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Division of Vertebrate Paleontology Archives

Call Number: VPAR.000239

Description of the Material

The archives of the Division of Vertebrate Paleontology notably include those of the Princeton University collections aquired in 1985.


  • 1866-2014


Language of Materials

In English.


100 Linear Feet

Persistent URL


These are the miscellaneous archives associated with the Division of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Biographical Sketch

In 1866, Othniel Charles Marsh was appointed Professor of Paleontology at Yale, the first such position in North America. In 1867, he became curator of the Geological Cabinet at the new Peabody Museum, which was endowed by his uncle, the philanthropist George Peabody. Marsh brought with him 2.5 tons of books and specimens, the bulk of which were accumulated as a Yale College undergraduate and during a lengthy stay in Europe. This collection was the foundation of the vertebrate paleontology collection.

During a lifetime at Yale, Marsh amassed an impressive collection of vertebrate fossils. Although he and the Peabody Museum would ultimately become famous for their collection of dinosaurs from the American West ? which included type specimens of many of the best known dinosaurs - Marsh?s earliest collections were from the Cretaceous of New Jersey. Under his leadership, the Yale College Scientific Expeditions of 1870?1873 obtained historically and scientifically important collections of fossil mammals, including some of the largest collections of uintatheres, titanotheres, fossil horses, and early primates in the United States. The expeditions also made important contributions to our knowledge of marine life from the Cretaceous, including mosasaurs, pterosaurs (most notably Pteranodon), and the toothed birds Ichthyornis and Hesperornis. In addition, they assembled a sizable collection of fossil fishes from Eocene lake deposits in Wyoming.

After 1874, Marsh relied almost exclusively on ?professional? collectors, which included both local residents and collectors sent to the American West by Marsh. Marsh's associates form a ?Who's Who? of the history of vertebrate paleontology and geology: Erwin H. Barbour, David Baldwin, George Baur, Charles Emerson Beecher, Hugh Gibb, George Bird Grinnell, Oscar Harger, John Bell Hatcher, Arthur Lakes, Otto Meyer, Benjamin Mudge, O.A. Peterson, William Reed, George R. Wieland, and Samuel Wendell Williston.

According to his biographers, Schuchert and LeVene (1940), Marsh named 344 new species and 161 new genera of fossil vertebrates. His genera include Brontosaurus, Apatosaurus, Stegosaurus, Triceratops and Eohippus. His work and collections were praised by Charles Darwin and Thomas Huxley as some of the most crucial evidence supporting the theory of evolution.

Richard Swann Lull succeeded Marsh in one curatorial capacity or another from 1906 until his death in 1957, also serving as director of the Peabody Museum from 1922 to 1936. It was under his tenure that the Museum moved to its present building; the Great Hall was constructed; and the Marsh Collection was made available to academic researchers. Lull and his students, including M.R. Thorpe, E.L. Troxell and G.G. Simpson, inherited the task of identifying and publishing many of the previously neglected specimens collected by Marsh and his colleagues. Troxell is best remembered for his work on the fossil mammalian fauna of Rock Creek, Texas, whereas Thorpe became a leading expert on oreodonts and served as the Division's senior curator from 1927 to 1938. Both added to the collections and continued Lull's work of describing material already in the Marsh Collection.

Thorpe's successor G.E. Lewis (1939?1945) was responsible for a renewed emphasis on field collecting. As a member of the Yale North India Expeditions, Lewis added a significant collection of fossil primates from the Siwaliks of India and Pakistan to the Peabody's holdings. He also secured an excellent collection of casts of some of the most important Old World primate specimens. J.T. Gregory (1946?1960) succeeded Lewis as curator. While much of his tenure was spent heading up renovations to the exhibits and buildings, he also led several expeditions, making substantial collections from New Mexico, Oklahoma and Wyoming.

Division of Vertebrate Paleontology Archives
Edited Full Draft
Annette Van Aken
Description rules
Finding Aid Created In Accordance With Manuscripts And Archives Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History Repository

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