Gideon Mantell, an English physician, was born Feb. 3, 1790. In 1822, Mantell discovered the teeth of a giant reptile in West Sussex. It was eventually pointed out that the teeth resembled those of an iguana, only much larger, which suggested to Mantell that he call his creature an Iguanodon, and he announced and named his discovery in 1825. We now recognize Iguanodon as the second dinosaur discovered, preceded only by William Buckland’s Megalosaurus (announced in 1824). Mantell had no idea what Iguanodon might have looked like in life, until in 1834, he discovered a slab in Maidstone that contained many more bones, such as femurs and tibias, in addition to the now recognizable teeth (third image above). This prompted Mantell to attempt a reconstruction, which he was reluctant to publish (fourth image above). As you can see, he drew it as a giant iguana. When Mantell publilshed his Wonders of Geology in 1838, he allowed the artist John Martin to attempt his own reconstruction for the book’s frontispiece (first image above); the battle-scene was captioned “Country of the Iguanodon.” Finally, when Samuel Goodrich published an illustrated natural history survey encyclopedia in 1859, he provided us with an Iguanodon image that was a copy of a sculpture by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (fifth image above). The elephantine, quadrupedal Iguanodon would be the standard model for quite some time, until more complete specimens revealed that Iguanodon was bipedal and really nothing like an iguana.
Nearly all of the images above were displayed in our 1996 exhibition, Paper Dinosaurs, where you can see Mantel’s original paper of 1824, the Maidstone slab, the Country of the Iguanodon, and Goodrich’s 1859 restoration.
Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City