Sternberg, C. H. 1899.
The First Great Roof.
Popular Science News 33:126-127, 1 fig.
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Webpage created 12/03/2004 - Last updated 12/22/2010
LEFT: A photo by C. H. Sternberg of a mounted specimen of Protostega gigas from the chalk of western Kansas which is currently in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburg, PA. This is a composite of #1420 and #1421, both discovered by Sternberg about "three miles northwest of Monument Rock" in western Gove County and acquired by the Carnegie Museum in 1904.
Wherein Charles H. Sternberg describes the discovery and the characteristics of a large marine turtle called Protostega gigas ("first Great roof"). There is some confusion over the locality given by Sternberg in this article (Plum Creek in Gove County) which was later repeated by Wieland (1906). The error was corrected by Sternberg in his 1909 book, The Life of a Fossil Hunter.
|126 POPULAR SCIENCE June, 1899|
FIRST GREAT ROOF
Professor Cope, from his own fertile brain, created the genus Protostega, and described the type species gigas, from the material he dug with such infinite care [?!?!] and patience from the chalk of Butte Creek, Logan Co., Kansas, in 1871, and in his laboratory with his own hands put together the broken fragments of the friable bones (a task of patient endurance few men are capable of). He showed his intense interest in the greatest of all sea tortoises. I doubt not that as he restored the fragile bones piece by piece, and they began to grow under his skillful hands, he was carried away with the idea of so many paleontologists of that time, and of many to this day, namely, that from a few bones of the skeleton he could restore the whole structure as it appeared in life.
The broken dislocated ribs seemed to carry out his preconceived idea, that our living
forms have been derived from ancestors (in past geological ages), that partook of the
characters of immature living forms. In other works, he had before him a fully grown
gigantic turtle, built on the same lines as those of a young turtle, just hatched from the
shell, with bones all distinct. But here a great obstacle had to be surmounted, for from
the manner of deposition, he concluded that the tortoise was buried on his back. What
could he do with the great plates of bone, four in number, that lay below the ribs? It
never seemed to occur to him that these were bones of the plastron, and in order to
describe it bottom side up, he put them in the skin of the back as lateral dermal
Here, for the first time, he gives a nearly correct idea of the plastron. The carapace is largely unknown, and he makes the usual error of guessing at missing bones by concluding that there were no ossified neural arches. This he happily corrects,
he demolishes Mr. G. R. Wielands new genus and species made out of Protostega,
under the generic name of Archelon.
|June, 1899 POPULAR SCIENCE 127|
it is the most nerve- and-patience-trying labor with which I am familiar. This tortoise
lay down to die with muzzle pointed towards the setting sun; its skull and lower jaws in
position; its cervical vertebrę reaching hack in a nearly straight line with the complete
carapace, held firmly together to the central ridge, with 8 pairs of ribs expanded and
united with each other the and to neural arches for about six inches each side of the
apex; below this point they were free, two inches wide and uniformly so. The central ones
were at right angles to the ridge, the others were narrower and shorter, radiating to the
marginal bones, and this carapace was shoved bodily by the superficial pressure about two
inches south of the left marginal bones.
saw no signs of the great fontanelle he mentioned. There might have been a small one that
escaped my notice owing to the bones of the endoskeleton which overlaid these plates.
These bones were all present under the carapace as far as the forearm. To complete
the plastron in front and behind, the front ones I especially remember, were peculiar,
triangular-shaped bones, sickle-shaped in front, where they were an inch thick, with upper
and lower edges nicely rounded off to admit the passage of the fore limbs; posteriorly
they were beveled down thin, and fingered, interlacing with those of the large central
plates, and as I believe, the apex of each joined the first and last marginals.
Credits: I am grateful to Carl Mehling of the American Museum of Natural History for supplying me with a copy of this article. Popular Science News (not to confused with Popular Science Monthly) was a short lived journal and is rarely found in libraries.
Case, E. C. 1897. On the osteology and relationships of Protostega. Journal of Morphology 14: 21-55, with pls. iv.
Cope, E. D., 1872a. [Sketch of an expedition in the valley of the Smoky Hill River in Kansas]. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 12(87):174-176. (meeting of October 20, 1871)
Cope, E. D., 1872c. A description of the genus Protostega, a form of extinct Testudinata. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 12(88):422-433. (March 1, 1872)
Cope, E. D., 1872d. On the geology and paleontology of the Cretaceous strata of Kansas. Annual Report of the U. S. Geological Survey of the Territories 5:318-349 (Report for 1871).
Cope, E. D., 1875. The Vertebrata of the Cretaceous formations of the West. Report, U. S. Geological Survey Territories (Hayden). 2:302 p, 57 pls.
Hay, O. P., 1895. On certain portions of the skeleton of Protostega gigas. Publ. Field Columbian Museum, Zoological Ser. (later Fieldiana: Zoology), 1(2):57-62, pls. 4 & 5.
Hay, O. P. 1908. The fossil turtles of North America. Carnegie Institution of Washington, Publication No. 75, 568 pp, 113 pl.
Hooks, G. E., III. 1998. Systematic revision of the Protostegidae, with a redescription of Carcarichelys gemma Zangerl, 1957. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 18(1):85-98.
Lane, H. H., 1946, A survey of the fossil vertebrates of Kansas, Part III, The Reptiles, Kansas Academy Science, Transactions 49(3):289-332, 7 figs.
Shimada, K., M. J. Everhart, and G. E. Hooks, 2002. Ichthyodectid fish and protostegid turtle bitten by the Late Cretaceous lamniform shark, Cretoxyrhina mantelli. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 22(suppl. to 3):106A. (Abstract)
Sternberg, C. H. 1899. The first great roof. Popular Science News 33:126-127, 1 fig.
Sternberg, C. H. 1900. Fossil collector's experiences. Popular Science News 34:34.
Sternberg, C. H. 1900. The sharks of Kansas. Popular Science News 34:38.
Sternberg, C. H. 1905. Protostega gigas and other Cretaceous reptiles and fishes from the Kansas chalk. Kansas Academy Science, Transactions 19:123-128.
Sternberg, C.H., 1906. Some animals discovered in the fossil beds of Kansas. Kansas Academy of Science, Transactions 20:122-124.
Sternberg, C.H. 1907. My expedition to the Kansas Chalk for 1907. Kansas Academy of Science, Transactions 21:111-114.
Sternberg, C.H. 1909. The life of a fossil hunter. Henry Holt and Company, 286 p. (reprinted by the Indiana University Press, 1990).
Wieland, G.R. 1896. Archelon ischyros: a new gigantic cryptodire testudinate from the Fort Pierre Cretaceous of South Dakota. American Journal of Science, 4th Series 2(12):399-412, pl. v.
Wieland, G.R. 1902. Notes on the Cretaceous turtles, Toxochelys and Archelon, with a classification of the marine Testudinata. American Journal of Science, Series 4, 14:95-108, 2 text-figs.
Wieland, G.R. 1906. The osteology of Protostega, Memoirs of the Carnegie Museum, 2(7):279-305.
Wieland, G.R. 1909. Revision of the Protostegidae. American Journal of Science, Series 4. 27(158):101-130, pls. ii-iv, 12 text-figs.
Williston, S.W. 1898. Turtles. The University Geological Survey of Kansas, Part VI. 4:349-369. pls. 73-78.
Williston, S.W. 1902. On the hind limb of Protostega. American Journal of Science, Series 4, 13(76):276-278, 1 fig.
Williston, S.W. 1914. Water reptiles of the past and present. Chicago University Press. 251 pp. (Free, downloadable .pdf version here)