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C. H. Sternberg


My expedition to the Kansas Chalk for 1907

Kansas Academy of Science, Transactions 21:111-114.


Copyright © 2004-2009 by Mike Everhart

ePage created 12/04/2004; updated 07/11/2009


LEFT: The skull of "Tylosaurus dyspelor" in dorsal view, collected from the Smoky Hill Chalk by George F. Sternberg in 1907 (See below)

Wherein, Charles H. Sternberg describes the specimens collected from the Smoky Hill Chalk during the 1907 field season.  See more about Charles H. Sternberg here.

                                        Geological Papers.                                111



IT still remains my privilege to tell this Academy of another
successful expedition in the Chalk of Kansas during the past season. My oldest son, who has been my chief assistant  since he was twelve years old, feeling that he was perfectly capable of carrying on my work in the field without my presence, insisted on my remaining at home in my laboratory. He promised to keep me busy by sending in new material.
     I am delighted to tell you that he did all he promised to, and I

was well satisfied with the results. I was indeed kept busy opening boxes and preparing the tons of fossils he sent to me, and it was almost as great a pleasure as to find it myself, without the discomforts attending the actual discovery in the field, to open up to the light a finely preserved specimen collected by the second generation of fossil hunters. He sent me the best specimen of the great ram-nosed Tylosaurus dyspelor I have ever discovered. The entire column, except a few caudal vertebrae, are present, many continuous. And, strange to tell, for the first time the minute last caudal vertebræ are present, the last six measuring a fraction over an inch in length, and the terminal one a mere nodule of bone, less than three-tenths of an inch in diameter. There are about 126 vertebrae, instead of 116, according to the skeleton described by Doctor Williston. So the number must vary, or the last minute ones had been lost in the University specimen. Further, the caudal vertebrae decreased in all their proportions regularly; each one is a millimeter smaller than the preceding one. Consequently, as I believe, the mounted and restored Bourne specimen, in the American Museum, with a short, crooked tail, is abnormal, and not natural, as Doctor Osborn was led to believe. I have another specimen I will mention later, of the same size, in which the tail turns up in the same way that their specimen turns down.  Tylosaurus has a long, flexible, eel-like tail.


 112                           Kansas Academy of Science

     Another fine specimen sent from the field was a complete skull,

with mandibles, of a new species of the Cretaceous sea- tortoise

Toxochelys. This I believe belongs to the new species of which I

sent to Yale a couple of years ago a nearly complete carapace and

plastron, described by Doctor Wieland as Toxochelys bauri. The skull and mandibles are more robust than the principal species, Cope’s T. latiremis, wider at the nasal bones, and with round orbits, instead of oblong, as in latiremis. The sagittal crest is larger and sculptured.


           < See above photograph of Tylosaurus dyspelor Cope >


   Another fine specimen discovered was a magnificent plate of

Crinoids, Uintacrinus socialis Marsh. This last one went, through

the efforts of Mr. Springer, to the National Museum. It contains

150 fine calaces and covers an area of thirty square feet. There is

still another fine specimen that I have not seen, but am assured is

a complete skeleton, except the head, of Platecarpus coryphaeus

Cope. I shall be glad to show you some of these specimens of the

life of the Cretaceous, at my laboratory, 617 Vermont street,

Lawrence, Kan. I missed the exhilaration and joy of discovery,

and longed to find some excuse to take charge of my party, when

I received a letter from Dr. E. Koken, of the museum of the

University of Tübingen, Germany. He wrote me that he wished

me to conduct an expedition to the Kansas Chalk for his museum,

and as he accepted by wire my terms, I have spent nearly three

months in his employ. We have enjoyed the most delightful fall

weather I have ever experienced in the fossil beds, and our

success has been remarkable. We discovered a very perfect


                                   Geological Papers.                                    113

skull of the large ram-nosed Tylosaurus dyspelor Cope. It is

four feet in length. I cleaned it so as to how the frontal exposure, and have only seen one skull as large, the one mounted in the Kansas University, discovered by the late Judge West. The one I sold the American Museum is only three feet nine inches long. A singular thing occurs, in connection with this skull, I have never noticed in a Kansas mosasaur before. The end of the ram, or end of the premaxillæ, is missing, and the distal end of the premaxillæ shows the depressions and elevations of one-half the suture, as in the heads of young bones of mammals, and there had evidently been a distinct center of ossification in the ram, that had not yet united firmly with the rest of the bone, and had dropped off.

