Categories: New Haven, Science

Paleontologist Othniel Marsh dies – Today in History: March 18

Triceratops prorsus skull
Triceratops prorsus skull, Marsh identified the first Triceratops specimen. Image from The Dinosaurs of North America by Othniel Marsh, 1896

On March 18, 1899, America’s first professor of paleontology, Othniel Charles Marsh, died at his home in New Haven. Marsh is credited with discovering extinct birds with teeth, tracing the development of the modern horse, and describing and naming approximately 500 new species of fossil animals. Marsh also identified and described 80 new dinosaur species.

The nephew of George Peabody, founder of Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History (a gift to Yale College in 1863), Marsh was appointed one of the museum’s first curators. He also served as the government’s first vertebrate paleontologist for the US Geological Survey. This position and its budget allowed Marsh to build an enormous collection of fossils. Assisted by the Peabody’s staff, Marsh became an expert in constructing lifelike restorations of extinct dinosaurs, mammals, and birds.  An early supporter of Darwin, Marsh is credited with finding the complete sequence of fossil horses in America which helped to affirm Darwin’s theory of natural selection.

Paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh

American paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh (center, back row) and assistants

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LEARN MORE

Places

“Yale Peabody Museum,” 2016. Link.

Books

Marsh, Othniel Charles. The Dinosaurs of North America. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1896. Link.
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