Gideon Mantell – Died this day in 1852

The son of a shoe maker, Gideon Mantell rose from humble origins to become one of the most influential and respected scientists in the early years of palaeontology. Despised by the likes of Sir Richard Owen, who did much to destroy Mantell and his reputation, the passing of time has shown that this physician had a far greater insight into the Dinosauria than many of his contemporaries, including Owen himself.

Gideon Algernon Mantell, was born in 1790 and died this day in 1852.  He is perhaps best remembered as the discoverer and describer of the first Ornithischian dinosaur to be scientifically named and described – Iguanodon.  This was only the second dinosaur to be formerly studied and along with Megalosaurus (the first) and Hylaeosaurus it was included in the Order Dinosauria by Richard Owen.

The story of how Mantell came to name and describe Iguanodon, is shrouded in mystery.  His wife Mary Ann, often accompanied Mantell on visits to patients.  The possibly apocryphal story suggests that it was Mary Ann who found a strange tooth in a pile of stones placed on the road by workmen, as she waited for her husband.  This is believed to have taken place sometime in 1822.  A number of researchers have claimed that this story is nothing more than Georgian romantic make believe, but others have claimed that this version of the events may well turn out to be accurate.  Either way, Mantell went on to describe this tooth and others as well as a number of fossil bones found in the Tilgate Forest strata of the Weald of Sussex.

Mantell was highly influential in the early years of the study of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals, writing several books on geology and palaeontology.  Although, despised by the vindictive Owen, Mantell is remembered by scientists and a number of Lower Cretaceous fossil species are named after him.  He even has a species of Iguanodon named in his honour Iguanodon mantelli.  Recently, an Iguanodontid from the Isle of Wight, formerly named I. atherfieldensis, a lightly built, early Cretaceous member of the Iguanodontid family, was re-named by some scientists in Mantell’s honour.  This new dinosaur name is Mantellisaurus.

To view a model of an Iguanodon and other dinosaur models: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur Models

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