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The Paleontologist’s Wandering Skull

You know about the paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope. He was famous for his feud with fellow paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh. Cope revealed how Marsh assembled a nonexistent dinosaur called Brontosaurus by mistakenly combining fossil bones of different species. Then Marsh revealed how Cope had erred by constructing an Elasmosaurus with its head on the wrong end. Although both were prolific scientists, they are most remembered by the general public for their highly publicized mistakes. But the story of Edward Drinker Cope continued long after he died in 1897. He donated his body to science, specifying that his skeleton be preserved, but not exhibited.

Originally kept by the American Anthropometric Society, a group with a fondness for measuring the brains of famous men, Cope’s skull was passed in 1966 to the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Anthropology, and that’s when things got a little weird.

A distinguished anthropology professor by the name of Loren Eiseley saw Cope’s name on a box and left a note that said, “Gone to lunch—Edward Drinker Cope.” Eiseley took the bones back to his office and laid them out on a conference table to make sure everything was intact before placing them back into the box. Over the years, the paleontologist's remains became a fixture in Eiseley’s office, and the anthropologist toasted “Eddie” with sherry and even bought him a birthday present of a skeleton-bedecked printing block. The office staff also decorated Cope for Christmas.

That was just the beginning of Cope’s postmortem adventures. Read about his almost-burial, his road trips, and where he ended up, at mental_floss.


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