Brooklyn College
City University of New York

WILLIAM BUCKLAND: British vicar and paleontologist, and first Professor of Geology at Oxford University. 1784-1856. From the time of the Rev. Plot, dinosaur bones had been discovered several times (e.g. by Plot himself, and William Clark), but their true significance remained obscure. It was Buckland who, as a result of a find made about 1815, inaugurated the scientific investigation of dinosaurs that continues to the present day. Buckland made a careful analysis of this material, including teeth, jaws, and limb bones (one of the better teeth he described is illustrated at left below), and in a paper published in 1824, he correctly identified them as deriving from a large, carnivorous fossil reptile, to which he gave the name Megalosaurus. Buckland did not, however, recognize Megalosaurus as a dinosaur. He thought it was some sort of large, extinct lizard. Yet, because we still use the name Megalosaurus for the dinosaur represented by Buckland's specimens, he thus was the first individual to give a scientifically valid name to a species of dinosaur. It is the acme of irony that the first dinosaur species was named before the existence of dinosaurs as a distinct group of reptiles was recognized. Note that in the picture, Buckland is pointing to a fossil ammonite. Ammonites are common fossils in many of the Mesozoic rock units in southern and central England - rocks for which Buckland provided the earliest detailed geological descriptions.
In contrast to the solid British visage presented in the picture of him shown above, Buckland was a bit of an eccentric, given to outlandish dress and behavior. An 1827 caricature (shown at left) has him attired in a very modish outfit for the 1820's. Although Buckland was immensely influential as a scientist, his rakish reputation gave many of his staid early Victorian contemporaries considerable difficulty in accepting his work.

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