Iguanodon is Older Than You Think

Public and Private Announcements Regarding Gideon Mantell’s Iguanodontid

Many young dinosaur fans, eager to demonstrate their in-depth knowledge when it comes to the Dinosauria are happy to assert that the Iguanodon was the second dinosaur to be formally named and described. Some of the more confident, young scientists point out that this was the first dinosaur to be named by Gideon Mantell.  Trouble is, when it comes to Britain’s relationship with the iguanodontids it is certainly an enduring relationship but a rather complicated one as well.  The fossilised bones of this Ornithopod feature prominently in regional museums, especially those in southern England.  This Early Cretaceous herbivore is probably the genus most associated with the British Isles and its Dinosauria.  Iguanodon is even depicted on the coat of arms of the town of Maidstone (Kent) and two years ago it was included in a set of stamps designed by British palaeoartist John Sibbick.  Everything Dinosaur team members were asked to help out Royal Mail by providing the text for the press releases concerning these special stamps.  Yes, we wrote lots and lots about Iguanodon.

Iguanodon Featured on a Set of Royal Mail Stamps (2013)

The Ornithopod Iguanodon on a stamp.

The Ornithopod Iguanodon on a stamp.  Is this Britain’s iconic dinosaur?

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

However, as with much of the information that relates to early English fossil discoveries, nothing is as straight forward as it seems.  For example, the name Iguanodon or at least “Iguanadon” appeared in print prior to Mantell’s letter to the Royal Society which was read out at a meeting of The Society on February 10th 1825.  It had been thought that the first public announcement of Iguanodon had taken place on that date.  Freelance palaeontologist and Isle of Wight based dinosaur hunter Martin Simpson has unearthed a newspaper report from the Hampshire Telegraph published on the 20th December 1824 that describes this dinosaur, well, the name given is “Iguanadon”.  This means that this dinosaur’s announcement took place seven weeks earlier than previously thought.  The Hampshire Telegraph report covers the matters arising at a meeting of the Portsmouth Philosophical Society that took place on December 17th.  It seems that Gideon Mantell has written to the Portsmouth Philosophical Society shortly after settling on the name Iguanodon “Iguana Tooth”.  So it seems that it was Portsmouth not London where the name Iguanodon was first officially heard.


It seems likely that other fossils representing iguanodontids had come to the attention of academics, long before the fabled teeth find by Mary Ann Mantell (Gideon Mantell’s wife) around 1822.  Reports of bones found in the Tilgate Forest area, at the time attributed to reptiles such as crocodiles and alligators, date from at least ten years before.  Indeed, such is the volume of large Ornithopod fossil bones from southern England that in the year 2000, a revision of the Iguanodon family took place.  Many of the species that had been erected were declared nomen dubium (dubious in the their validity), fossils were assigned to other genera.  Now the Iguanodon holotype material is actually fossil material associated with Belgium (Iguanodon bernissartensis) and strictly speaking, only two species are currently included in this genus (I. bernissartensis) and the recently described Iguanodon galvensis from Spain.

In a press release which provides details of an article to feature in the next edition of “Deposits Magazine”, Martin Simpson is quoted as saying:

“It would be nice if she [Mary Ann Mantell] eventually had a species named after her to celebrate her role in the discovery of Iguanodon, one of the world’s most important dinosaurs.  I’m really excited to have discovered this unknown snippet of information which adds to the history of British dinosaurs and which will really appeal to all the dinosaur aficionados out there.”

The Crystal Palace Iguanodon – Or Is It?

A pair of Iguanodons study the Crystal Palace landscape.

A pair of Iguanodons study the Crystal Palace landscape.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the help of a press release sent in by Jenny Hawthorn.

Perhaps the Natural History Museum Knew All About “Iguanadon” All Along

Spelling error on the box.

Spelling error on the box.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur


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