Dinosaurs

Early Discoveries Up To 1825

                                                                             By Mace Baker

 

One of the earliest records we have of someone finding a dinosaur bone was in 1677. At that time, Robert Plot, an Oxford University Professor, included a drawing of the dinosaur bone in his book, The Natural History of Oxfordshire.  Although he drew and described it well, Plot was unable to identify the creature from which the bone had come. He first thought that it might have been from an

elephant brought to Britain by the Roman government centuries earlier. Later, after having been able to observe an elephant, he concluded that it must have come from a giant human. However, many years later, scientists recognized Plot’s bone as having belonged to the dinosaur Megalosaurus.

 

Mary Anning, of Lyme Regis England, was one of the first successful collectors of fossil ichthyosaur (swimming reptiles) and pterosaurs (flying reptiles).Mary was one of the first people to actually earn a living by collecting and selling fossils. At the age of eleven on the Dorset Coast of Southern England she found her first articulated ichthyosaur. After this she found a complete plesiosaur skeleton.  Later, in 1828 she discovered the first pterosaur fossils. She sent the latter to

Professor Buckland. Buckland was an Anglican priest and professor of Geology at Oxford University. After careful study Dr. Buckland assigned to these fossils the name Pterodactyls, meaning “wing finger.”

 

In 1822, while accompanying her husband, Gideon, during one of his visits to a patient in Sussex, Mary Mantell discovered a huge fossil tooth sticking out of some road gravel. When she showed it to Dr. Mantell, himself an avid fossil collector, he quickly realized that she had made a most important discovery. In fact, it is now considered to be the first official discovery of a dinosaur. (In his recently discovered papers Dr. Mantell claims it was he who found that first fossil tooth.) It was very difficult for Dr. Mantell and his colleagues to identify this fossil.Gideon was convinced that it was from a giant ancient reptile. Others however, thought it to be mammalian. Eventually, while hunting for clues in the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons, in London, Dr. Mantell came upon Samuel Stutchbury. In the course of their conversation, Dr. Mantell showed his fossils to Stutchbury who immediately recognized them to be similar to the teeth of the iguana lizard which he himself was studying. Further, Stutchbury was able to show Mantell some iguana lizard teeth. This, of course made his point very convincing. Mantell was now certain that the fossils were indeed from a large, extinct reptile. He named the creature Iguanadon, meaning “iguana tooth.”

 

During this time, some fossilized bones which had been discovered near the small quarrying village of Stonesfield, near Oxford, came to the attention of Dr. Buckland. These fossils consisted of limb bones, ribs, vertebrae and a jawbone with long, knife-like teeth. At the urging of Dr. Cuvier, Buckland described the fossils in 1824, assigning the animal the name, Megalosaurus, meaning “giant lizard

 

 

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