Dinosaur Discoveries: 1825-1850

By Mace Baker


By and by, more large reptilian fossils were discovered. In 1833,

Mantell described a third giant reptile, naming it Hylaeosaurus. Though it

was beginning to be recognized that a new kind of animal was now being

found in fossilized form, these peculiar animals were not assigned any

composite name. This was left to Britain’s premier paleontologist, Richard

Owen. Owen had been regarded, even as a young man, as a leader in British

science. Many came to him for his opinion on a variety of questions dealing

with anatomy and paleontology. He soon became a personal friend of Queen

Victoria. He was often a guest at the palace, where he gave interesting

lectures on nature to her and her large family.

Among his many achievements is the identification of the reptilian kind

now known as dinosaurs, as being quite distinct from the reptiles which we

see today. He had described a number of these reptiles, and was well aware

of those which had been excavated and described by others. By 1841, nine

genera of giant reptiles were known to Owen and other paleontologists. The

ones which Owen studied in particular detail were Iguanadon, Megalosaurus

and Hylaeosaurus.

Over the years, he had dissected a number of reptiles which had died at

the Regents Park Zoo in London. Consequently, he began to realize that the

anatomy of the fossil reptiles could not be placed in the families or even the

orders under which modern reptiles were classified. He was convinced that

reptiles such as Iguanadon and Megalosaurus belonged in a special order of

their own. He conceived of them not merely as giant reptiles, but as terrible

lizards or “dinosauria”. This name he proposed at the meeting of the British

Association for the Advancement of Science in 1841. It was published as

follows in 1842 in the Proceedings of the British Association for the

Advancement of Science,

“The combination of such characters, some as the sacral bones,

altogether peculiar among Reptiles, others borrowed as it were, from groups

now distinct from each other, and all manifested by creatures far surpassing

in size the largest of existing reptiles, will it is presumed, be deemed

sufficient ground for establishing a distinct tribe or suborder of Saurian

Reptiles, for which I would propose the name Dinosauria.”





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