Brooklyn College
City University of New York

GIDEON & MARYANN MANTELL:. Gideon Mantell (1790-1852) was a British physician and natural historian. Like many medical men of his time, Mantell was deeply interested in geology and natural history. He is credited with the discovery of the remains of a large, fossil reptile resembling in some ways the modern iguana, which he named Iguanodon. Mantell's fossil was, after Buckland's Megalosaurus, the second large fossil reptile discovered and named, but Iguanodon was, if anything, even more striking to Mantell's contemporaries than was Buckland's find because Iguanodon's teeth suggested that it was herbivorous. All of the largest modern reptiles (e.g., crocodiles, anacondas, komodo lizards) are carnivores, as was Megalosaurus, but Iguanodon was the first known large reptile that ate plants, and for this reason, it caused quite a stir in scientific circles.
Actually it was Gideon's wife, MaryAnn, who found the first Iguanodon material. She had gone with her husband to Surrey to take a spring ride in the country while Gideon visited a patient. On her ride she noticed some strange tooth-shaped fossils in the gravel with which the road had recently been paved. She took these to show Gideon, and he was so intrigued by them, that he spent years searching local rock quarries for more specimens. The picture at left is a contemporary print of fossil bones being removed from a Surrey quarry. Mantell spent more time at England's universities and museums, and in correspondence with the leading scientists of the day (including Buckland and Cuvier), in search of an answer to the riddle his fossils posed. At the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons in London, he finally found a person, whom today we would call a graduate student, who showed him that his fossil teeth were closely similar, but much larger than those of a modern iguana. Hence Iguanodon was born.
It is worthwhile noting that MaryAnn contributed more to this story than the first fossils. When Mantell published his description of his Iguanodon material, it was MaryAnn who provided the many exquisite pen and ink sketches of the fossils that fill its pages. The picture shown at left is one of her drawings of the teeth that she had found lying in the road in Surrey. Although Gideon and MaryAnn appear to have made a formidable research team, their marriage was not a happy one. Eventually, Maryann became thoroughly exasperated by Gideon's overarching devotion to his work and his lack of interest in her, and she divorced him - a bold thing to do in the early 19th century.
Mantell reconstructed Iguanodon as a four-legged lizard-like animal as depicted in his sketch figured at the left. He based this view on the sizes and shapes of the fossil bones that he had found, and on analogy to modern lizards (which is undoubtedly why his Iguanodon resembles a lizard). In fairness to Mantell, it should be noted that he did not have much of Iguanodon's skeleton to work with. He did the best he could with the evidence he had available to him. Note that he placed a small conical horn on Iguanodon's nose.

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