Hogarthian Lines

Soulful grace neither intended nor implied.


At first blush, Jack McIntosh seems like an outsider to professional paleontology. He did not earn his bread through teaching or researching in paleontology, and he did not formally direct graduate student theses in paleontology. Ironically, however, Jack was the ultimate paleo-insider, by physically logging countless hours in inside museum collections, developing an intimate first hand knowledge of specimens, localities, stratigraphy that fueled his research and that of generations of paleontology students. The first formal ‘mention’ of Jack McIntosh in paleontological literature (that I am aware of) is typical. Stovall and Langston (1950) described the theropod dinosaur Acrocanthosaurus atokensis, which is characterized by odd, bifid caudal neural spines. Jack is acknowledged in that paper (see image below) for sharing observations that he passed to Langston immediately after service in World War II, when he was stationed in Tinker Field, Oklahoma before being decommissioned. Not one to miss opportunities to examine collections, Jack travelled to Norman to examine sauropod bones at the University of Oklahoma. He was then a junior in college.

Jack’s collection research focused on North American collections—principally those housed at the Carnegie Museum, American Museum, Yale Peabody Museum, and Dinosaur National Monument. In each of these institutions, Jack’s collections research has been transformative. At the Carnegie Museum, Jack systematized, essentially single-handedly, the large dinosaur collection (McIntosh 1981; see image below). At Yale, Jack’s collections research and archival research led to publication of Marsh’s Dinosaurs, a compendium of 155 previously unpublished lithographic plates prepared by O.C. Marsh, along with a detailed description of localities and updated taxonomy. This work has been a resource to students since its first publication date (Ostrom & McIntosh 1966) right through to its most recent edition (2000; see image below).

His collections sleuthing recovered lost details about the provenance and associations of many dinosaur skeletons and led to reconsideration of many of our old impressions of sauropod dinosaurs. The most famous recovered ‘detail’ was Jack’s revision of the skull of Apatosaurus. For the better part of a century, the famous Yale mount of an Apatosaurus skeleton bore a Camarasaurus-like skull because of a dotted-in sketch made in 1883 by Marsh. Through examination of the original quarry maps and shipping manifests, Jack discovered an ”accounting error,” and eventually re-capitated Apatosaurus with the correct, Diplodocus-like skull (McIntosh & Berman 1975; Berman & McIntosh 1978). In an interview he did in The Sauropods: Evolution and Phylogeny Jack spoke a bit about the importance of paying attention to details:

A. S. Romer lamented in his Notes and Comments on Vertebrate Paleontology (1968:137-8) that “A proper classification of the great amphibious sauropods has been the despair of everyone working on the group” and that “It will be a long time, if ever, before we obtain a valid, comprehensive picture of sauropod classification and phylogeny”. Jack McIntosh’s collections research was an important factor – if not the most important factor – that led to reversal of this situation, beginning with unraveling the incredibly complicated taxonomy of sauropods that resulted from the Cope-Marsh bone wars of the 1870s and 1880s.

Jack’s 1990 treatise on sauropod dinosaurs from The Dinosauria was a revelation and remains an important and relevant piece of work. In it, he carefully delineated the families of sauropod dinosaurs, which he complemented with perceptive observations on genera and species as well. He mostly avoided discussion of how those families were interrelated, which was not (in my view) born of any philosophical disagreement with numerical methods for inferring evolutionary relationships, but rather owing to his recognition of, and respect for, the homoplastic distribution of characters on any phylogeny of sauropods and the missing data issues that plague the group. Nevertheless, like all other authors of that volume, he was required to include some depiction of relationships, the result of which was his phylogenetic diagram of Jurassic sauropods (fig. 16.20). By excluding Cretaceous sauropods, he was able to effectively punt on where titanosaurs fit in. Jack’s contemporary, José Bonaparte also avoided the ‘titanosaur question’ by restricting his scheme of sauropod relationships to the ‘possible relationships of cetiosaurs’ (Bonaparte 1986: fig. 65). Nevertheless, Jack made what I view to be the key observation that would eventually bring titanosaurs into the phylogenetic fold: he noted a “sharp deflection on the proximal third of the lateral margin, more prominent in brachiosaurids and titanosaurids than in other forms” (p. 370). This character, along with others, would be later capitalized on by Salgado et al. (1997) in their seminal paper that established, once and for all, that titanosaurs and brachiosaurs are sister taxa, a clade they called Titanosauriformes.

From an early age, Jack was interested in a serious way about dinosaurs, writing letters to inquire about generic synonymies, knocking on Romer’s door unannounced when he was but a “shavetail.” Jack clearly possessed a high level of confidence, even boldness, that was leavened with a wonderful charm that smoothed over any overlooked formalities. These interactions were formative, and as those who have met him know, one of the very special things about Jack was that he didn’t seem to forget what it was like being on the other side of Romer’s door. He exemplified generosity, both in spirit and with information, to young paleontologists regardless of pedigree.

