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Plateosaurus, Gresslyosaurus, and the Swabian Dragon--with a Picture and a Song
Plateosaurus, Gresslyosaurus, and the Swabian Dragon--with a Picture and a Song
Last year marked the 200th birthday of Amanz Gressly (1814-1865), the
pioneering Swiss geologist who found the first dinosaur bones is
Switzerland (fossils subsequently named Gresslyosaurus). Gressly is
recognized as one of the founders of modern stratigraphy and
paleogeography, and introduced the concept of facies.
In September I posted a news item in German on the Dinosaur Mailing
List about the "Gresslyosaurus" fossil at the Staatliche Museum für
Naturkunde Stuttgart, nicknamed "Gressly" [now considered an older,
very large Plateosaurus individual at 10 meters long].
I thought I would take a look at the history of the Gresslyosaurus,
both the original genus and the Stuttgart specimen, as well as
updating information on the etymology of the name Plateosaurus that I
posted to the DML in 2012.
I also have tried to fill in some background on an early (and often
overlooked) paleoart reconstruction of Plateosaurus in a French work
from 1886. In addition, I've summarized a song in German from the 19th
century about the Gresslyosaurus.
I have provided online links wherever possible as a resource.
Any errors are my own. The translations from German and French are
also mine unless otherwise noted. Corrections and improvements are
welcome and appreciated.
Etymology and Meaning of the Name Plateosaurus
Currently, different sources give the meaning of Plateosaurus as
"broad lizard," "flat lizard," or "broad way lizard," while some older
sources give "oar lizard." A careful look at what pioneering German
paleontologist Hermann von Meyer (1801-1869) said in his original
published descriptions (now all available online), along with how he
formed some of his other generic names, best supports the following
Plateosaurus von Meyer, 1837 "broad lizard" ["broad saurian"] in
reference to its "broad, strong limb bones" [<<breite, starke
Gliedmaassenknochen>> in von Meyer, 1852, pg. 44]
>From Greek adjective *platys* (genitive case: *plateos*, stem:
*plate-*) "broad, wide, flat; large, strong" + Greek noun *sauros*
In 1846 the German geologist Hanns Bruno Geinitz (1814-1900) gave the
etymology of Plateosaurus as << *platys* "breit" [broad]>> (pg. 89),
indicating how the name was understood and derived in von Meyer's day.
Geinitz, H. B. 1846. Grundriss der Versteinerungskunde. Arnoldische
Buchhandlung. Dresden und Leipzig: 1-813.
(A Greek neuter noun *platos* (genitive: *plateos*) "breadth, width"
exists as a possible but less likely source for plate- in the name
Using the genitive case stem of nouns and adjectives to form parts of
compound words was common in Ancient Greek and Latin, and has often
been used in forming Neo-Latin scientific terms and names. In
composing the name Plateosaurus in 1837, von Meyer had earlier
examples derived from similar genitive case stems such as Eureodon
Fischer, 1817 (from Greek adjective *eurys* (genitive *eureos*) "wide"
+ -*odon* "tooth") and his own name Rhacheosaurus von Meyer 1831 (from
Greek noun *rhakhis* (genitive *rhakheos*) "spine") "backbone saurian"
(for its different shaped vertebrae), along with Geoffroy's similarly
spelled names Teleosaurus and Steneosaurus from 1825.
The name Plateosaurus would not be derived from the Greek noun *plate*
"oar" nor from the Greek feminine adjective-derived substantive
*plateia* "broad (road, way)" (short for Greek feminine gender
adjective-noun phrase *plateia hodos* "broad road") as has been
proposed in different sources.
Von Meyer's Descriptions of Plateosaurus
Von Meyer published two scientific descriptions (and a short note) for
Plateosaurus, all now available online.
The original 1837 notice of Plateosaurus, based on a fossil that
"Herr. Dr. Engelhardt" had found near Nuremberg in 1834 and brought to
the 1836 annual meeting of German Medical Doctors and Naturalists,
held that year in Stuttgart :
Meyer, H. von (1837). Mitteilung an Prof. Bronn [Plateosaurus
engelhardti]. Neues Jahrbuch für Mineralogie, Geognosie, Geologie und
Petrefakten-Kunde : 316.
Thomas Huxley provided an English translation in 1870: 38-39 (in part):
"The discovery is extremely interesting. The bones belong to a
gigantic Saurian, which, in virtue of the mass and hollowness of its
limb-bones, is allied to Iguanodon and to Megalosaurus, and will
belong to the second division of my Saurian system. None of its allies
has hitherto been found so deep in the European continent, nor from
rocks of so great age. These remains belong to a new genus, which I
term Plateosaurus: the species is Pl. Engelhardtii . I shall hereafter
publish a full account of the fossils."
Huxley, T. H. 1870. On the classification of the Dinosauria, with
observations on the Dinosauria of the Trias. Quarterly Review of the
Geological Society of London 26:32-51
Engelhart (the correct spelling) permitted von Meyer to prepare and
study the fossil remains. In 1839 von Meyer published a short note
announcing that Plateosaurus had a sacrum with at least three fused
vertebrae, predating Owen's recognition of a fused sacrum as a
diagnostic feature of dinosaurs (in Neues Jahrbuch 1839 :77):
<<In meinem P l a t e o s a u r u s E n g e l h a r t i aus dem Keuper
der Gegend von Nürnberg bestand durch Verschmelzung von wenigstens
drei Wirbeln ein sogenanntes Kreuz- oder Heiligen-Bein, was bisher
eigentlich nur den Säugethieren zustand und für einen Saurus unerhört
[In my Plateosaurus Engelharti from the Keuper in the vicinity of
Nuremberg a so-called sacrum or holy bone is present from the fusion
of at least three vertebrae, a condition that until now was proper
only to mammals and is unheard for a saurian.]
