Othniel Charles Marsh

Othniel Charles Marsh (October 29, 1831 – March 18, 1899) was an American paleontologist.

Marsh was one of the preeminent scientists in the field; the discovery or description of dozens of new species and theories on the origins of birds are among his legacies.

Born into a modest family, Marsh was able to afford higher education thanks to the generosity of his wealthy uncle George Peabody. After graduating from Yale College in 1860 he traveled the world, studying anatomy, mineralogy and geology. He obtained a teaching position at Yale upon his return. From the 1870s to 1890s he competed with rival paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope in a period of frenzied Western American expeditions known as the Bone Wars.

Othniel Charles Marsh
Othniel Charles Marsh - Brady-Handy
BornOctober 29, 1831
Lockport, New York, United States
DiedMarch 18, 1899 (aged 67)
Alma materYale College
AwardsBigsby Medal (1877)
Scientific career
InstitutionsYale University
InfluencesJames Dwight Dana[1]:13
InfluencedJohn Bell Hatcher[1]:9–10
Appletons' Marsh Othniel Charles signature


Early life

Marsh was born October 29, 1831 in Lockport, New York, United States, to a family of modest means. His father, Caleb Marsh, was a farmer. His mother, Mary Peabody, was the younger sister of wealthy banker and philanthropist George Peabody, and died of cholera when Marsh was less than three years old.[1]:12 The financial backing of his uncle allowed Marsh to obtain a formal education.[2] He graduated from Phillips Academy, Andover in 1856 and Yale College with his bachelor of arts degree with honors in 1860.[1]:13[3]

Marsh received a Berkeley Scholarship from Yale, and studied geology, mineralogy and chemistry at Yale's Sheffield Scientific School from 1860 to 1862, earning an MA in 1863.[1]:13 He next studied paleontology and anatomy in Berlin, Heidelberg and Breslau from 1862 to 1865.[4] On his return to the United States in 1866 he was appointed professor of vertebrate paleontology at Yale University, making him the first professor of paleontology in the United States.[1]:13

The same year, the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale was founded with a donation of US$150,000 from George Peabody, on Marsh's suggestion.[2] Marsh served as a trustee of the Peabody Museum and was one of its three original curators.[1]:10

Othniel C Marsh and Red Cloud in New Haven Connecticut
Othniel C. Marsh and Chief Red Cloud pictured in New Haven, Connecticut, c. 1880


After receiving an inheritance of US$100,000 from his uncle, George Peabody,[1]:13 Marsh and his many fossil hunters were able to uncover about 500 new species of fossil animals, which were all named later by Marsh himself in the almost 400 scientific articles he published during his career.[1]:13 In May 1871, Marsh uncovered the first pterosaur fossils found in America. He also found early horses, flying reptiles, Cretaceous and Jurassic dinosaurs such as Triceratops, Stegosaurus,[1]:13 Brontosaurus,[1]:13 Apatosaurus and Allosaurus,[1]:13 and described the toothed birds of the Cretaceous Ichthyornis[5] and Hesperornis.[6]

Marsh served as Vertebrate Paleontologist of the U.S. Geological Survey from 1882 to 1892.[2] Thanks to John Wesley Powell, head of the USGS, and Marsh's contacts in Washington, Marsh was placed at the head of the consolidated government survey in the late 1880s.[7]

Between 1883 and 1895, Marsh was President of the National Academy of Sciences.[2]

On December 13, 1897, Marsh received the Cuvier Prize of 1,500 francs from the French Academy of Science.[8]


Marsh died on March 18, 1899, a few years after his great rival Cope.[3] He was interred at the Grove Street Cemetery in New Haven, Connecticut.

