches? Not much yet, other than research, really. There are lots of plans in the air, but not that much funding.

Yard Ramp Guy Blog: Toward Safer Forklifting

This week, my friend The Yard Ramp Guy helps bring clarity to your inclinations.

Click HERE to ramp up.

Archives: Parrotfish Poop

A Cautionary, er, Tail

My good friend Jeff Mann, the true Yard Ramp Guy, has asked me to revisit some of my original posts. This week in my From the Archives series: that beach only looks beautiful...


The Source of Your Sand Castle

Caribbean beaches are beautiful, even by the standards of tropical beaches, which are pretty high to start with. They're also made largely of poop. Parrotfish poop, to be specific.

(Okay, full disclosure: I’m not currently on a beach. I write this on a Sunday morning, in my robe, from my man cave next to the house here in suburbia. I’m safe. And thanks for caring.)

Move past the thought of that, and it’s a fascinating process:

The brilliantly colored parrotfish possesses a hard beak it employs for eating coral. The fish grinds up the coral in that beak to get at algae and other marine microorganisms growing on it, digests the algae, and then poops out the ground-up coral as a fine sand.

Parrotfish produce a LOT of sand, too. A single green humphead parrotfish can produce more than 200 pounds of sand each year. As much as 85% of the sand on many of these beaches is produced by parrotfish.

Watch it in action HERE, if you dare.

People used to think that parrotfish just ate coral for the polyps and were damaging the reefs. It turns out, though, that most parrotfish species go primarily for dead coral, clearing it for new coral to grow. So, they’re providing a sort of public service.

Parrotfish also eat large amounts of sea sponges, which grow faster than coral and can smother young ones. As it turns out, our parrotfish have a largely symbiotic relationship with the corals they eat. And as we learn more and more about the world, we begin to find more and more of these relationships.

It's not just the Caribbean that owes its beaches to parrotfish. The Maldives, the white sand beaches of Hawaii, and other locations around the world do, as well.

Gorgeous white sand beaches in tropical areas around the world are all made of poop. A little gross, I know. Which is exactly why I'm telling everyone: I’m simply trying to clear out a few of you so that my next beach experience is less crowded.

Yard Ramp Guy Blog: Toward Better Steel

This week, my friend The Yard Ramp Guy is all in on responsible, net-zero steel.

Click HERE to learn why he loves Swedish innovation.