Meyer, H. von (1839). Neues Jahrbuch für Mineralogie, Geognosie,
Geologie und Petrefakten-Kunde : 76-79.
Von Meyer's promised full description of Plateosaurus appeared in the
his famous series of monographs Zur Fauna der Vorwelt [On the Fauna of
the Prehistoric World] in 1855:
Meyer, H. von (1847 — 1855). Zur Fauna der Vorwelt. 2. Abt. Die
Saurier des Muschelkalkes. VIII, 167 S., 70 Taf. - Frankfurt a. M. (H.
The monograph is now viewable online at the New York Public Library
Digital Collection site, although the text resolution of the oversize
pages is difficult to read. Also, the links to the exact pages
sometimes do not work. However, the "Jump to" dropdown tool at the top
right can provide a direct link to a particular page. It works best in
the 2up mode that displays two pages at time.
Description of Plateosaurus: text pages 152-155; Jump to pages 163 -166
Illustrations drawn by von Meyer:
Plate 68 --Plateosaurus vertebrae and sacrum
Jump to page 319
Plate 69--Plateosaurus limb bones
Jump to page 323
In addition to his formal scientific descriptions, von Meyer also
authored a short book in 1852 intended for a general audience, based
on two public talks he had given in 1851 (one in May on fossil
reptiles and one in August on fossil mammals) at Senckenberg Nature
Research Society [Senckenbergische naturforschende Gesellschaft]
meetings in Frankfurt am Main.
Meyer, H. v. (1852) Über die Reptilien und Säugethiere der
verschiedenen Zeiten der Erde. Zwei Reden von Hermann von Meyer. [On
the reptiles and mammals from the different time periods of the Earth.
Two talks by Hermann von Meyer] Frankfurt a. M., S. Schmerber. 150 pp.
The book included this short description of Plateosaurus (in the
<<Die Pachypoden werden in der Trias-periode durch den Plateosaurus
Myr. aus dem oberen Keuper bei Nürnberg repräsentirt, von dem ich das
in mehreren verwachsenen Wirbeln bestehende Heiligenbein, breite,
starke Gliedmaassenknochen von 1 1/2 Fuss Länge mit einer geräumigen
Markhöhle, zierliche Krystalle von Nadeleisenerz einschliessend, so
wie Zehenglieder, welche ebenfalls breit und hohl waren, untersucht
habe; es wäre diess der älteste bis jetzt aufgefundene Pachypode.>>
(von Meyer, 1852, pg. 44)
"The pachypods were represented during the Triassic Period by
Plateosaurus Meyer from the Upper Keuper near Nuremberg; my studies of
[this saurian] have examined its sacrum composed of several coossified
vertebrae; broad, strong limb bones from 1 1/2 feet long with a
sizable marrow cavity filled with delicate geothite [iron hydroxide]
crystals, as well as phalanges, which were likewise broad and hollow;
this form would rank as the oldest pachypod found to date."
Limb Bones Explain the Name Plateosaurus "Broad Lizard"
Although von Meyer did not publish a formal etymology or explanation
for the name Plateosaurus, the phrase "broad, strong limb bones"
[<<breite, starke Gliedmaassenknochen>>] (von Meyer 1852: 44) above
would provide a simple and logical reason for his original choice of
the name Plateosaurus, understood as "broad lizard," in 1837. As
Huxley's translation above shows, the massive limb bones were the
feature that first caught von Meyer's attention before the specimen
had been fully prepared (later revealing a fused sacrum) and led him
at the same time to correctly associate the animal with Megalosaurus
and Iguanodon in his separate division of extinct saurians with
massive limbs like large land mammals, a category of ancient reptiles
that von Meyer first proposed in 1829 and more fully described in 1832
(later formalized by Owen's Dinosauria (1842) and von Meyer's
Pachypoda or Pachypodes).
In addition to "broad," Greek *platys* could also mean "large, strong"
(such as in the sense of "broad-shouldered"), descriptions appropriate
as well for an animal that von Meyer called a "gigantic saurian."
"Flat Lizard" Flat Wrong
What can be dismissed completely is any notion that von Meyer meant
the name Plateosaurus to be understood as "flat lizard," a still
widely cited supposed meaning.
Such "flat" features as the teeth, the frontal bones of the skull, or
the pubic "apron" that have been cited or implied in some sources as
the supposed basis for a meaning "flat lizard" for Plateosaurus were
not known to von Meyer, and were only discovered and described much
later when more complete fossil specimens were found.." In fact, the
leaf-like teeth of Plateosaurus are not distinctively flat.
A number of papers in German and in English about Plateosaurus are now
available online for free.
Moser, M. (2003). Plateosaurus engelhardti Meyer, 1837 (Dinosauria,
Sauropodomorpha) aus dem Feuerletten (Mittelkeuper; Obertrias) von
Bayern. Zitteliana Reihe B, Abhandlungen der Bayerischen
Staatssammlung fuer Palaeontologie und Geologie 24: 1–186
Moser's major monograph is in German but has an expanded English summary.
