ADVERTISEMENT
See Inside Special Editions Volume 23, Issue 2s

Transylvanian Baron Uncovered Clues to Dinosaur Evolution

A maverick aristocrat's ideas about dinosaur evolution turn out to have been decades ahead of their time

More In This Article

The year is 1906. a small, nattily dressed man walks over to the giant Diplodocus skeleton in the entrance hall of the British Museum of Natural History. He gently lifts one of the dinosaur's huge toe bones out of its iron mount, flips it over and carefully slips it back into place. Later he would note in correspondence to a colleague that his effort was not appreciated. The museum officials should have known better. The visitor was Franz Nopcsa (pronounced “nop-cha”), baron of Szacsal in Transylvania. In addition to being a nobleman, he was an esteemed authority on dinosaurs and other fossil animals. The baron had noticed that the Diplodocus toe bone was oriented incorrectly and was simply trying to fix it. Although Nopcsa failed to garner the respect of the officials, history has been somewhat kinder to him. Among paleontologists today, he is well known for having discovered and described some of the first dinosaurs from central Europe. Yet the details of Nopcsa's personal life have often overshadowed his intellectual legacy. Adventurous, eccentric and wildly ambitious, Nopcsa was a colorful character. He served as a spy in World War I and made a bid to become king of Albania. He was also openly homosexual; his lover and secretary was a much younger Albanian man named Bajazid Elmaz Doda.

But there was much more to Nopcsa than his fossil collection and his personal and political affairs, as recent findings have underscored. He pioneered techniques for fossil analysis that are still at the forefront of paleontological research. Moreover, his theories about dinosaur evolution turn out to have been decades ahead of their time. Nopcsa insisted that his Transylvanian dinosaurs were key to understanding dinosaur evolution on a global scale. Only in recent years, with new fossil discoveries, have scientists begun to appreciate how right he was.

This is only a preview. Get the rest of this article now!

Select an option below:

Customer Sign In

*You must have purchased this issue or have a qualifying subscription to access this content


It has been identified that the institution you are trying to access this article from has institutional site license access to Scientific American on nature.com.
Click here to access this article in its entirety through site license access.

Share this Article:

Comments

You must sign in or register as a ScientificAmerican.com member to submit a comment.
Scientific American Holiday Sale

Black Friday/Cyber Monday Blow-Out Sale

Enter code:
HOLIDAY 2014
at checkout

Get 20% off now! >

X

Email this Article

X