Field of Science

Geology History in Caricatures: Dr. M. in extasies at the approach of his pet Saurian

"Like Frankenstein, I was stroke by astonishment by the enormous monster that my investigations have called to existence."
G.A. MANTELL 1834

Fig.1. "Dr. M. in extasies at the approach of his pet Saurian", a sketch by Henry De la Beche celebrating Mantell´s acquisition of the "Maidstone Iguanodon", the best preserved specimen of the time (in fact a heavily damaged skeleton by careless blasting in the quarry, discovered in May 1834 near the city of Maidstone in Kent).
The laurel-crowned geologist has tamed the monster, which now wags its tail like a dog (from O´CONNOR 2007).


The 10. November marks the anniversary of the tragic death of an extraordinary personality, Gideon Mantell (1790-1852), physician by necessities, geologist and palaeontologist by choice.
He sacrificed all to this passion, his income, his time, his marriage and maybe at least even his health and life.
But let us remind the good times.
His interest to fossils awake as youth by the discovery of an ammonite on the shore of a river, and was later enforced by the private teachings of geology by James Parkinson during the medical studies of Mantell.
Earned the diploma, and settled down, he studied first the geology and the fossils of the marine chalk formations of the region of Weald in Sussex, later he recognized that a peculiar sandstones formation outcropping in the area of Tilgate Forest represent the sediments of a delta, folded into the chalk.
It was in these sediments that he discovered the remains of teeth and bones. Eroded by the fluvial transport and disarticulated by the current, he nevertheless recognized that the bones were extraordinary fossils, remains of an other creature then the sea lizards discovered some years before on the coast of Dorse
t by Mary Anning.
Studying the remains, and searching for analogous animal parts, he discovered the teeth of a vegetarian iguana species. He began to hypothesis the existence of a giant, herbivorous land dwelling lizard, an Iguanodon (Iguana tooth) - an outrageous idea for these times.
The French naturalist Cuvier admitted that he couldn't identify the bones, and espoused Mantell´s proposal. With such assistance, Mantell could finally present his Iguanodon to the Royal Society.

Mantell is today recorded mainly by this discovery, but he als
o described the first armoured dinosaur named Hylaeosaurus (Forest lizard), the first sauropod named Pelorosaurus (Monster lizard) and his contributions to geology and palaeontology were crucial, his Tilgate Forest beds and the fossils of plants found in them proved to be the first non-marine environment to be known from England's past.

Fig.2. "Section from the South to the North Downs, trough the Weald", from MANTELL 1839 (click to enlarge).

Bibliography:


CADBURY, D. (2010): The Dinosaur Hunters. A true Story of Scientific Rivalry & the Discovery of the Prehistoric World. Fourth Estate Publisher: 386
MANTELL, G.A. (1839): The wonders of geology; or, A familiar exposition of geological phenomena; being the substance of a course of lectures delivered at Brigthon by Gideon Algernon Mantell, LL. D. F.R.S. In two volumes. 3th edition Relfe & Fletcher London: 480
O´CONNOR, R. (2007): the Earth on Show - Fossils and the Poetics of Popular Science, 1802-1856.University of Chicago Press, Chicago: 541

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