Mallison, H. (2010). The digital Plateosaurus I: body mass, mass
distribution and posture assessed using CAD and CAE on a digitally
mounted complete skeleton. Palaeontologia Electronica 13.2.8A
Mallison, H. (2010). The digital Plateosaurus II: an assessment of the
range of motion of the limbs and vertebral column and of previous
reconstructions using a digital skeletal mount. Acta Palaeontologica
Polonica 55(3): 433-458; doi:10.4202/app.2009.0075
Reiss, Stefan and Mallison, Heinrich. 2014. Motion range of the manus
of Plateosaurus engelhardti von Meyer, 1837. Palaeontologia
Electronica Vol. 17, Issue 1;12A; 19p;
Gunga, H-C. , et al. 2007. Body mass estimations for Plateosaurus
engelhardti using laser scanning and 3D reconstruction methods.
Naturwissenschaften 94:623–630 DOI 10.1007/s00114-007-0234-2
Klein, N. (2004) Bone histology and growth of the prosauropod dinosaur
Plateosaurus engelhardti MEYER, 1837 from the Norian bonebeds of
Trossingen (Germany) and Frick (Switzerland). Dissertation.
Fechner, Regina and Gößling, Rainer (2014). The gastralial apparatus
of Plateosaurus engelhardti: morphological description and soft-tissue
reconstruction. Palaeontologia Electronica Vol. 17, Issue 1;13A; 11p;
Hofmann and Sander (2014), The first juvenile specimens of
Plateosaurus engelhardti from Frick, Switzerland: isolated neural
arches and their implications for developmental plasticity in a basal
sauropodomorph. PeerJ 2:e458; DOI 10.7717/peerj.458
Prieto-Márquez, Albert & Norell, Mark (2011) Redescription of a nearly
complete skull of Plateosaurus (Dinosauria, Sauropodomorpha) from the
late Triassic of Trossingen (Germany). American Museum Novitates 3727.
Sander, M. 1992. The Norian Plateosaurus bonebeds of Central Europe
and their taphonomy. Palaeogeography Palaeoclimatology Palaeoecology
93(3-4):255-299. DOI: 10.1016/0031-0182(92)90100-J
Jaekel O. 1914. Über die Wirbeltierfunde der oberen Trias von
Halberstadt. Palaeontologische Zeitschrift 1:155-215
Zanclodon and the Swabian Lindwurm
During the 19th century the lack of a Plateosaurus skeleton that had
an associated skull, and the often fragmentary or incomplete fossils
of other Triassic archosaurs, led to a muddle about the exact nature
and appearance of Plateosaurus (a problem that lasted in some form
into the 20th century, prior to the discovery of complete skeletons in
Germany and later in Switzerland). The discovery of shed tooth crowns
or jaw fragments from carnivorous archosauriforms in the same strata
or near some of the skeletal remains of Plateosaurus was seen as
evidence that the animals were fierce sharp-toothed predators, an
assumption apparently supported by the massive manual claws.
Plateosaurus remains were attributed to the carnivorous Zanclodon,
Belodon (pre-1865), or Teratosaurus.
A particularly notable fossil find was a relatively complete (but
headless), very large skeleton unearthed near the village of Degerloch
near Stuttgart in southern Germany during work for a vineyard.
Stuttgart businessman Gottlieb Albert Reiniger (1803-1868), a cigar
maker with an interest in science, is credited with the discovery,
cited as May, 1847. In 1856 he donated his Degerloch dinosaur fossils
to the Verein für vaterländische Naturkunde in Württemberg [Society
for Patrimonial Natural History in Württemberg]. The specimens (SMNS
80664) are now in the Staatliche Museum für Naturkunde Stuttgart
[Stuttgart State Museum of Natural History]. (The paleontology
displays and collection are at the Museum am Löwentor branch (which
opened in 1985).) This specimen is the one that was later nicknamed
"Gressly" (supposedly being a new species of Gresslyosaurus as
The first mention of the Degerloch fossils in print was by the German
paleontologist Theodor Plieninger (1795-1879) in 1847.
Plieninger, T. (1847) Verzeichniss der Reptilien Württembergs.
Jahreshefte des Vereins für vaterländische Naturkunde in Württemberg,
"But in the colored marl layer overlying the vast coarse-grained
Keuper sandstone near Degerloch, our [society] member, Stuttgart City
Councilman Reiniger, has found colossal remains of vertebrae, ribs,
foot bones and scattered teeth of Zanclodon laevis Plieninger, about
which a fuller report shall later be given in our Jahresheft."
The Degerloch find was likely the most complete dinosaur specimen
known on the continent prior to Compsognathus in 1859. Unfortunately,
the fossil bones were generally in fractured or fragmented condition,
and the skeleton was missing the skull. Later efforts to find the
skull at the original site were not successful, although Plieninger
found other fossil material from a second specimen (also headless).
The apparent association of the skeleton with sharp tooth crowns that
Plieninger originally thought came from Zanclodon "sickle tooth"--a
taxon he had named in 1846 based on flat, slicing teeth and a jaw
fragment found as Gailsdorf--would prove to be a source of future
The Belodon Blunder
In 1850 Plieninger provided a more detailed description of the
Degerloch fossils, but now suggested, based on the shape of the
scattered teeth found near the bones, that the remains likely were
Belodon, if not the same as the species Belodon plieningeri,
established by Hermann von Meyer in 1844 based only on teeth.
