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Mantell, Gideon Algernon

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(1790–1852) British geologist: discovered first fossil dinosaurs.

Son of a shoemaker in Lewes, Mantell studied medicine in London. In 1811 he began work as a surgeon in Lewes, but his interest in geology increased and, after moving to Brighton in 1833, the interest became obsessive: his fossil-filled house became a public museum and his wife and children were displaced. He wrote much on the small fossils of the Downs, but his major discovery is that of the first dinosaur; aquatic saurian remains had been described previously, but great land saurians (dinosaurs) were unsuspected until Mantell’s discoveries in 1822 at Tilgate Forest in the Cretaceous rocks of the English Weald. Mary Anne Mantell, his wife, first noticed the teeth, with some bones, and Mantell named the large herbivorous reptile Iguanodon , because of its relation to the much smaller modern lizard, iguana. In 1832 Mantell discovered the armoured dinosaurs. He was essentially an enthusiastic and expert amateur, aided in vertebrate palaeontology by his surgeon’s knowledge of anatomy. A full-scale model Iguanodon was shown at the Crystal Palace in 1854. Public interest in the massive Mesozoic creatures (up to 35 m long) has remained high ever since.

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