Bone Wars

Marsh is also known for the so-called "Bone Wars" waged against Edward Drinker Cope. The two men were fiercely competitive, discovering and documenting more than 120 new species of dinosaurs between them.[1]:14

In the winter of 1863, Marsh first met Cope while in Berlin. Marsh, age thirty-two, was attending the University of Berlin. He held two university degrees in comparison to Cope's lack of formal schooling past sixteen, but Cope had written 37 scientific papers in comparison to Marsh's two published works. While they would later become rivals, on meeting the two men appeared to take a liking to each other. Marsh led Cope on a tour of the city, and they stayed together for days. After Cope left Berlin the two maintained correspondence, exchanging manuscripts, fossils, and photographs.[9]:11

Cope named Colosteus marshii for Marsh in 1867, and Marsh returned the favor, naming Mosasaurus copeanus for Cope in 1869.[1]:15

In 1868, Marsh visited Cope in Haddonfield, New Jersey. Cope had been recovering fossils from the quarries since 1866, including those of Laelaps aquilungis which he described as a new species. Before he departed, Marsh contracted the owners of several marl pits to send any newly-discovered fossils to him, and not to Cope.[1]:15[10]:35

The two began to develop a rivalry when Marsh allegedly pointed out that Cope had placed the skull of Elasmosaurus at the end of its tail. Cope attempted to buy back the papers containing his flawed reconstruction, but Joseph Leidy exposed his cover-up at a meeting of the Academy of Natural Sciences.[9]:15 This rivalry went on throughout their lives.

Marsh eventually "won" the Bone Wars by finding 80 new species of dinosaur, while Cope found 56. Cope did not take this lightly, and the two debated each other in scientific journals for many years to come.


Marsh named the following dinosaur genera:

Othniel Marsh (center, back row) and assistants ready for digging

He named the suborders Ceratopsia (1890), Ceratosauria (1884), Ornithopoda (1881), Stegosauria (1877), and Theropoda.

He also named the families Allosauridae (1878), Anchisauridae (1885), Camptosauridae (1885), Ceratopsidae (1890), Ceratosauridae, Coeluridae, Diplodocidae (1884), Dryptosauridae (1890), Nodosauridae (1890), Ornithomimidae (1890), Plateosauridae (1895), and Stegosauridae (1880).

He also named many individual species of dinosaurs.

Dinosaurs named by others in honour of Marsh include Hoplitosaurus marshi (Lucas, 1901), Iaceornis marshi (Clarke, 2004), Marshosaurus (Madsen, 1976), Othnielia (Galton, 1977), and Othnielosaurus (Galton, 2007).

Marsh's finds formed the original core of the collection of Yale's Peabody Museum of Natural History. The museum's Great Hall is dominated by the first fossil skeleton of Brontosaurus that he discovered, which was reclassified as Apatosaurus for a time. However, an extensive study published in 2015 concluded that Brontosaurus was a valid genus of sauropod distinct from Apatosaurus.[11][12][13]

He donated his home in New Haven, Connecticut, to Yale University in 1899. The Othniel C. Marsh House, now known as Marsh Hall, is designated a National Historic Landmark. The grounds are now known as the Marsh Botanical Garden.

Marsh was elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society in 1877.[14]