Plieninger, T. 1850. Skelett eines Sauriers im Keupermergel.[Skeleton
of a saurian from the Keuper marls] - Jahreshefte des Vereins für
vaterländische Naturkunde in Württemberg 5: 171–172.
[Belodon plieningeri von Meyer, 1844 "arrow tooth" [Pfeilzahn] from
Greek *belos* "arrow, dart"
In Plieninger's full description of the Degerloch material he used the
name Belodon plieningeri. He also described fossils of a second
similar saurian found close by. (Although dated "1852," the monograph
was not published until 1857 for a series of reasons.)
Plieninger, T. (1852 ) Belodon Plieningeri H. v. Meyer, ein
Saurier der Keuperformation. [Belodon plieningeri H. v. Meyer, a
saurian from the Keuper Formation] - Jahreshefte des Vereins für
vaterländische Naturkunde in Württemberg 8:. 389—524
In 1855 von Meyer followed Plieninger in identifying the Degerloch
specimens as Belodon plieningeri, a supposed pachypod (dinosaur),
based on the shape of the teeth (page 149 of Zur Fauna der Vorwelt
(already cited above)).
However, in an important paper in 1865, von Meyer reviewed and
described more fossil material belonging to phytosaurs (mixed with
armor from aetosaurs), and reidentified the Belodon as a
crocodile-like reptile, not a pachypod (dinosaur). The Degerloch
skeletons could not be Belodon.
Meyer, H. von. (1865) Reptilien aus dem Stubensandstein des oberen
Keupers. Palaeontographica 7(5) : 253 -346
In 1861 von Meyer had already suggested that the two Degerloch
pachypod skeletons described by Plieninger might belong to his newly
named Teratosaurus, assumed to be dinosaur as well. (1861: pg 71)
In his paper on Triassic dinosaurs, Thomas Huxley (1870: 39-42)
provided a summary in English of von Meyer's revision of Belodon and
Plieninger's descriptions of the two Degerloch specimens, with his own
comments and corrections, concurring with von Meyer that the Stuttgart
dinosaurs might be Teratosaurus.
Quenstedt's Swabian Dragon (Schwäbische Lindwurm)
In 1852 the German geologist and paleontologist F. A. Quendstedt
(1809-1899) published the first edition of his famous Handbuch der
Petrefaktenkunde [Textbook for the Study of Fossils].
Quenstedt, F.A. 1852. Handbuch der Petrefaktenkunde, 1st edition. H.
Laupp'schen, Tübingen 1-792
Quendstedt provided a description of the Degerloch specimen (pages
110-111), comparing it to a lizard and noting, among other features,
that it must have had a "remarkably weak neck" (known from five
vertebrae at the time). He cited problems with the correct name for
the animal, given the different names for the types of teeth found in
the Triassic rocks (Belodon, Cladeiodon, Zanclodon), but concluded
that "this great giant lizard from Stuttgart" without exaggeration
must have measured 30 Paris feet in length.
In later editions of the textbook (1867, 1885), he referred to the
animal as Zanclodon laevis and noted that "the neck must have been
unusually slender and thin, which at the same time presumes a small
head." Based on additional specimens (also found headless) from the
region, he estimated the neck would have had at least 10 vertebrae and
measured a meter in length [<<Mindestens 10 Halswirbel von etwa 1 m
Länge darf man annehmen.>>]. He illustrated neck vertebrae from a
specimen found at Jächklinge near Pfrondorf.
Atlas illustration Plate 13:
In addition to his technical works, Quenstedt authored a book on
fossils and geology in 1856 that was aimed at a general audience--and
so embellished with a few romanticized touches.
Quenstedt, F. A. (1856) Sonst und jetzt: Populäre Vorträge über
Geologie [Then and Now: Popular Readings About Geology]. Verlag der H.
Laupp'schen, Tübingen, 288 pp.
A giant fossil saurian from Germany was of special note. Quenstedt had
settled on Plieninger's initial scientific name Zanclodon laevis for
the Degerloch specimens, as well as for other similar fossils found in
southern German. He also introduced the new nickname <<der schwäbische
Lindwurm>> [the Swabian lindworm (a kind of dragon)] (page 122) for
the monster. He described the Swabian Lindwurm Zanclodon as looming
over the inhabitants of the ancient landscape, and perhaps using its
great claws to prey on the offspring of the giant labyrinthodonts
(called "armored frogs").
He illustrated a claw found near the town of Spaichingen in southern
Germany (page 38) to indicate the size (and presumed ferocity) of
Zanclodon, noting that in life the horny sheath would have extended at
least half again as long as the bony core.
In the text he tied the dinosaur to the Medieval legends of local
dragons (Lindwurm) in Swabia in southern Germany and the popular
dragon-slaying Saint George.
<<oben.... lungerten Rieseneidechsen wohl 40 Fuss lang! Soll man da
nicht von Lindwurm träumen, welchen einst Ritter Georg erlegte?>>
[ [on land above Stuttgart]... wandered giant lizards fully 40 feet
long! Should one not dream there of lindworms, which once the knight
George hunted down?]
Saint George Legends in Germany:
A 16th century German wood carving of St. George slaying the Lindwurm
(click image to expand)
A Lindwurm as depicted by the famous German Renaissance artist
Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528)
Quenstedt's colorful term the <<schwäbische Lindwurm>> caught on,
while the scientific identification of other Plateosaurus fossils from
Germany as the carnivorous Zanclodon remained widely accepted.