     I found fourteen feet of the tail of another individual. There are eighty-six pygal and caudal vertebræ, and a complete pelvic arch with right femur, tibia and fibula, one tarsal and metatarsal. The ischia are directed upward and a little outward; their proximal ends unite with the illia, that lie horizontally with the column; the two pubis bones are out of place, but the right femur and other bones of the limb are in position. This is the first time I have seen these bones in place and they give the height of the ilia and ischia, 19 inches; width at the upper ends of the ischia 22 inches, and 20 inches where they join the ilia. A great slightly curved basin is thus formed. The ischium is 12 inches long. The ilium is 7 inches long where it joins the ischium. The proximal ends of the two bones are not united, but separated by a space of several inches. The pubis is 8 inches long, the femur is 9 inches long, and tibia 5 inches. The length of the preserved limb is 18 inches. The base of the abdomen would have the dimensions of about 20 inches in width and over 30 inches high through the median line—a powerful trunk region, indeed. The tail is a little longer than the body, or about fifteen feet.
     To add to our good fortune we discovered a very beautiful skull of
Platecarpus coryphaeus Cope, with one arch and front limb. The teeth are beautifully preserved and all the bones, evidently, of the head present, though slightly disassociated. A very beautiful open mount can be made of this specimen.
     It would occupy too much time to tell of all the material collected within a few miles of Elkader, the center of the richest fossil field in Kansa. But I will close by mentioning the fact that this season I succeeded in securing for Tübingen a

114                             Kansas Academy of Science.


complete valve of the huge Inoceramus shells whose broken fragments strew the beds of the Upper Niobrara in western Gove and eastern Logan counties. They are so extremely thin and brittle that it is impossible to save them, without covering them with plaster. This I accomplished in the case mentioned. This valve that shows the inside is three feet seven inches long, and three feet four inches high. One graceful elevated curve follows the other, from the hinge to the rim. Think of wandering along the beach and coming across one of these shells traveling your way through the sand. If you measure six feet in height, this shell comes up to your waist. I remember, after years of experience with canned so-called “cove oysters,” seeing a tempting sign “Fried Cove Oysters, 40 Cents a Dozen” at a restaurant in Philadelphia, in 1876, and concluded that I would enjoy a dozen for lunch. When in course of time the waiter appeared with a huge platter, loaded as high as possible with my fried oysters, I was very much astonished, and found that three or four satisfied my hunger. But think of a feast requiring two able-bodied men to carry one dainty morsel in, on the half-shell, which would be sufficient for a feast of Titans, for “there were giants in those days.”


Huene, F. von, 1910. Ein ganzes Tylosaurus-Skelett. Geologische und Paläontologische Abhandlungen. new series, 8(12):297-314, no. 6, pls. xli, xlii.  Translated by Robert T. Firestone

A Complete Tylosaurus Skeleton





              In the fall of 1907 an expedition was carried out by the well-known American “fossil hunter” Mr. Charles Sternberg, in Logan County, Kansas, in order to collect specimens from the Upper Cretaceous formation (Niobrara Group) for the paleontological  collection of the University of Tübingen.  Among the abundant yield particular mention should be made of the largest known slab Uintacrinus and numerous very beautiful mosasaurs.  The genus Tylosaurus is especially well represented.  The publication of the announcement of these remains was assigned to the author by Prof. Koken , who most kindly provided references and advice, for which the warmest thanks are given here.   The author also had the opportunity to discuss the comparative anatomy with Dr. J. Versluys (Giessen) and Prof. E. Gaupp (Freiburg), and is grateful to them for many a good suggestion.   

The Tylosaurus material consisted of:

      1) A complete skull with parts of the skeleton from the chalk bluffs a few miles from the mouth of Beaver Creek, Logan County, Kansas (No. 8),

       2) An almost complete skeleton with a crushed skull from the south bank of the Smoky Hill River, Gove County, Kansas (No. 1),

       3) The rear half of a skeleton with a very good tail from Chalk Bluffs, etc. (No. 23),

       4) A complete pelvis, 2 miles southeast of Old Elkader, at the mouth of Beaver Creek, Logan County, Kansas (No. 9).

       The pieces, especially the skeleton No. 1, were shipped in chalk slabs, just as they were found, with only the upper surface partially prepared.


See also:

Osborn, H.F. 1899. A complete mosasaur skeleton, osseous and cartilaginous. Memoirs of the American Museum of Natural History 1(4): 167-188.