Marsh formulated the Law of brain growth, which states that, during the tertiary period, many taxonomic groups presented gradual increase in the size of the brain. This evolutionary law remains being used due to its explanatory, and to a certain extent, predictive potential [15]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Dingus, Lowell (2018). King of the Dinosaur Hunters: The life of John Bell Hatcher and the discoveries that shaped paleontology. Pegasus Books. ISBN 9781681778655.
  2. ^ a b c d "Othniel Charles Marsh". Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. 2017. Retrieved 2017-07-27.
  3. ^ a b "Professor Marsh is Dead. The World-Famous Geologist Succumbs to Pneumonia. Chair of Paleontology Founded for Him. Caused the Establishment of Peabody Museum". New York Times. March 19, 1899. Retrieved 2010-07-28. Othniel C. Marsh, M.A., Ph.D., LL.D., professor of paleontology at Yale University, curator of the geological collection at the same institution, ...
  4. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Marsh, Othniel Charles" . Encyclopedia Americana.
  5. ^ Marsh, O.C. (1872). "Notice of a new and remarkable fossil bird". American Journal of Science. Series 3. 4 (22): 344.
  6. ^ Marsh, O.C. (1872). "Discovery of a new and remarkable fossil bird". American Journal of Science. Series 3. 3 (3): 57.
  7. ^ Wallace, David Rains (1999). The Bonehunters' Revenge: Dinosaurs, Greed, and the Greatest Scientific Feud of the Gilded Age. Houghton Mifflin Books. pp. 175–179. ISBN 0-618-08240-9.
  8. ^ "Minor Paragraphs". Popular Science Monthly: 574. Feb 1898. Retrieved 13 May 2013.
  9. ^ a b Jaffe, Mark (2000). The Gilded Dinosaur: The Fossil War Between E. D. Cope and O. C. Marsh and the Rise of American Science. New York: Crown Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-517-70760-9.
  10. ^ Gallagher, William B (1997). When Dinosaurs Roamed New Jersey. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. ISBN 978-0-8135-2349-1.
  11. ^ Tschopp, E.; Mateus, O. V.; Benson, R. B. J. (2015). "A specimen-level phylogenetic analysis and taxonomic revision of Diplodocidae (Dinosauria, Sauropoda)". PeerJ. 3: e857. doi:10.7717/peerj.857. PMC 4393826. PMID 25870766.open access
  12. ^ Gorman, James (7 April 2015). "A Prehistoric Giant Is Revived, if Only in Name". New York Times. Retrieved 7 April 2015.
  13. ^ Choi, Charles. "The Brontosaurus Is Back".
  14. ^ "MemberListM".
  15. ^ Faria, Felipe (2017). "Marsh's law of brain growth and the idea of biological progress in evolution". Scientiae Studia. 15 (2): 387–410. doi:10.11606/51678-31662017000200009.

Further reading

  • University of California Museum of Paleontology. "Othniel Charles Marsh (1832–1899)". UC Berkeley. Retrieved 2007-03-07.
  • "Othniel Charles Marsh (1831–1899)". Lefalophodon. National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis. Retrieved 2007-03-07.
  • The Scientific Contributions of Othniel Charles Marsh: Birds, Bones, and Brontotheres (Peabody Museum of Natural History Special Publication No 15) (Paperback) by Mark J. McCarren
  • Jaffe, Mark (2000). The Gilded Dinosaur: The Fossil War Between E. D. Cope and O. C. Marsh and the Rise of American Science. New York: Crown Publishing Group. ISBN 0-517-70760-8.
  • Lanham, Url (1973). The Bone Hunters. New York and London: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-03152-1.
  • Wilford, John Noble (1985). The Riddle of the Dinosaur. New York: Knopf Publishing. ISBN 0-394-74392-X.

External links


Allosauridae is a family of medium to large bipedal, carnivorous allosauroid neotheropod dinosaurs from the Late Jurassic. Allosauridae is a fairly old taxonomic group, having been first named by the American paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh in 1878. Allosaurids are characterized by an astragalus with a restriction of the ascending process to the lateral part of the bone, a larger medial than lateral condyle, and a horizontal groove across the face of the condyles.


Atlantosaurus (meaning "Atlas lizard") is a dubious genus of sauropod dinosaur. It contains a single species, Atlantosaurus montanus, from the upper Morrison Formation of Colorado, United States. Atlantosaurus was the first sauropod to be described during the infamous 19th century Bone Wars, during which scientific methodology suffered in favor of pursuit of academic acclaim.

Bone Sharps, Cowboys, and Thunder Lizards

Bone Sharps, Cowboys, and Thunder Lizards: A Tale of Edward Drinker Cope, Othniel Charles Marsh, and the Gilded Age of Paleontology is a 2005 graphic novel written by Jim Ottaviani and illustrated by the company Big Time Attic. The book tells a fictionalized account of the Bone Wars, a period of intense excavation, speculation, and rivalry which led to a greater understanding of dinosaurs and other prehistoric life in the western United States during the late 19th century. Bone Sharps follows the two scientists Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Marsh as they engage in an intense competition for prestige and discoveries. Along the way, the scientists interact with historical figures of the Gilded Age, including P. T. Barnum and Ulysses S. Grant.