Gresslyosaurus, Switzerland's First Dinosaur
The Swiss geologist Amanz Gressly (1814 - 1865) is credited with
finding the first dinosaur remains in Switzerland in 1856, discovered
when he was working as a geological expert for the construction of a
tunnel that was part of the Hauenstein railway line connecting Basel
and Olten. The fossils were unearthed at Niederschönthal near
Füllinsdorf in the Liestal District south of Basel.
Soon after, the Swiss geologist and paleontologist Karl Ludwig
Rütimeyer (1825 - 1895) gave a short description of the find in 1856,
noting a similarity to von Meyer's pachypod Plateosaurus. He proposed
the name Gresslyosaurus ingens to honor Gressly. (Earlier in 1856 he
had used the name Dinosaurus gresslyi without a description
(preoccupied by Dinosaurus Fischer, 1847, a therapsid from Russia).)
Rütimeyer, L. 1856. Fossile Reptilienknochen aus dem Keuper [Fossil
reptile bones from the Keuper]. Verhandlungen der Schweizerischen
Naturforschenden Gesellschaft 41: 62-64
Rütimeyer published a fuller description of the material in 1857,
which he now saw as a possible Belodon.
Rütimeyer, L. (1857) Über die im Keuper zu Liestal bei Basel
aufgefundenen Reptilien-Reste von Belodon. [On the reptilian remains
of Belodon discovered in the Keuper in Liestal near Basel] Neues
Jahrbuch für Mineralogie, Geognosie, Geologie und Petrefaktenkunde.
He recognized the Swiss fossils as a pachypod (dinosaur) that was
closely related to Zanclodon, Plateosaurus, and Belodon (that is, as
described by Plieninger based on the Degerloch material). He noted
that identification of the Swiss find as Zanclodon or Plateosaurus
could be excluded, but left open a judgment on its relationship to
Belodon (Plieninger version). If it turned out to be distinct, he
proposed the name Gresslyosaurus ingens.
Illustration of Gresslyosaurus fossils in Rütimeyer's sketchbook (pg. 4)
Amanz Gressly’s dinosaur locality revisited
Dimodosaurus, "Gigantic Saurian" from France
Remains of Plateosaurus were also found in Poligny in the Jura region
of eastern France. These were first described in 1862 and named
Dimodosaurus Pidancet & Chopard, 1862 "terrible lizard" from Greek
*deimodes* "terrible, fearful."
J. Pidancet and S. Chopard. 1862. Note sur un Saurien gigantesque
appartenant aux marnes irisées [Note on a gigantic saurian pertaining
to the Keuper marls]. Comptes Rendus des Séances de l'Académie des
French dinosaur discoveries (with an early illustration of a partial
Jobin's 1886 "Zanglodon"--First Paleoart Reconstruction of Plateosaurus?
Major dinosaur discoveries in North America and Europe made in the
1860s, 1870s, and 1880s led to a new bipedal image for many dinosaurs.
Marsh's work in particular was important in giving dinosaurs a more
accurate portrayal. Dollo's descriptions of the complete Iguanodon
skeletons from Bernissart included a reconstruction of a bipedal,
tail-dragging Iguanodon (1883: Plate V) that provided a dinosaur model
Louis Dollo, L. 1883. Troisième note sur les Dinosauriens de
Bernissart. Bulletin du Musée Royal d'Histoire Naturelle de Belgique
2: 85 - 119
(Note that most of Marsh's full skeletal reconstructions
(Ceratosaurus, Stegosaurus, Triceratops, Edmontosaurus (as
'Claosaurus'), Anchisaurus, etc.) were not published until the 1890s.)
In 1886 the French astronomer and science-popularizer Camille
Flammarion (1842-1925) produced a book entitled Le Monde Avant la
Creation de l'Homme [The World Before the Creation of Man], a complete
reworking of an 1857 book by the same title by W. F. A. Zimmerman, and
also aimed at a general audience. The new version was extensively
illustrated with wood engravings.
[Flammarion's discussion of evolution and Darwin essentially dismisses
"sélection naturelle" [natural selection] in favor of a more orderly
and purposeful process called "élection naturelle" [natural election]:
<<Et comme l'élection naturelle agit seulement pour le bien de chaque
individu, tout don physique ou intellectuel tendra à progresser vers
la perfection.>> [And as natural election acts solely for the good of
each individual, any physical or intellectual ability will tend to
progress toward perfection.] (pg. 115)
The book also is steeped in the "scientific" racism all too common in
its day, with statements such as: <<Les races humaines inférieures
établissent une transition physique et intellectuelle entre les singes
anthropoïdes et les races européennes.>> [The inferior human races
provide a physical and intellectual transition between the apes and
the European races.] (pg. 754)]
Flammarion, C. (1886) Le Monde Avant la Creation de l'Homme. C. Marpon
et E. Flammarion (Paris) 847 pp.
Download or online viewing:
NOTE: Text illustrations on the Gallica site can be expanded and
downloaded individually by clicking on the magnifying glass with a
plus (Zoom) on the left column, and then clicking on and scrolling
over the image.
The dinosaur illustrations throughout the 1886 book are a mix of
Gideon Mantell's old giant-lizard/dragon imagery, Waterhouse Hawkins'
and Richard Owen's rhinoceros and crocodile/bear gestalt, and the
post-Bernissart bipedal, (almost human-like) upright rearing,
tail-dragging tripod reconstructions. Flammarion mentions visiting the
newly discovered complete Iguanodon skeletons from Belgium, which did
not support the earlier Leidy-Cope bipedal kangaroo dinosaur model.
