Mr Bones

There have been dinosaur collectors; there have even been extraordinary dinosaur collectors, and then, in a league quite by himself, there is the legendary Barnum Brown (Figure B14.6.1). Born in 1873, and named after the then-popular circus showman P. T. Barnum, Brown had an extraordinarily long and stunningly productive career. He virtually single-handedly turned the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) from a place with not a dinosaur on the premises to perhaps the world's greatest dinosaur collection. Its great hall of Cretaceous dinosaurs has been described as a monument to his accomplishments. Brown's lifetime spans Victorian to modern paleontology, and it is fair to say that Brown did his fair share to contribute to that growth.

Brown was a collector and, in the end, his most memorable contribution was collection and not scientific description. But what a collector! He began his collections in the fossil grounds of Wyoming originally prospected by Marsh. Initially he met with little success (Marsh's collectors had done their jobs very well indeed), but toward the end of the season he discovered the still-productive Bone Cabin Quarry, a site so rich that local ranchers built an entire cabin out of fossil bones. After three years of collecting, 35 tons of fossil bones were sent back to the AMNH, including what eventually became the largest mounted specimen of its time, the AMNH's magnificent "brontosaurus" mount (see Figure B8.2.1a).

Meanwhile, in the early 1900s, Brown began to prospect in the now-legendary Hell Creek badlands of eastern Montana. There in 1902 he found the first oftwo magnificently preserved Tyrannosaurus rex. The thing was preserved in a calcite-hardened sandstone concretion, and, aside from the dynamite necessary to free it from the hillside in which it was found, he had to cut a road to carry the massive blocks out to the nearest railroad for shipment to New York (Figure B14.6.2).

Figure B14.6.1. Barnum Brown (1873-1963), collector with the American Museum of Natural History, with his most famous discovery: Tyrannosaurus rex. Tyrannosaurus is the fossil laid out behind Brown.

Figure B14.6.2. A 1985 photograph of the site of Barnum Brown's first T. rex discovery. The arrow points to the remains of the wagon trail cut by Barnum Brown into the hillside to remove the massive blocks containing the fossil.

Figure B14.6.1. Barnum Brown (1873-1963), collector with the American Museum of Natural History, with his most famous discovery: Tyrannosaurus rex. Tyrannosaurus is the fossil laid out behind Brown.

Figure B14.6.2. A 1985 photograph of the site of Barnum Brown's first T. rex discovery. The arrow points to the remains of the wagon trail cut by Barnum Brown into the hillside to remove the massive blocks containing the fossil.

Brown's third major venue for fossil collecting was the Red Deer River in Alberta, Canada. There, following the style of C. H. Sternberg (see Box 14.5), he fitted a barge with a canvas tent and prospected along the shores of the river. Here he collected trainloads of fossils, including the beautiful hadrosaur specimens for which the AMNH is justifiably renowned.

With these collections, Brown's reputation was thoroughly cemented. Besides possessing a truly remarkable intuition for finding spectacular fossils (he was said to be able to "smell" them), Brown was a fossil collector with style: he always stayed in the best accommodations when traveling, dressed impeccably even while carrying out the dirtiest fieldwork, and was often seen in tailored suits and in an opulent full-length fur-trimmed coat. The result was that his reputation preceded him, and often crowds pressed him as he arrived in the field. Indeed, he was rumored to be quite the ladies' man.

By the early 1930s, Brown had cut a funding deal with the Sinclair Oil Company (whose logo, not coincidently, was, and is, a green sauropod) expanded his collecting efforts to fossils other than dinosaurs and locales other than western North America. He traveled by virtually any conveyance available, and eventually ended up everywhere in the world, save Japan, Australia, Madagascar, and the South Sea Islands. His finds were numerous and varied: mummified musk ox, fossils of every stripe, and even the first Folsom projectile point, a find that indicated that humans were in North America far earlier than predicted. His discovery in 1934 ofthe Jurassic Howe Quarry bonebed was another highwater mark in a career full of them; more than 20 dinosaurs repesented by 4,000 bones.

World War II and age slowed the pace of his collecting down. Still he led tours at the AMNH, and periodically collected for the institution. He died a week before his ninetieth birthday, in the midst of planning a collecting trip to the Isle of Wight.

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