Pronunciation: mas-o-SPON-di-lus Meaning: Longer vertebrae Author/s: Owen (1854) Synonyms: See below First Discovery: Harrismith, South Africa Chart Position: 9
(Longer vertebrae, keeled)EtymologyMassospondylus is derived from the Greek "masson" (longer) and "spondylos"' (vertebra), so named "because the vertebrae are proportionately longer than those of the extinct crocodile called Macrospondylus" (Owen, 1854). Its name is sometimes misinterpreted as coming from the Latin "massa" (hump, lump, or mass). The species epithet, carinatus, means "keeled" in Latin. 1854) - Upper Elliot Formation, Orange Free State, South Africa (also destroyed in World War II.) • Thecodontosaurus dubius (Haughton, 1924) - Upper Elliot Formation, Orange Free State, South Africa There are whispers on the paleontological grapevine that Fabien Knoll's 2010 genus Ignavusaurus may also be synonymous with Massospondylus.
DiscoveryThe first Massospondylus remains were collected from a surface outcrop of the Upper Elliot Formation at Farm Beauchef Abbey, near the town of Harrismith, South Africa, by government surveyor Joseph Millard Orpen in 1853.
The type series (no holotype designated) was five neck vertebrae that Owen thought belonged to extinct carnivorous reptiles akin to modern lizards such as Iguanas, and it was actually Richard Lydekker who identified them as dinosaurian in 1888, based in part on supposed specimens from India.
These remains and more were blown to buggery in 1941 when their home—The Hunterian Museum, Royal College of Surgeons, London—was hit by a WWII bombing raid, which, in hindsight, is no bad thing. The fossils, and thus surviving illustrations and plaster casts that were based on them, were inadequate for diagnosing a genus and species, certainly for a critter that anchors an entire family.
In 2010, Yates and Barrett petitioned the ICZN to boot the lousy type series from its perch and install a new name-bearer, and the neotype (new type) they nominated is a peach: the skeleton and skull of a particularly fine specimen affectionately known as "Big Momma", catalogued as BP/1/4934, and housed in the Bernard Price Institute for Palaeontological Research at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.