The "up-to-date" images of dinosaurs were provided by the French
scientific illustrator known as A. Jobin, who worked with the Museum
of Natural History in Paris. Unfortunately, biographical information
on Jobin appears to be sparse. (I can't confirm his full first name,
for one. Search engines keep insisting I'm looking for "a job in ...")
He was particularly active during in the 1880s and provided the
original drawings for works on botany, fishes, beetles, and for
popular natural history books. His recreations of ancient amphibians
and reptiles in what were meant to be lifelike poses and environments
make him a pioneering paleoartist.
His drawings for publication were turned into wood or copper
engravings or into lithographs. Jobin's dinosaur illustrations in
Flammarion's 1886 book are wood engravings, drawn by Jobin but
reworked by skilled engravers, who carved out an intricately detailed
relief version of the line drawing on a block of dense hardwood that
was then used to print the illustration on a page at the same size in
the reversed sense.
NOTE: Some of Jobin's life illustrations of ancient reptiles and
amphibians had already appeared in 1885 in the popular natural history
book series Merveilles de la Nature, Vol. 5, Les Reptiles et les
Batraciens. They are mentioned as being "absolutely new" in the
Jurassic dinosaurs from the Rocky Mountains (Stegosaurus) (168)
Marine reptiles (531)
Mastodonsaurus (with armored plates on its breast) (705)
Flammarion noted in the chapters on the Mesozoic in his 1886 book (pg.
<<Ces dessins (fig. 279 à 231) sont dus à l'habile crayon de M. JOBIN,
l'érudit naturaliste qui sait exhumer des fossiles les êtres endormis
depuis tant de millions d'années, et leur redonner la vie des anciens
âges en les rétablissant au milieu de leurs propres paysages.>>
"These drawings (fig. 279 to 231) are the result of the skillful
pencil of Mr. JOBIN, the erudite naturalist who knows how to exhume
from fossils beings that have slumbered for so many millions of years,
and how to revive their lives of ancient days by restoring them amidst
their appropriate natural landscapes."
Jobin's botanical illustration work likely influenced his detailed
vision of Mesozoic landscapes with araucarian trees and cycads. See
his odd (pre-Marsh 1891) bipedal reconstruction of Jurassic
Stegosaurus, for example (page 577) (a wood engraving reused from the
1885 book above):
Plateosaurus Reconstructed as "Zanglodon"
Jobin's 1886 illustration of "zanglodon" on page 517 of Flammarion's
book would count as the earliest life reconstruction of Plateosaurus
that I am aware of, and appears to be based mainly on material from
the Degerloch specimen as described by Plieninger in 1850 and 1857,
and particularly on Zanclodon as described by Questedt in 1867 and
1885, who added details from other specimens subsequently found in the
same region of Germany--noting, as already mentioned, the thin,
slender neck estimated to have at least 10 vertebrae. Jobin depicts
Zanclodon with a long neck that contrasts with the short muscular neck
he gives the bipedal Megalosaurus in the same book. Also, Zanclodon is
shown with five pedal toes (per Plieninger's description), but Jobin's
Megalosaurus has four. (Marsh (1884) had already illustrated an
Allosaurus foot with three toes). The Zanclodon "thumb" also appears
to have an enlarged claw, but the fine details are hard to determine.
The head is imagined from material attributed to Teratosaurus.
["Blanadet" at the bottom right is Jules Blanadet, the wood engraver.]
Compare with Jobin's Megalosaurus:
Marsh's Allosaurus leg and foot (1884):
As explained by Flammarion:
<<Le zanglodon (fig. 281) contemporain du belodon et des
labyrinthodontes du keuper, était un dinosaurien carnassier
gigantesque, mais de forme relativement élancée. Il paraît, d'après
Kàpff et d'autres, que la tête connue sous le nom de teratosaurus et
trouvée dans le même terrain, doit être rapportée au zanglodon.>>[pg.
In rough translation, correcting the spelling:
"Zanclodon (fig. 281), contemporary of Belodon and the labyrinthodonts
of the Keuper, was a gigantic carnivorous dinosaur, but with a
relatively slender build. It appears, according to Kapff and others,
that the head known under the name Teratosaurus and found in the same
geological formation, should be attributed to Zanclodon."
The reference would be Kapff 1875 on Teratosaurus and Zanclodon
The Degerloch Zanclodon Becomes a Gresslyosaurus
The use of the name Zanclodon for Plateosaurus remained common up into
the early 20th century. The 1905 guide to the collection of the
collection of the Geological-Mineralogical Institute in Tübingen
"In Swabia the [dinosaurs] are mostly referred to as Zanclodon
(Zanclodon-Letten [shale beds] of the Keuper), although the concurrent
names Plateosaurus and Gresslyosaurus have priority. They all belong
to the predatory dinosaurians (theropods) and, because of their size,
must have been dangerous enemies of other reptiles." (pg. 51)
Koken, E. (1905) Führer durch die Sammlungen des
Geologisch-Mineralogischen Instituts in Tübingen.
See also page 18 of :
Fraas, Eberhard (1896). Die schwäbischen Trias-Saurier: nach dem
Material der Kgl. Naturalien-Sammlung in Stuttgart zusammengestellt;
mit Abbildungen der schönsten Schaustücke; Festgabe des Königlichen
Naturalien-Cabinets in Stuttgart zur 42. Versammlung der Deutschen
Geologischen Gesellschaft in Stuttgart, August 1896
NOTE: The pdf download on this volume is slow.
