The Brontosaurus is a dinosaur with a long, troubled history. Its status as an actual dinosaur, as opposed to just an offshoot of the Apatosaurus, has actually been disputed since the first fossils were uncovered. And, in the 1970s, it was declared that the Brontosaurus was never an actual dinosaur, no matter what your dinosaur books that you bought from Scholastic told you. It was just a young Apatosaur. But apparently that announcement was a bit premature.
As reported by Wired today, paleontologists in Europe have been creating a “digital library” of dinosaur bones, and not just because it looks cool. But carefully scanning each bone and recreating it in a digital form, it allows them to compare every fossil of every type of dinosaur they have. This means they can find morphological differences between different species, as well as determine which fossils belong to which species.
Their results? There are enough differences between the Apatosaurus and the Brontosaurus that the latter should be declared its own species. Specifically, the Apatosaurus has a thicker neck, while the Brontosaurus has a higher one. Yes, the difference is subtle… but that’s the point.
The technique that discovered this is actually more important than the return of your childhood dino. One of the problems of fossil study is that you can’t move fossils very easily. Creating a pixel-accurate digital library of 3D fossils will allow paleontologists the world over to better compare, classify, and sort the bones they find into the right taxonomies.
So, we’ll better understand the past of our planet. Really, saving the Brontosaurus is just a bonus.