Edward Cope's reconstruction of Laelaps aquilunguis. This work was on display in the original exhibition as item 11. Image source: Cope, Edward Drinker. "The fossil reptiles of New Jersey," in: American Naturalist, vol. 3 (1869), pp. 84-91, pl. 2.

Paper Dinosaurs 1824-1969

An Exhibition of Original Publications from the Collections of the Linda Hall Library

First Descriptions

Buckland and the Megalosaurus Jaw, 1824

Around 1815, William Buckland began to acquire the fossil bones of some large unknown animals from the Stonesfield quarries near Oxford. By the time he wrote this paper, he had collected for the Oxford Museum a large piece of a lower jaw, with teeth in place; several vertebrae; some fragments of pelvis and shoulder-bone, and bones from upper and lower hind limbs. These came from various individuals of different sizes, but they were all enormous, and all of the same genus, which evidentially belonged to the order of Saurians or Lizards. In this paper, which is the first published description of a dinosaur, Buckland named his fossil Megalosaurus, or Great Lizard. He conjectured that it must have exceeded forty feet in length and had a bulk equal to that of a large elephant.

Buckland illustrated his "Notice" with five lithographed plates, which show all of the bones described. He gave special treatment to the jaw. On one plate he provided both inside and outside views of the jaw, at 1/2 natural size, but he then added a larger folding plate that presents an interior view of the jaw at full life size. Buckland recognized that, although the leg bones were impressive, the jaw was crucial, since it had socketed teeth that were quite unlike those of any living reptile. And although Buckland did not say so, he must have recognized that this jaw belonged to a carnivore, a very large carnivore.

Although Buckland was unaware that Megalosaurus bones had been found before, we now know that they had been described several times, without being recognized. The best known example is the end of a femur that Robert Plot discussed and even illustrated back in 1676. Other fragments turned up in collections in the eighteenth century. But Buckland was the first to understand that these bones belonged to large unknown reptiles.

Anterior extremity of the Megalosaurus jaw. This work was on display in the original exhibition as item 1. Image source: Buckland, William. "Notice on the Megalosaurus or great Fossil Lizard of Stonesfield," in: Transactions of the Geological Society of London, series 2, vol. 1 (1824), pl. 40.

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Plot's Unrecognized Dinosaur Bone, 1676

First fossil bone published by Robert Plot. This work is part of our History of Science Collection, but it was NOT included in the original exhibition. Image source: Plot, Robert. The Natural History of Oxfordshire. Oxford, 1676, tab. 8.

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Robert Plot was an antiquarian and county historian who has the honor of discovering and publishing the first fossil bone that we now recognize as dinosaurian. In the text, he states that the bone came from a quarry in Cornwall, and that it closely resembles the thigh bone of a man or animal, but that it is nearly two feet around at the end, and weighs almost twenty pounds. 

Plot concludes that it is a real bone, now petrified, and must have been the bone of some elephant brought to Britain by the Romans. Plot was the keeper (the first keeper) of the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, but this specimen was not so well kept, and is now lost. However, from the engraving, the bone can be identified as a dinosaur femur, probably that of a Megalosaurus.