Gideon Mantell

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Gideon A. Mantell

Gideon Algernon Mantell (* 3. February 1790 in Lewes , Sussex , England ; † 10. November 1852 in Clapham , Surrey ) was a British physician, geologist and paleontologist , the is attributed as the first from a study of fossils to have recognized, that in the geological past the earth was populated by the giant land reptiles , later popularized as dinosaurs .

Live and act

Gideon Mantell was born in Lewes , Sussex and spent the time his doctor's office left him doing geological research. He collected fossils of marine animals, mainly in Sussex , which - as we know today - came from the earlier Cretaceous . When he began collecting fossils from Whiteman's Green near Cuckfield in 1819 , they came from the late Cretaceous period and came from both land and freshwater creatures. Among his Cuckfield discoveries in 1820 were very large bones, even larger in size than those discovered by William Buckland in Stonesfield, Oxfordshire . Shortly before he finished his first book, The Fossils of South Downs or Illustrations of the Geology of Sussex , he also found some very large teeth whose origins he could not explain. The often handed down version that he owed the location of these extraordinary remains to his wife Mary, who helped him to illustrate his collection, has not been proven. Scientists attributed Mantell's unusual finds to fish or mammals from a significantly more recent period. Even the famous French scientist Georges Cuvier initially identified one of the teeth as the upper incisor of a rhinoceros using the discipline of "comparative anatomy" at the time . Mantell, on the other hand, was certain that the worn teeth, which had indentations and indicated a herbivorous animal species, came from the Mesozoic era and that they were similar to those of an iguana ( iguana ), only that this animal was 20 times the size. Georges Cuvier soon agreed with Mantell's opinion after conducting an examination of all of the fossilized teeth and attributing the findings to the early existence of an unknown giant lizard. Mantell initially called his discovery "Iguanosaurus", but soon changed the name to Iguanodon (iguana tooth).

Mantell's own reconstruction of Iguanodon was never published by him.

The most violent disagreement with Mantell's views came from the highly respected scientist Richard Owen , who vehemently argued that these teeth could only have come from a mammal. In the course of the following years Mantell collected further fossils, on the one hand to prove that the front legs of this dinosaur were much shorter than the hind legs and therefore could not belong to any existing species and on the other hand to show that the fossils, the Owen assigned to different vertebrates, all of which would be assigned to the Iguanodon.

In 1825 Mantell published his Notice on the Iguanodon, a Newly Discovered Fossil Reptile, from the Sandstone of Tilgate Forest, in Sussex , which he successfully presented for the first time at a meeting of the Royal Society . As a result, he was elected a member of the Royal Society and an honorary member of the Institut de Paris . He was also awarded the Wollaston Medal from the Geological Society of London .

In 1833 Mantell moved to Brighton , but the economic success of his medical practice suffered as a result of the move. The museum of his fossils he set up in Brighton was also a financial failure as he regularly waived admission fees. Due to financial difficulties, Mantell was therefore forced to sell his collection. In 1839 his wife left him and his youngest son Walter emigrated to New Zealand. Mantell moved to London and tried to set up a new practice in Clapham while caring for his favorite daughter, Hannah. Her death in 1840 hit him hard.

Crippled by a serious accident with a carriage and suffering from constant pain, he nevertheless continued his scientific work and published a number of scientific publications until his death. In 1852 he died of an overdose of morphine, which he normally used as a pain reliever. His deformed spine was removed at autopsy and on display at the Royal College of Surgeons of England until 1969 .

In 2000, a memorial was dedicated in his honor at Whiteman's Green, Cuckfield, in memory of Mantell's discovery and services to paleontology. Since 1972 he has been the namesake for the rock spur Mantell Screes in the East Antarctic Coatsland .


  • The Fossils of the South Downs . Lupton Relfe, London 1822.
  • Illustrations of the Geogology of Sussex . Lupton Relfe, London 1827.
  • Thoughts on a Pebble . Reeve, Benham & Reeve, London 1849.


  • Deborah Cadbury: Dinosaur Hunter . Rowohlt, Hamburg 2001.
  • Dennis Dean: Gideon Mantell and the Discovery of Dinosaurs . Cambridge University Press, 1999.
  • Sidney Spokes: Gideon Algernon Mantell, LLD, FRCS, FRS, Surgeon and Geologist . John Bale & Sons & Danielson, London 1927.

Web links

Commons : Gideon Algernon Mantell  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files