Frontburner: Texas’ Bone Wars Studied by SMU Professor

Jason Heid, an editor with D Magazine’s popular Frontburner blog, covered the research of SMU vertebrate paleontologist Louis L. Jacobs and the infamous Bone Wars of the late 1800s.

The Bone Wars refers to a flurry of fossil speculation across the American West that escalated into a high-profile national feud. Drawn into the spectacle were two scientists from the Lone Star State, geologist Robert T. Hill, now acclaimed as the Father of Texas Geology, and naturalist Jacob Boll, who made many of the state’s earliest fossil discoveries.

Hill and Boll had supporting roles in the Bone Wars through their work for one of the feud’s antagonists, Edward Drinker Cope, according to Jacobs’ new study.

A professor in Dedman College‘s Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences, Jacobs joined SMU’s faculty in 1983.

Currently his field projects include work in Mongolia and Angola. His book, “Lone Star Dinosaurs” (1999, Texas A&M University Press) was the basis of an exhibit at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History that traveled the state. He consulted on the new exhibit, Mysteries of the Texas Dinosaurs, which opened in 2009.

Jacobs co-leads Projecto PaleoAngola, a collaborative international scientific research program focused on the ancient life of Angola.

Besides the discovery of the first dinosaur of Angola, the team has uncovered mosasaurs, plesiosaurs, turtles and other Cretaceous marine animals, but the aim is also to create a strong and lasting institutional and scientific collaboration that has a multiplier effect in Angolan academia.

In the laboratory, Jacobs’ research utilizes advanced imaging and stable isotope techniques to investigate paleoenvironmental, biogeographic and phylogenetic issues of the Mesozoic and Cenozoic eras.

Jacobs is featured by National Geographic on its Explorers web site, which acknowledges the work of the world’s scientists whose research is made possible in part through funding from National Geographic.

Read the full blog entry.

EXCERPT:

By Jason Heid
Frontburner

SMU paleontologist Louis Jacobs has been studying the role of two Texas fossil collectors in the 19th century Bone Wars, which played out across the American frontier as rivals competed fiercely to uncover new fossils (and thus discover new extinct species.) In doing so he found a poem written by one of the men, Dallas naturalist Jacob Boll, whose Swiss family was among those that founded the utopian La Reunion colony here.

During a break in his field labors, Boll’s fascination with ancient bones prompted him to write in his native German an ode to fossils. Jacobs found the poem in the American Museum of Natural History on a label on the back of Eryops specimen No. AMNH 4183.

SMU biology professor Pia Vogel translated the poem. Vogel and Jacobs worked with SMU English professor John M. Lewis to retain the essence of the poem in English.

Read the full blog entry.

SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see www.smuresearch.com.

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