Dec
21
2009

Arthur Lakes: geologist, writer, artist, minister, and discoverer of dinosaurs

Arthur Lakes
Arthur LakesCourtesy Arthur Lake Library, Colorado School of Mines
Arthur Lakes, pioneer dinosaur hunter, and chronicler of early American paleontology, was born this day in 1844 in Martock Summerset, England. Educated at Queens College in Oxford, Lakes eventually immigrated to the United States (via Canada) where he worked as a geologist, teacher, artist, and itinerant Episcopalian minister in the area around Golden, Colorado. Sketch by Arthur Lakes: From a Scientific American article detailing the discovery of dinosaur remains near Morrison, Colorado.
Sketch by Arthur Lakes: From a Scientific American article detailing the discovery of dinosaur remains near Morrison, Colorado.Courtesy Mark Ryan collection
On March 27, 1877, while out measuring rock units in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains just west of Denver, Lakes and a companion, Captain Henry Beckwith, discovered large exposures of dinosaur remains. Hoping to stir up some interest, money, and perhaps some employment, Lakes sent some of the fossil bones eastward to both Othniel Marsh, and Edward Cope, unintentionally firing up the feud between the two pioneer paleontologists that would soon escalate into the famous Bone Wars of the latter 19th century. Marsh, at Yale’s Peabody Museum, eventually hired Lakes as a field worker, and used the fossils he found to describe a number of new dinosaurs species taken from several productive quarries around the Morrison, Colorado area. These new discoveries all came from the Late Jurassic-aged rocks (named the Morrison formation after the nearby town) and included the first discoveries of the now well known Stegosaurus, Diplodocus and Apatosaurus (Brontosaurus).

When the Colorado quarries were exhausted, Marsh sent Lakes north to Como Bluff in Wyoming Territory. Dinosaur bones had been found there not long after the Colorado discoveries. Arthur Lakes spent the 1879-80 season digging out tons of bones from of the Jurassic-aged sediments around Como Bluff, along with William Reed, a railroad worker who had brought the area’s rich fossil cache to Marsh’s attention. It must have been a strange pairing since the Oxford-trained Lakes was the polar opposite of the self-taught frontiersman Reed.

Como was one of the prime battlegrounds in the Fossil Feud between Marsh and Cope. The strata there was far richer than that at Morrison, and produced fossils that eventually filled the display halls at many of the world’s great natural history museums, including the Smithsonian in Washington, D. C., the Peabody Museum at Yale, and the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Original quarry site and dinosaur bone near Morrison: Arthur Lakes first discovered dinosaur bones here in 1877.
Original quarry site and dinosaur bone near Morrison: Arthur Lakes first discovered dinosaur bones here in 1877.Courtesy Mark Ryan
Lakes kept journals and wrote many letters of his activities at both Morrison and Como Bluff describing his explorations and the natural history of both areas (the journals were published in a book in 1997 by the Smithsonian Institute). These, along with his initial discoveries around Morrison, would probably have been enough to keep his name in the annals of paleontology, but his most important contributions to the science were the many sketches and watercolors he made at both locations. These depictions not only preserve a wonderful pictorial record of seminal events in the history of early American paleontology, but have also aided modern researchers in locating historical quarry sites at both locations. Many of Lakes’ original paintings are reposited at the Peabody Museum at Yale in New Haven, Connecticut.

Lakes’ original dinosaur quarry (#1) is preserved today as a historic landmark on the west side of Dinosaur Ridge along Alameda Parkway, overlooking the town of Morrison and the Red Rocks Amphitheater. Some bones, still intact in blocks of hard sandstone, can be seen there, as well as lateral views of some later discovered dinosaur footprints.

Quarry 10 at Morrison, Colorado: Lakes' historic dinosaur quarry was recently re-discovered on the slopes above town by researchers from the Morrison Natural History Museum.
Quarry 10 at Morrison, Colorado: Lakes' historic dinosaur quarry was recently re-discovered on the slopes above town by researchers from the Morrison Natural History Museum.Courtesy Mark Ryan
The location of Quarry 10, where the remains of several sauropod species were discovered, was long lost until recently. The quarry was re-discovered and re-opened in 2002 by researchers from the nearby Morrison Natural History Museum. Artifacts of Arthur Lakes’ original diggings, such as nails and campfire charcoal have been recovered from the site. The nails would have come from support beams built to hold up the massive sandstone ledge that capped the softer clay layer from where many of the fossil bones were extracted. Lakes’ journal reported a couple collapses at this quarry in his journal. Luckily no one was working the quarry at the time, otherwise they would no doubt have been crushed to death by several tons of sandstone.

Arthur Lakes artifacts: Bits of charcoal, a support beam nail, and a belt buckle from Arthur Lakes' time recovered from Quarry 10 in Morrison, Colorado.
Arthur Lakes artifacts: Bits of charcoal, a support beam nail, and a belt buckle from Arthur Lakes' time recovered from Quarry 10 in Morrison, Colorado.Courtesy Mark Ryan
Re-examination of Lakes' quarries has revealed some new secrets, such as the first footprints from a baby Stegosaurus. Yale has also loaned some of Lakes' original finds back to the museum in Morrison, including a toe bone from a baby Apatosaurus, and the articulated leg bones from the Apatosaurus ajax discovered at Quarry 10 in 1877.

Lakes eventually left the fossil trade, and turned his attention to the geology of Colorado, working for the US Geological Survey, and teaching courses in earth science and mining at what is today the Colorado School of Mines. The library at the school is named in his honor. Lakes continued to write, producing books and several articles about mining in Colorado. He and his sons also consulted for mining companies after he retired from teaching, and later moved to British Columbia to live out his days near his family. He died there in 1917.

If you'd like to learn more about Lakes and his life, there's a new book titled The Legacy of Arthur Lakes by Beth Simmons and Katherine Honda, recently published by The Friends of Dinosaur Ridge.

LINKS
Smithsonian article
Friends of Dinosaur Ridge

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

hes cool

posted on Tue, 02/02/2010 - 11:02am

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