Ottaviani grew interested in the time period after reading a book about the Bone Wars. Finding Cope and Marsh unlikeable and the historical account dry, he decided to fictionalize events to service a better story. Ottaviani placed the artist Charles R. Knight into the story as a relatable character for audiences. The novel was the first work of historical fiction Ottaviani had written; previously he had taken no creative license with the characters depicted. Upon release, the novel received praise from critics for its exceptional historical content, although some reviewers wished more fiction had been woven into the story.


Ceratosauridae is a family of theropod dinosaurs belonging to the infraorder Ceratosauria. The family's type genus, Ceratosaurus, was first found in Jurassic rocks from North America. Ceratosauridae is made up of the genera Ceratosaurus, found in North America, Tanzania, and Portugal, and Genyodectes, from the Early Cretaceous of Argentina. Unnamed probable ceratosaurids are known from limited material in the Middle Jurassic of Madagascar, the Late Jurassic of Switzerland, and the Late Jurassic or possibly Early Cretaceous of Uruguay.


Claosaurus ( KLAY-o-SAWR-əs; Greek κλάω, klao meaning 'broken' and σαῦρος, sauros meaning 'lizard'; "broken lizard", referring to the odd position of the fossils when discovered) is a genus of primitive hadrosaurian (early duck-billed dinosaur) that lived during the Late Cretaceous Period (Campanian).

Traditionally classified as an early member of the family Hadrosauridae, a 2008 analysis found Claosaurus agilis to be outside of the clade containing Hadrosaurus and other hadrosaurids, making it the closest not-hadrosaurid relative of true hadrosaurids within the clade Hadrosauria.


Coeluridae is a historically unnatural group of generally small, carnivorous dinosaurs from the late Jurassic Period. For many years, any small Jurassic or Cretaceous theropod that did not belong to one of the more specialized families recognized at the time was classified with the coelurids, creating a confusing array of 'coelurid' theropods that were not closely related. Although they have been traditionally included in this family, there is no evidence that any of these primitive coelurosaurs form a natural group with Coelurus, the namesake of Coeluridae, to the exclusion of other traditional coelurosaur groups.


Docodon (meaning 'beam tooth') was a mammaliaform from the Late Jurassic of western North America. It was the first docodontan Mesozoic mammal to be named.


Glyptops (Greek for "grooved face") is an extinct genus of cryptodire turtle dating from the Late Jurassic and Early Cretaceous periods 155 to 99 m.y.a. Fossils have been found in South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas from both the Morrison and Cedar Mountain formations. The type species is G. plicatulus, which had been named Compsemys plicatulus by Edward Drinker Cope.


Hallopus was a prehistoric reptile, classified by O. C. Marsh in 1881 as a dinosaur, but now thought to be a pseudosuchian more closely related to crocodilians. It was a quite small animal, reaching a length of 1 m (3.3 ft). It was redescribed as a sphenosuchian crocodylomorph. Later, it was speculated to be more derived than Sphenosuchus and near or within the Junggarsuchus + Crocodyliformes node.


Macelognathus is an extinct genus of sphenosuchian crocodylomorph from the Late Jurassic. Originally it was believed be a turtle and later a dinosaur. It lived in what is now Wyoming, in North America.

The type species, Macelognathus vagans, was described by Othniel Charles Marsh in 1884 as a turtle based on a partial jaw from the Late Jurassic Morrison Formation at Como Bluff, Wyoming. After being referred to the Dinosauria by Moodie in 1906 it was later reclassified by Ostrom in 1971 as a crocodilian relative. Based on new material from the Morrison Formation at Fruita, Colorado, in 2005 Göhlich et al. identified it as a basal crocodylomorph ("sphenosuchian"). It is considered an example of convergent evolution, due to the similarities to caenagnathid dinosaurs, with which it was not closely related. It was between 3.9 and 6.2 feet (1.2 and 1.9 m) long.

