Field of Science

Invasion of the European Dinosaurs!! Part I: ca. 1800-1900

Fig.1. Archaeopteryx  

The fossil gallery at the recent Munich Show 2011 was dedicated to the "European Dinosaurs" - a good overview of some of the historic fossils (with the classics from Victorian Britain and Germany), but also special apparitions of the newest discoveries from the Mesozoic of the European continent.

Dinosaurs have a long tradition in Europe - the first (as such) recognized "terrible lizards" came from England: it was in 1824 that there Reverend William Buckland described the lower jaw of Megalosaurus

Fig.2. The jaw of Megalosaurus as published in Buckland´s "Notice on the Megalosaurus or great Fossil Lizard of Stonesfield" (1824).

Fig.3. Isolated tooth, Megalosaurus bucklandi, from the Jurassic Stonesfield-Formation (Oxfordshire), found previously of 1882.

But already in 1677 the English historian Robert Plot (1640-1696) describes in his "The natural history of Oxfordshire" a gigantic bone (today lost), found presumably in a quarry at Chipping Norton (also Oxfordshire), as the bone of an elephant of Roman age.
It seems plausible that in the next centuries ulterior bones were discovered, however only with the advent of comparative anatomy (promoted by the French naturalist Georges Cuvier) it became clear what these bones could be - the remains of large reptiles, however quite different to all living animals. After the description of Megalosaurus soon followed Iguanodon (1825), Hyaeosaurus (1833), Thecodontosaurus (1836) and Cetiosaurus (1836).
The first non-british dinosaur came from the Triassic sediments of Southern Germany, described by the German palaeontologist Hermann von Meyer as Plateosaurus in 1837. 

 Fig.5. Plateosaurus.

Streptospondylus and Poekilopleuron were described in 1832 and respectively in 1838 from Jurassic sediments in France. Archaeopteryx was first described (again by von Meyer) in 1861 based on a single feather, only later an almost complete specimen started an intense debate about the evolutionary connection between dinosaurs and birds. In the same year a distant cousin of Archaeopteryx was described by Andreas Wagner as a sort of very strange lizard: Compsognathus longipes.

Fig.6. The first fossil of Compsognathus, discovered in 1858 by physicist and fossil collector Joseph Oberndorfer.

The British anatomist Thomas Henry Huxley recognized it as example of one of the first complete dinosaurs and based his very cautionary and speculative hypothesis of a possible "relationship" between reptiles and birds on this species. Huxley described in 1868 another small dinosaur species, but this time a herbivore: Hypsilophodon.
In February 1878 miners discovered a bone bed of Iguanodon, the almost complete skeletons enabled palaeontologist Louis Dollo (1857-1931) to reconstruct a large, biped and herbivorous animal

Fig.7. Hypsilophodon foxii, Wealden (Lower Cretaceous), collected previously 1882.


RAUHUT, O.W.M. (2011): Kontinent der Dinosaurier - Europa. Mineralientage München - Messekatalog: 132-146

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