Online Encyclopedia

OTHNIEL CHARLES MARSH (1831-1899)

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Originally appearing in Volume V17, Page 769 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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OTHNIEL CHARLES MARSH (1831-1899), American palaeontologist, was born in Lockport, New York, on the 29th of October 1831. He graduated at Yale College in 186o, and studied geology and mineralogy in the Sheffield scientific school, New Haven, and afterwards palaeontology and anatomy in Berlin, Heidelberg and Breslau. Returning to America in 1866 he was appointed professor of vertebrate palaeontology at Yale College, and there began the researches of the fossil vertebrata of the western states, whereby he established his reputation. He was aided by a private fortune from his uncle, George Peabody, whom he induced to establish the Peabody Museum of Natural History (especially devoted to zoology, geology and mineralogy) in the college. In May 1871 he discovered the first pterodactyl remains found in America, and in subsequent years he brought to light from Wyoming and other regions many new genera and families, and some entirely new orders of extinct vertebrata, which he described in monographs or periodical articles. These included remains of the Cretaceous toothed birds Hesperornis and Ichthyornis, the Cretaceous flying-reptiles (Pteranodon), the swimming reptiles or Mosasauria, and the Cretaceous and Jurassic land reptiles (Dinosauria) among which were the Brontosaurus and Atlantosaurus. The remarkable mammals which he termed Brontotheria (now grouped as Titanotheriidae), and the huge Dinocerata, one being the Uintatherium, were also brought to light by him. Among his later discoveries were remains of early ancestors of horses in America. On becoming vice-president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1875 he gave an address on the " Introduction and Succession of Vertebrate Life in America," summarizing his conclusions to that date. He repeatedly organized and often accompanied scientific exploring expeditions in the Rocky Mountains, and their results tended in an important degree to support the doctrines of natural selection and evolution. He published many papers on these, and found time—besides that necessarily given to the accumulation and care of the most extensive collection of fossils in the world—to write Odontornithes: A Monograph on the Extinct Toothed Birds of North America (188o) ; Dinocerata: A Monograph on an Extinct Order of Gigantic Mammals (1884) ; and The Dinosaurs of North America (1896). His work is full of accurately recorded facts of permanent value. He was long in charge of the division of vertebrate palaeontology in the United States Geological Survey, and received many scientific honours, medals and degrees, American and foreign. He died in New Haven on the 18th of March 1899. Mag. (1899), p. 237.
End of Article: OTHNIEL CHARLES MARSH (1831-1899)
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