It is possibly a junior synonym of Hallopus victor.


Miohippus (meaning "small horse") was a genus of prehistoric horse existing longer than most Equidae. Miohippus lived in what is now North America during the late Eocene to late Oligocene. Miohippus was a horse of the Oligocene. According to the Florida Museum of Natural History, Othniel Charles Marsh first believed Miohippus lived during the Miocene and thus named the genus using this incorrect conclusion. More recent research provides evidence that Miohippus actually lived during the Paleogene period.

Miohippus species are commonly referred to as the three-toed horses. Their range was from Alberta, Canada to Florida to California.


Nodosaurus (meaning "knobbed lizard") is a genus of herbivorous ankylosaurian dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous, the fossils of which are found in North America.


Ophiacodon (meaning "snake tooth") is an extinct genus of synapsids belonging to the family Ophiacodontidae that lived from the Late Carboniferous to the Early Permian in North America and Europe. The genus was named along with its type species O. mirus by paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh in 1878 and currently includes five other species. As an ophiacodontid, Ophiacodon is one of the most basal synapsids and is close to the evolutionary line leading to mammals.


Ornithomimidae (meaning "bird-mimics") is a group of theropod dinosaurs which bore a superficial resemblance to modern ostriches. They were fast, omnivorous or herbivorous dinosaurs from the Cretaceous Period of Laurasia (now Asia and North America), though they have also been reported from the Wonthaggi Formation of Australia. The group first appeared in the Early Cretaceous.


Ornithopods () or members of the clade Ornithopoda ( or ) are a group of ornithischian dinosaurs that started out as small, bipedal running grazers, and grew in size and numbers until they became one of the most successful groups of herbivores in the Cretaceous world, and dominated the North American landscape. Their major evolutionary advantage was the progressive development of a chewing apparatus that became the most sophisticated ever developed by a non-avian dinosaur, rivaling that of modern mammals such as the domestic cow. They reached their apex in the duck-bills (hadrosaurs), before they were wiped out by the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event along with all other non-avian dinosaurs. Members are known from all seven continents, though they are generally rare in the Southern Hemisphere.


Pantosaurus ("all lizard") is an extinct genus of plesiosaur from the Late Jurassic (Oxfordian) of what is now Wyoming. It lived in what used to be the Sundance Sea. It was originally named Parasaurus ("near lizard") by Othniel Charles Marsh in reference to Plesiosaurus, but that name was preoccupied, and Marsh changed it. The species Muraenosaurus reedii is in fact a junior synonym of Pantosaurus. The holotype YPM 543 is a partial articulated skeleton, partially prepared to yield a distal humerus, four articulated carpals, a fragment of the coracoid, and several isolated cervical vertebrae from the Upper Member of the Sundance Formation. Other material includes USNM 536963, USNM 536965, UW 3, UW 5544 and UW 15938.


Plateosauridae is a family of plateosaurian sauropodomorphs from the Late Triassic of Europe. Although several dinosaurs have been classified as plateosaurids over the years, the family Plateosauridae is now restricted to Plateosaurus. In another study, Yates (2003) sunk Sellosaurus into Plateosaurus (as P. gracilis).


Priconodon is an extinct genus of dinosaur (perhaps nodosaurid), known from its large teeth. Its remains have been found in the Aptian-Albian age Lower Cretaceous Arundel Formation of Muirkirk, Prince George's County, Maryland, USA.


Tinodon is an extinct genus of Late Jurassic mammal from the Morrison Formation.

Present in stratigraphic zone 5. It is of uncertain affinities, being most recently recovered as closer to therians than eutriconodonts but less so than allotherians.


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