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Mosasaur special issue of Bulletin de la Société Géologique de France

From: Ben Creisler

A new special issue of the Bulletin de la Société Géologique de France
devoted to mosasaurs:


Michael W. Caldwell (2012)
A challenge to categories: “What, if anything, is a mosasaur?”
Bulletin de la Societe Geologique de France 183: 7-34

The concept of “mosasaur” is explored from the perspective of its
historical origins, and tested empirically and phylogenetically in
order to examine the concept in its modern application. Historical
analysis of the origins of the concept of “mosasaur” makes it clear
that the term bears significant historical burden (comparative
anatomic, empirical, phylogenetic, paleontological, etc.). In order to
address the flaws in the concept of mosasaur properly, this treatise
critically assesses Camp’s [1923] diagnostic characters for
Anguimorpha, Platynota, Varanoidea, and Mosasauroidea, concluding that
Camp’s data permit mosasaurs to be viewed only as anguimorphans, not
platynotans nor varanoids. A similar critical assessment is given for
the characters used to diagnose anguimorphans and varanoids in Estes
et al. [1988], concluding here that not a single character out of
twenty-two is shared between varanoids and mosasaurs. The character
concept developed by Romer [1956] for the “posteriorly retracted
nares” of varanoids, and then later mosasaurs, is critically examined
and found to be insufficient as a test of similarity of the intended
primary homologs. The recent work of Rieppel et al. [2007], Conrad
[2008] and Conrad et al. [2010] is critically reviewed as these
authors revive the use, and subdivision, of the “posteriorly retracted
nares” as a character in anguimorph phylogenetic analysis. Based on
these criticisms, it is concluded here that there is no
character-based evidence to support phylogenetic hypotheses that
mosasaurs are derived aquatic varanoid lizards. A key recommendation
of this treatise is that the hypothesis conceiving of mosasaurs as
derived aquatic varanoids be abandoned. The final critical review
presented in this treatise examines the taxonomic implications,
relating to the concept of “mosasaur”, arising from the hypothesis of
convergent paddle-like limb evolution in mosasaurs as presented by
Bell and Polcyn [2005]. In conclusion, it is recognized that the
concept and term “mosasaur” has ceased to exist in any biologically
meaningful way, and that the future requires the construction of a new
suite of terms and concepts to convey what we now think we know about
these animals.


Nathalie Bardet (2012)
The Mosasaur collections of the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle of Paris.
Bulletin de la Societe Geologique de France183: 35-53

Taking advantage of the venue in Paris of the Third Mosasaur Meeting
(May 2010), the mosasaur collections of the Muséum National d’Histoire
Naturelle (MNHN) have been entirely checked and revised. The French
holotypes have all been restored and most specimens kept at the MNHN
have been placed in the Paleontology Gallery as part as a small
exhibition organized especially for the meeting. The MNHN mosasaur
collections include specimens from the 18th, 19th and 20th century
from France, The Netherlands, Belgium, the United States of America,
Morocco, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Niger. Most of the mosasaur
specimens discovered in France – including most holotypes – are kept
in Paris. Besides the French types, the MNHN collections include
several important historical specimens from abroad, the most famous
being undoubtedly the Cuvier’s ‘Grand Animal Fossile des Carrières de
Maestricht’, type specimen of Mosasaurus hoffmanni Mantell, 1829,
recognized as the first mosasaur to be named. This work aims to
briefly present most of these specimens, with special focus on those
found in France. The MNHN mosasaurid collections as a whole reflects
the development of palaeontological researches in this Institution,
from its foundation at the end of the 18th century up to the present


Florence F.J.M. Pieters, Peggy G.W. Rompen, John W.M. Jagt, and
Nathalie Bardet (2012)
A new look at Faujas de Saint-Fond’s fantastic story on the provenance
and acquisition of the type specimen of Mosasaurus hoffmanni Mantell,
Bulletin de la Societe Geologique de France 183:. 55-65

Based on continued archive and literature research, the fantastic tale
of the acquisition of what was to become the type specimen of
Mosasaurus hoffmanni Mantell, 1829 –the first mosasaurid specimen to
be named– told by the geologist B. Faujas de Saint-Fond (1741–1819) in
his book Histoire naturelle de la Montagne Saint-Pierre de Maestricht
issued in ten parts between 1798 and 1803, is retold and demystified.
Significantly, Faujas ‘forgot’ to mention the real reason for his stay
at Maastricht, namely his appointment as one of the four commissioners
charged with inventory and confiscation of objects of science and art
in the conquered countries. Faujas arrived at Maastricht about two
months after the fortress had been taken by French troops on 4
November 1794, while the mosasaur skull was confiscated four days
later; so that he never was a direct witness of the story he told. The
decree issued by the Convention Nationale announcing the fossil’s
destination to be the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle (MNHN) in
Paris was enacted on 12 November 1794. It appears that the
representative of the people A.-L. de Frécine (1751–1804) was involved
in the confiscation and withdrawal of the Grand animal de Maestricht
from its legal owner, the clergyman Th. J. Godding (1722–1797). In a
reclamation request (written c. 1815), his single heiress, R. Godding,
stated that six soldiers appeared with a carriage to collect the
‘petrified crocodile’ by force of arms at Godding’s country house,
acting under orders of Frécine.

The definite proof of Faujas’s unreliability is given by his
co-commissioner, the botanist A. Thouin (1747–1824). In Thouin’s
memoirs, Faujas is depicted as a great liar and storyteller, fond of
embellishing stories. Obviously, Faujas falsified the truth to
disguise the fact that looting from a private person had occurred,
which was unlawful, even in wartime. Faujas also used to make
propaganda for the French army, which is typical of the spirit of
those revolutionary years. Besides, he was rather inaccurate, his book
containing a lot of mistakes that were easy to check. Finally, it
seems that J. L. Hoffmann (1710–1782), a famous local fossil collector
presented by Faujas as the legal owner of this particular skull
specimen, never actually owned it.

Here we summarise our previous findings and include a few additional
ones, which lead to the conclusion that it must have been patriotism
as well as his great fancy for story telling that induced Faujas to
falsify the facts. In 2009, the famous war trophy temporarily returned
to Maastricht, on loan from the MNHN to the Natuurhistorisch Museum
Maastricht, within the framework of an exhibit during the
international Darwin Year, entitled, Darwin, Cuvier et le Grand Animal
de Maestricht. Of course, the mosasaur owes its great scientific value
to G. Cuvier (1769–1832), who stated that, “above all, the precise
determination of the famous animal from Maestricht seems to us as
important for the theory of zoological laws, as for the history of the
globe”. However, by embellishing the story, Faujas added a substantial
supplementary cultural value to the fossil.


Dirk Cornelissen, Louis Verding, Anne S. Schulp, and John W.M. Jagt (2012)
The mosasaurs (Squamata, Mosasauridae) of the Garcet Collection
Bulletin de la Societe Geologique de France 183: 67-71

Robert Garcet (April 12, 1912 – December 26, 2001) amassed a
remarkable collection of mosasaur fossils from upper Maastrichtian
strata in the Eben Emael-Lava area (Liège, Belgium), just south of the
type section of the Maastrichtian Stage at the St Pietersberg
(Maastricht, the Netherlands). His small-scale, non-mechanised
quarrying activities permitted the recovery of numerous articulated
vertebrate fossils. Garcet’s quarries were situated at a deeper level
than most of the current, large-scale excavations in the area. This
explains why material of Mosasaurus hoffmanni contained in his
collections enables an extension of the known range of that species on
the basis of articulated, unequivocally identified specimens, to
comprise the last c. 2,3 m.y. of the Cretaceous.