The German paleontologist Friedrich von Huene (1875-1969) published a
detailed review of the Triassic dinosaurs in Europe in 1908. Von Huene
was a rather notorious taxonomic splitter and divided up the fossil
material now generally attributed to Plateosaurus into different
genera, as well as new species. In his monograph, he separated
Zanclodon (still assumed to be a dinosaur) from both Plateosaurus and
Huene, F. von (1907–1908). Die Dinosaurier der europäischen
Triasformation mit Berücksichtigung der aussereuropäischen
Vorkommnisse. [The dinosaurs of the European Triassic Formation, with
consideration of non-European occurrences]. Geologische und
Paläontologische Abhandlungen, Supplement-Band (in German) 1: 1–419
Of particular note in this case was his designation of the Degerloch
material as the new species Gresslyosaurus plieningeri Huene, 1908,
under Rütimeyer's Swiss dinosaur genus Gresslyosaurus, considered
distinct from (and larger than) Plateosaurus.
Von Huene's new name Gresslyosaurus plieningeri for the large
Stuttgart museum specimen became the basis for the local nickname
"Gressly" for the fossil.
In Romer's 1956 Osteology of the Reptiles, Gresslyosaurus was
classified as a "carnosaur" theropod dinosaur under Teratosauridae
(Zanclodontidae) (pg. 615), while Plateosaurus was classified as a
"prosauropod" theropod in the family Plateosauridae (pg. 618).
In 1976 Galton synonymized Gresslyosaurus with Plateosaurus.
However, in 2006 Galton and Upchurch (page 236) made Gresslyosaurus a
nomen dubium based on the nondiagnostic character of the original
Swiss type material (incomplete sacrum, caudals, metacarpal, partial
P. M. Galton and P. Upchurch. 2004. Prosauropoda. In D. B. Weishampel,
P. Dodson, and H. Osmolska (eds.), The Dinosauria (second edition).
University of California Press, Berkeley 232-258
The Degerloch remains are now classified as Plateosaurus. However, use
of the name Gresslyosaurus for the Degerloch find and other large
specimens of Plateosaurus has continued in some popular sources.
Amanz Gressly: a Dinosaur, a Song, and a Tragic Twist
Swiss geologist Amanz Gressly (1814- 1865) has a number of claims to
fame in the founding the fields of stratigraphy and palegeography.
Perhaps best known, he developed the concept of facies in geology and
stratigraphy: units of rocks of a particular character based on the
original environment in which they were deposited, or on their
structure or fossil content.
His original definition of "facies" in French reads:
<<Et d'abord il est deux faits principaux, qui caractérisent partout
les ensembles de modifications que j'appelle facies ou aspects de
terrain : l'un consiste en ce que tel ou tel aspect pétrographique
d'un terrain quelconque suppose nécessairement, partout où il se
rencontre, le même ensemble paléontologique; l'autre, en ce que tel ou
tel ensemble paléontologique exclut rigoureusement des genres et des
especes de fossiles fréquents dans d'autres facies.>> (Gressly 1838:
Gressly, A. (1838) Observations géologiques sur le Jura Soleurois.
Neue Denkschriften der Allgemeinen Schweizerischen Gesellschaft für
die Gesammten Naturwissenschaften 2: 1–112
Also (not free):
Something of a maverick and a loner, with disheveled beard and hair,
he was fond of wandering wild places to study rocks and fossils, often
living in the rough.
He was a protégé of the Swiss geologist Louis Agassiz before the
latter moved to the United States in 1846, and later worked for the
Swiss railroad as a geological expert. As mentioned above, he
discovered the first dinosaurs fossils in Switzerland during his
The Gresslyosaurus holotype (NMB NB 1585) is in the Naturmuseum Basel.
Most of the rest of his fossil collection (11,000+ specimens) is in
the Naturmuseum Solothurn. However, Agassiz also took some of
Gressly's mollusk fossils to America with him.
Online biographical material on Amanz Gressly
Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography: Gressly, Amanz
History of Geology and Palæontology to the End of the Nineteenth Century (1901)
Meyer, Kurt (1966). Amanz Gressly, ein Solothurner Geologe
(1814-1865). Mitteilungen der Naturforschenden Gesellschaft des
Kantons Solothurn, Heft 22, 1966, 79 S., 15 Abb.
Secretan, E. (1880) Galerie suisse: biographies nationales. Volume 3: 183-188
The Gresslyosaurus Song
Songs and poems about dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals are now
composed as juvenile fare. However, during the 19th and early 20th
centuries a fair number of light verse poems and humorous songs about
prehistoric creatures and paleontology were created for grownup
audiences. The topic may be worth a more comprehensive post at some
point, although tracking down more obscure items can be difficult.
A lesser known song in German is <<Der Gresslyosaurus>>, an anonymous
parody version of the popular 19th century university student drinking
song <<Lob der edlen Musika>> [In Praise of Noble Music], and
dedicated to Amanz Gressly (namesake of the Gresslyosaurus).
In the original song <<Lob der edlen Musika>>, a jolly musician (or
minstrel) is walking along the Nile in Egypt when a crocodile crawls
from the water, intent on devouring him. The musician pulls out an old
fiddle and bow, and strikes up a tune. The entranced crocodile begins
to dance around, circling the pyramids, which, rickety with their
ancient age (and hit by crocodile tail blows), finally crumble and
crush the creature. The spared musician then goes to an inn and "cares
for his stomach," drinking wine. The last verse proclaims that a
"musician's throat is like a hole," and that if he hasn't ceased yet,
he is drinking still. The singers then say they are drinking with him.
