Sauropods are familiar dinosaurs, immediately recognisable by their great size and long necks. However, their necks are much less well known than is often assumed. Surprisingly few complete necks have been described in the literature, and even important specimens such as the Carnegie Diplodocus and Apatosaurus, and the giant Berlin brachiosaur, in fact have imperfectly known necks. In older specimens, missing bone is often difficult to spot due to over-enthusiastic restoration. Worse still, even those vertebrae that are complete are often badly distorted—for example, in consecutive cervicals of the Carnegie Diplodocus CM 84, the aspect ratio of the posterior articular facet of the centrum varies so dramatically that C14 appears 35% broader proportionally than C13. And even in specimens where the cervicodorsal sequence is preserved, it is often difficult or impossible to confidently identify which vertebra is the first dorsal. Widespread incompleteness and distortion are both inevitable due to sauropod anatomy: large size made it almost impossible for whole individuals to be preserved because sediment cannot be deposited quickly enough to cover a giant carcass on land; and distortion of presacral vertebrae is common due to their lightweight hollow construction. This ubiquitous incompleteness and unpredictable distortion compromise attempts to mechanically analyze necks, for example to determine habitual neck posture and range of motion by modelling articulations between vertebrae.
Bibliographical noteAn earlier version of this article has been available as a preprint since 6 October 2015 at https://peerj.com/preprints/1418/
- Cervical vertebrae
- Cervicodorsal transition