Reconstruction of a dinosaur

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The Mantell monument

From Mantell's discovery to the present day

It was on a sunny morning in 1822 that the young doctor, Gideon Mantell and his wife Mary Ann, from Lewes made a unique discovery. While Dr. Mantell was making a house call on a patient in Cuckfield, his wife decided to take a stroll through the village.  She passed a pile of broken rock on the roadside, waiting to be used to repair the road, and noticed an unusual object embedded in a piece of the rock.

On closer examination she realised that it was a fossil of some kind, and so put it in her pocket to show her husband later - this must surely have been one of the most significant events in the whole of dinosaur study.

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Tooth found by Mantell

Teeth found by Mantell

The Iguana
The Iguana

Iguanodon 1859

Iguanodon, 1859

The Iguanodon Tooth

Mantell, a keen fossil collector, immediately recognised the object as a fossil tooth but was unable to match it to any known creature. 

He traced the source of the rock which had held the tooth to a quarry in Whiteman’s Green,Cuckfield, where he found more teeth and other remains.  

He widened his search to pits in Tilgate Forest where again he found teeth and bones of this unknown creature, and from the age of the rock he realised that the creature responsible must have died about 130 million years ago - long before any mammals evolved.

Identifying the remains

Mantell sent the teeth and fossil bones to 2 famous scientists - Baron Georges Cuvier in Paris, and Dr. William Buckland, Professor of Geology at Oxford University. Cuvier wrote back suggesting that the remains were from a rhinoceros. Buckland thought they were from a large fish, and suggested Mantell pursue the matter no further.

On a visit to the Royal College of Surgeons in London, he was shown the skeleton of an iguana by Samuel Stutchbury, a visiting anatomist. Darwin had recently brought the creature back from the West Indies. The iguana’s teeth were almost identical to the teeth that Mantell had, though much smaller.

Mantell's first thoughts

Mantell realised he had found the remains of an extinct giant reptile, like a giant Iguana, and named his creature Iguanodon, meaning literally 'iguana tooth'.

The Iguanodon thus became the first dinosaur in the world to be recognised and named.

His paper announcing these discoveries was officially published in 1825 "Notice on the Iguanodon, a newly discovered fossil reptile, from the sandstone of Tilgate Forest, in Sussex, " in: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, vol. 115 (1825), pp.179-186

Mantell went on to discover and name other local dinosaurs, Hylaeosaurus (1832), Peleosaurus (1850), and found the remains of the meat-eating Megalosaurus.