Throughout the song, ancient Roman writer Cicero's famous Latin phrase
deploring the morals of his own society "o tempora o mores" [o the
times, o the customs] is repeated, and each chorus ends with the lines
"Praised be thou at all times, Dame Musica."
A lively version of the original song about a crocodile can be heard
and seen (with printed German lyrics) on YouTube, although the final
verse encouraging drinking is (discreetly) omitted.
The anonymous Gresslyosaurus parody was first sung by the
Naturforscherversammlung [Nature Researcher Assembly] in Basel in
honor of Gressly. In the parody, it's a wild geologist (alluding to
Amanz Gressly himself) instead of a jolly musician; the Ergolz River
in Switzerland instead of the Nile; a Gresslyosaurus emerging from mud
instead of a crocodile from water. In place of a fiddle and music, the
geologist uses a rock hammer to strike the hungry saurian, who cries
out in pain "I am the Gresslyosaurus!" The set-upon saurian dances and
skips about the Keuper (instead of Egypt), until unstable Triassic
ferns (instead of pyramids) fall and kill the fiendish creature. A
geologist (like a musician) has a throat like a hole, and other
geologists sing they will drink with him. The chorus to each the verse
ends with "Praised be thou, noble Geologia."
No YouTube or other online performed rendition currently exists as far
as I know.
A version with musical notation that was sung in Lausanne,
Switzerland, in 2004 by the Paläontologenversammlung can be viewed and
The German text is also reproduced here (in old Gothic type face):
Amanz Gressly's Tragic End
Sadly, though, the tale of Amanz Gressly and the Gresslyosaurus cannot
end on a light-hearted note. At the end of his life, Gressly suffered
a severe mental illness and had to be committed to a sanitarium in
Bern, where he died of an apparent stroke at the age of 50. One
reported aspect of his illness were hallucinations involving his
name-sake dinosaur Gresslyosaurus, although different versions exist.
One account indicates that he thought that he himself had turned into
a Gresslyosaurus. Another version says that he hallucinated
Gresslyosaurus as a hungry dinosaur ready to attack him. If the
stories are accurate, perhaps each happened at different times. The
name Gresslyosaurus meant to honor him became a kind of personal
<<Bei Liestal im Kanton Basel entdeckte der Geolog Greßly die
riesenhaften Knochen eines Reptils, das gleichfalls eine kolossale
Größe erreicht haben muß und für welches Prof. Rütimeyer den Namen
Greßlyosaurus vorschlug. Der geniale, aber unglückliche Greßly, der,
wahnsinnig geworden, in's Irrenhaus gebracht werden mußte, wurde, wie
berichtet wird, von dem Gedanken gequält, daß er in diesen
Greßlyosaurus verwandelt worden sei.>> (Brommeli 1890, pg. 390)
Bommeli, Rudolf (1890). Die Geschichte der Erde. J.H.W. Dietz,
Stuttgart. 684 pp.
"Near Liestal in the Basel Canton the geologist Gressly discovered the
gigantic bones of a reptile, that likewise must have reached a
colossal size and for which Prof. Rütimeyer proposed the name
Gresslyosaurus. The brilliant but unfortunate Gressly, who went mad,
and had to be committed to an insane asylum, reportedly was tormented
by the thought that he was transformed into this [so-named]
<<...Gressly, den ein unheimliches Geschick nach so langen
Zwischenzeiten noch einmal gewissermassen zum Opfer der alten Saurier
machen sollte. Er verfiel nämlich durch Anlage und wohl auch etwas
Alkohol dem wirklichen <Saurierfimmel>, sah in schreckhaften
halluzinationen schliesslich diese Urscheusale noch leibhaftig überall
auf sich loskommen und starb im Irrenhaus.>> (Bölsche (1931) Chapter
Bölsche, Wilhelm. (1931) Das Leben der Urwelt: Aus den Tagen der
großen Saurier. [Life of the Primeval World: From the Days of the
Great Saurians] Georg Dollheimer in Leipzig
"...Gressly, whom an uncanny fate would make, so to speak, the prey
once more of this ancient saurian after so long a span of time. He
succumbed, in fact, to true 'saurian-mania' from an inherited
predisposition and probably some amount of alcohol. In terrifying
hallucinations, he came in the end to see this prehistoric monster
still in living form, coming after him everywhere, and died in an
Plateosaurus discoveries continue (a very large specimen was found in
Switzerland just this year). The large number of fossils as allowed
in-depth research into the dinosaur's osteology, growth, and
I can only hope that at some point von Meyer's almost certainly
intended meaning "broad lizard" [breite Echse, breite Saurier] for the
name Plateosaurus, in reference to the dinosaur's "broad, strong limb
bones" (the meaning supported by historical sources), is used
consistently when discussing this important dinosaur. No more "flat
And if the big Degerloch fossils are generically distinct from
Plateosaurus (and not, as now generally accepted, simply a very large
older Plateosaurus), the animal cannot be called Gresslyosaurus, since
the original type material from Switzerland is now considered
nondiagnostic, reducing the name Gresslyosaurus a nomen dubium. For
historical reasons, though, the nickname "Gressly" will remain for the