Trivia

Hard

The Most Intense Period Of Conflict In The History Of Paleontology Is Known As The?

Great Lizard Battle
Dig Site Massacres
Jurassic Rush
Bone Wars
Paleontologist Othniel Marsh and his assistants ready for a digging expedition in 1872.
John Ostrom/Peabody Museum/Wikimedia

Answer: Bone Wars

When you think of paleontology, the study of the history of life on Earth via fossil records, you probably think about the awe inspiring dinosaur skeletons in natural history museums and how just about every kid wants to be a paleontologist at some point and dig up some cool dino bones.

What you most likely don’t associate with paleontology though is theft, back stabbing, espionage, smear campaigns, and two men bent on destroying each other in their quest to become the most accomplished dinosaur fossil hunters in the world, but that’s exactly what happened during a period of intense fossil speculation in the late 19th century know as the “Bone Wars”.

Between 1877 and 1892, two wealthy men, Edward Cope and Othniel Marsh, descended upon a fossil-rich area of the American Midwest (Colorado, Nebraska, and Wyoming). Although their interactions were amicable in the beginning, their desire to be the most renowned in the field of paleontology caused them to turn on each other. They bashed each other in publications, bribed landowners and workers to give them preference in fossil picks, poached from the territories the other was working out of, sabotaged each other’s work and equipment, and otherwise engaged in decades of incredibly petty and unprofessional behavior. Eventually, both men were financially ruined and socially disgraced as a result of their feud.

Despite the negative aspects of their intense rivalry, their intense period of fossil hunting led to a huge interest in the field and a radical expansion thereof. Decades after their deaths, there were still crates upon crates of unopened fossils in their collections, an enormous amount of public interest in dinosaurs, and a massive increase in public knowledge of prehistoric life.

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