Iguanodon is older than you think: The public and private announcements of Gideon Mantell’s giant prehistoric herbivorous reptile

Martin I Simpson (UK) The details of how the nineteenth century Sussex surgeon and palaeontologist Gideon Mantell came to acquire, describe and announce to the world a new fossil herbivorous reptile, later to be christened Iguanodon and to be included in Owen’s Dinosauria, have been merged together to form one of the most often quoted and legendary stories in the history of vertebrate palaeontology. However, the accuracy of some elements of the story has been questioned by recent scholars, for example, the role played by Gideon’s wife, Mary Ann. She has long been thought to have discovered the first teeth in a pile of road metal by the roadside, while her husband was attending one of his patients in Cuckfield. This is an event which is supposed to have occurred before 1822. In his book, The Fossils of the South Downs, published in that year, Gideon clearly states that Mary had found teeth, although the exact circumstances are not discussed. Some of the teeth acquired by the Mantells were examined by Baron Cuvier. In June 1824, this famous French anatomist ultimately decided that they all belonged to a new and unknown herbivorous reptile. Inspired by this conclusion, Gideon visited the Huntarian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons in the autumn of 1824 to hunt down a modern reptilian equivalent. However, it was Samuel Stutchbury, not Gideon Mantell, who provided the next ‘light bulb’ moment by noticing a similarity between the teeth of the enigmatic fossil animal and those of … Read More

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