I made reference to Jack in his “sanctum sanctorum” in the caption to the photo at the beginning of this piece. That phrase was one that Lyell used to refer to Cuvier’s private offices, which he viewed as “truly characteristic of the man.” Jack’s home office in Middletown, Connecticut is just that, packed with the information he collected over a lifetime of dinosaur studies – quarry maps, letters, photographs, notes, monographs, ephemera – all carefully organized. This archive preserves for future generations a body of knowledge and a connection to the past that would have otherwise disintegrated.

There are many ways to celebrate Jack, but perhaps one of the most fitting is to try to do careful work.

Even foreign museums that Jack visited long ago still bear his stamp. In the mid 1960s, Jack spent weeks at the Museo La Plata in La Plata, Argentina. There, he made the only existing register of some of the earliest collections of dinosaurs from Patagonia, which were made in the early 1900s. That register, still in regular use, was the only key to understanding that collection, and a recent revision of the La Plata dinosaur catalogue relied heavily on Jack’s register (Otero & Reguero, 2013). Jack ground truthed all of the relevant North American dinosaur localities as well as many new ones. He was instrumental in assembling the locality/taxonomy data that were critical to the Dodson et al. (1980) seminal paper comparing Morrison and Tendaguru faunas.

(L-R) Michael Williams, Edwin Delfs, and Jack McIntosh at the quarry that yielded the holotype of Haplocanthosaurus delfsi, which Ed collected on behalf of the Cleveland Museum and Jack and Michael described together (McIntosh & Williams 1988). Photo courtesy of Annelle Delfs.

Jack in his sanctum sanctorum in Middletown, Connecticut, 3 April 2004.

An important but nowadays overlooked contribution of Jack’s was the compiling and organizing of all the dinosaur literature from 1677 to 1986 (Chure & McIntosh 1989). Together with Dan Chure, Jack assembled every scientific reference to a dinosaur that had ever been published. These were organized into a systematic section that linked each reference to a particular dinosaur taxon, a section on “minor skeletal elements” such as sclerotic rings and clavicles, and sections on eggs, skeletal reconstructions, ichnology, myology, histology, skin impressions, extinction, paleoneurology, and even dinosaur exhibits. This compendium was invaluable to pre-internet dinosaur workers and remains the only reference of its sort. 


Berman, D. S., and J. S. McIntosh. 1978. Skull and relationships of the Upper Jurassic sauropod Apatosaurus (Reptilia, Saurischia). Bulletin of Carnegie Museum of Natural History 8: 1–35.

Bonaparte, J. F. 1986. Les dinosaures (Carnosaures, Allosauridés, Sauropodes, Cétiosauridés) du Jurassique moyen de Cerro Cóndor (Chubut, Argentina). Annales de Paléontologie 72: 325–386.

Chure, D. J. and J. S. McIntosh. 1989. A bibiography of the Dinosauria (exclusive of the Aves) 1677-1986. Museum of Western Colorado Paleontology Series 1: 1–226.

K. A. Curry Rogers, and J. A. Wilson. 2005. The Sauropods: Evolution and Paleobiology. University of California Press, Berkeley, 349 pp.

Dodson, P., A. K. Behrensmeyer, R. T. Bakker, and J. S. McIntosh. 1980. Taphonomy and Paleoecology of the Dinosaur Beds of the Jurassic Morrison Formation. Paleobiology 6: 208–232.

McIntosh, J. S., and D. S. Berman. 1975. Description of the palate and lower jaw of the sauropod dinosaur Diplodocus (Reptilia: Saurischia) with remarks on the nature of the skull of Apatosaurus. Journal of Paleontology, 49: 187–199.

McIntosh, J. S. 1981. Annotated catalogue of the dinosaurs (Reptilia, Archosauria) in the collections of Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Bulletin of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History 18:1–64.

Mcintosh, J. S. 1990. Sauropoda. Pp. 345–401. In D. B. Weishampel, P. Dodson, and H. Osmólska, eds. The Dinosauria. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Ostrom, J. H., and J. S. McIntosh. 1966. Marsh's Dinosaurs. Yale University Press, New Haven, 388 pp.

Otero, A., and M. Reguero. 2013. Dinosaurs (Reptilia, Archosauria) at Museo de La Plata, Argentina: annotated catalogue of the type material and Antarctic specimens. Palaeontologia Electronica: 16.

Romer, A. S. 1968. Notes and Comments on Vertebrate Paleontology. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 304 pp.

Salgado, L., R. A. Coria, and J. O. Calvo. 1997. Evolution of titanosaurid sauropods. I: Phylogenetic analysis based on the postcranial evidence. Ameghiniana 34: 3–32.

Stovall, J. W., and W. Langston. 1950. Acrocanthosaurus atokensis, a new genus and species of Lower Cretaceous Theropoda from Oklahoma. American Midland Naturalist, 43: 696–728.

© J.A. Wilson