An ancient bone marks a new type of dinosaur

Object of the Month: 04/2007

What is it?:

Dinosaur bone
Vertebra (backbone) of sauropod dinosaur


Age: 145-161 million years ago
Where was it collected:

South-central Montana


Sauropod Vertebra
Sauropod Vertebra

This backbone came from a young sauropod (SORE-oh-pod) dinosaur. In life, the hollowed-out areas held air sacs connected to the lungs, and made this vertebra lightweight but still strong.

The two flanges that stick up from the top of the bone held ligaments and muscles, and protected the spinal cord—the nerve that connects the body to the brain. The two side flanges attached to muscles that connected the ribs to the spine. Human backbones have these features too—only much smaller!

Scientists often use backbones like these to identify dinosaurs. The shape of the bone, the patterns of thin ridges and the hollow excavations tell us that this vertebra comes from a new species of sauropod, probably closely related to the Diplodocus (dih-PLOD-uh-cuss) on display in the Dinosaurs and Fossils Gallery.

sauropod: Photo courtesy of kayepants
Diplodocus: Photo courtesy of kayepants
The two flanges that stick up from the top of the bone held ligaments and muscles, and protected the spinal cord—the nerve that connects the body to the brain. The two side flanges attached to muscles that connected the ribs to the spine. Human backbones have these features too—only much smaller!

There’s lots more to say about the bone! Try your hand at writing your own label on the computer to the left.