Barnum Brown


February 12, 1873


February 5, 1963





Work Institutions

American Museum of Natural History

Major Discoveries

Barnum Brown (February 12, 1873- February 5, 1963),[1] born February 12, 1873 in Carbondale, Kansas. He was named after the circus showman P.T. Barnum, and was perhaps the most famous fossil hunter of the early twentieth century.

Based out of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), Brown traversed the country bargaining and trading for fossils. His field was not limited to dinosaurs. He was known to collect or obtain anything of possible scientific value or that could take up space in the museum. Often, he simply sent money to have the fossil shipped to the American Museum, and any new specimen of interest often resulted in a flurry of letters between the discoverer and Brown.

After working a handful of years in Wyoming for the AMNH in the late 1890s, Brown led an expedition to the Hell Creek Formation of Southeastern Montana. There, in 1902, he discovered and excavated the first documented remains of Tyrannosaurus rex.[2][3]

The Hell Creek digs were prosperous, and Brown collected enough fossils to fill up whole train cars. As was a more common practice back then Brown's crews used controlled blasts of dynamite to remove the tons of rock covering their fossil discoveries. Everything was moved with horse-drawn carriages and pure man-power. Although the total amount of fossils removed from the badlands was impressive, there was seldomly any site data recorded.

After nearly a straight decade in Montana, Brown headed to Alberta, Canada and the Red Deer River near Drumheller. Here, Brown and his crew spent the middle 1910's floating down the river on a flatboat and stopped along the way to prospect for fossils in promising-looking localities. At this time, the famous Sternberg family floated down the river as well. The two parties, Brown's being American and Sternberg's being Canadian, exhibited a playful but friendly rivalry. The discoveries were all for the good of paleontology.

One of Brown's most significant finds, made in 1910, were several hind feet from a group of Albertosaurus collected in Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park. His find was largely forgotten in the recesses of the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Dr. Phil Currie, who was the Head of Dinosaur Research at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology at the time, relocated the site of the bones using only an old photograph as a guide, and reopened the site for excavation in the summer of 1998. Excavation of the site under Tyrrell Museum auspices ceased in August, 2005. However, once Dr. Currie took a new job at the University of Alberta, his new crew worked the site in 2006 and will continue for several years to come. [4]

An homage to the paleontologist was made in the 1998 IMAX film, T-Rex: Back to the Cretaceous in which he was played by actor Laurie Murdoch.

Barnum was quite a colorful character. During World War I and II, he worked as a "intelligence asset". In addition, he picked up some spare cash acting as a corporate spy for oil companies, during his many trips abroad. During his time in Canada, Barnum was frequently photographed wearing a large fur coat at dig sites.

Brown's wife, Lilian Brown, wrote a book of memoirs I Married a Dinosaur (Dodd Mead, 1950) about her expeditions with Barnum Brown.


Related PublicationsEdit


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