Gideon Mantell & Early Palaeontology
December 20, 2017 12:23 AM   Subscribe

This small and rather unprepossessing object is one of Te Papa's most valuable treasures - a fossil dinosaur tooth with a worn crown. It is the first fossil ever to be recognised as dinosaur and its discovery marked the beginning of dinosaur studies.

Gideon Mantell (Michon Scott, Strange Science)

Legend has it that while the country doctor Gideon Mantell was visiting a patient, his wife Mary Ann took a short stroll as she waited for him, and when Mantell finished his house call, she presented him with a puzzling tooth…

…the tooth was unlike anything he had ever seen…

…Mantell showed it to other scientists, but they all dismissed it, the great Cuvier initially attributing it to a rhinoceros. Cuvier's dismissal was a blow to Mantell's confidence, but ultimately he remained firm: This tooth, along with other remains he found, belonged to a giant herbivorous reptile…

In 1825, Mantell published 'Notice on the Iguanodon, a Newly Discovered Fossil Reptile, from the Sandstone of Tilgate Forest, in Sussex.' Perhaps because he had been snubbed for so long by the Geological Society, he had the paper read at a meeting of the even-more-prestigious Royal Society. The paper was an instant success. Mantell was soon elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, and made an honorary member of the Institute of Paris...
Richard Owen and Gideon Mantell (Michael, Nothing But Science)

Richard Owen was one of the great jerks of history. He also happened to coin Dinosauria, from which we get “dinosaur”, he made a number of important scientific discoveries, and he did a great deal in making museums what they are today by way of organizing the Natural History Museum in London. Taken together, we still look back on him with fair acknowledgement for his accomplishments. But, boy, was he ever a jerk.

The man’s heyday was the middle of the 19th century alongside greats like Charles Darwin and Charles Lyell. People tended to recognize Owen’s quality of mind, but they also couldn’t help to notice how petty and vindictive he could be. Cross the man and he would make your life as awful as he possibly could. Just ask Gideon Mantell...
This rather nationalistically titled longread deals more charitably with Richard Owen:
Dinosaurs were discovered by British scientists (Colin Barras, BBC)

There's no doubt that Mantell made a huge contribution to science. Some historians even suggest he was the man primarily responsible for discovering the dinosaurs, before his nemesis Owen deviously leapt in at the eleventh hour and claimed the credit for himself, simply by coming up with the name "dinosaur".

But Torrens, and some other modern writers, beg to differ. Owen's key contribution was not dreaming up a charismatic name. It was realising something that Mantell and other geologists and anatomists had not: that Megalosaurus, Iguanodon and Hylaeosaurus shared never-before-seen anatomical features in common.
Here are some more one-eyed pieces from Michael Hartley at The Study:
The Frightful Fate of the Dinosaur Doctor

And then, one day in 1841, Mantell was driving his carriage across Clapham Common when he fell from the seat and became entangled in the reins. The frightened horses panicked and galloped off, dragging Mantell under the wheels, where he suffered horrific spinal injuries. Although crippled, he continued to work, both as a doctor and geologist, but his constant pain severely restricted his activities. Owen took this opportunity to rewrite history – he claimed that Cuvier and himself had discovered the iguanodon, he renamed dinosaurs discovered by Mantell and then claimed that he had discovered them, and used his influence at the Royal Society to have Mantell’s research papers rejected, all of which caused Mantell to note it was “… a pity a man so talented should be so dastardly and envious.”
The Dastardly Doings of the Palaeolographical Professor

In 1844, Owen presented a paper to the Royal Society on fossil belemnites for which he was presented with the Society’s Gold Medal in 1846, but he forgot to mention the work of an amateur biologist, Joseph Channing Pearce, who had discovered the belemnite (a type of Mesozoic marine cephalopod) in 1842, and had presented his own paper at a meeting of the Society at which Owen had been present. In the scandal that followed, Owen was voted off the councils of the Royal Society and the Zoological Society, but his plagiarism didn’t stop there. He used illustrations from Mantell’s works and passed them off as his own, and only grudgingly apologised when he was found out...

...Darwin wrote, “I used to be ashamed of hating him so much, but now I will carefully cherish my hatred & contempt to the last days of my life.” In a letter to Asa Gray dated June 8th 1860, he wrote “… no one fact tells so strongly against Owen, considering his former position at the College of Surgeons, as that he has never reared one pupil or follower.”
As for Mantell’s scoliosis:
Gideon Mantell's Unintentional Contribution to Science (Brian Switek, Wired)

...part of Mantell’s backbone was distorted, yet the medical experts Mantell saw about his condition could not have seen this if they examined Mantell while he was standing up straight or lying down flat. The curvature of the spine only became visible when the back was bent forward, an observation that Adams would use to establish the forward-bending test to detect cases of scoliosis in living patients.
Wiki articles
posted by Start with Dessert (4 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
"a face to frighten babies" ha, Richard Owen is a character (the first of many to study dinosaurs?)
I wonder if the writer Hilary Mantel is related to Mary Ann & Gideon.
posted by Bee'sWing at 5:43 AM on December 20, 2017


I didn't see this mentioned in any of the articles, but Richard Owen makes an appearance in Charles Kingsley's The Water-Babies. (Smaller image and more info in the Wikipedia article.)
posted by lagomorphius at 6:56 AM on December 20, 2017


The local library has Owen's Palaeontology or A systematic summary of extinct animals and their geological relations (still on the shelf to check out last time I looked), and it is so weird reading the descriptions of all the dinosaurs known to science, and there's only THREE- Iguanodon, Megalosaurus, and Hylaeosaurus, all known from such fragmentary remains that there was no clear idea what they even looked like!
Cetiosaurus is also discussed, but misidentified , IIRC, as a giant crocodile.
posted by Trinity-Gehenna at 10:32 AM on December 20, 2017


From Cuckfield. Hummm.
posted by Oyéah at 12:31 PM on December 20, 2017


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