Tuesday, December 31, 2019

DINOSAURS!: From Cultural to Pop Culture - 1853: Dinner Inside an Iguanodon


1853: Dinner Inside an Iguanodon

DECEMBER 31ST, 1853... It has been 16 years since the first public recreation of a dinosaur. In 1837, the first publicly released images any dinosaurs, ever, was created in the form of a watercolor painting of an Iguanodon and a Megalosaurus. Since that time, the announcement was made by Sir Richard Owen that this group of animals would now fall under the heading of "Dinosaurs". Other than that though, no other large strides in dinosaur presentation has occurred. That is, until 1852.

In 1852, Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins was approached to produce several life-sized models of many extinct animals, including the known dinosaurs of the time. The models were being built for the Crystal Palace Park that was created around the Crystal Palace, a building that was recently moved in 1851. These were to be the first life-sized reconstructions of dinosaurs ever created. But before they were to be finished, they needed to publicize the park, as well as the dinosaurs that were soon to be within it.

Towards the end of 1853, the models of some of the dinosaurs had started to come into focus. Waterhouse Hawkins, a renowned artist and sculptor with an extensive knowledge of natural history and geology, worked closely with Sir Richard Owen to produce the most accurate scientific models ever possible. Although they are "laughably incorrect" by today's scientific standards, they were more accurate to the scientific knowledge of 1853 than the Jurassic World dinosaurs are to today's scientific knowledge.

To kick off this major enterprise, Owen and Waterhouse Hawkins hosted a New Year's Eve dinner INSIDE the Iguanodon model. Invitations were sent out to prominent people of the time, specifically people who had supported the Crystal Palace Park dinosaur enterprise as well as newspaper reporters in order to publicize the event.

Invitation sketch created by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins for the December 31st dinner. Printed in the January 7th, 1854 edition of the Illustrated London News
The dinosaur itself was clearly very large since it was able to hold so many people. Eventually it was determined that twenty-one people were able to fit within the Iguanodon itself for the dinner. In an account given by Waterhouse Hawkins it was stated that:
"The Restoration of the lguanodon was one of the largest and earliest completed of Mr Waterhouse Hawkins’ gigantic models measuring thirty feet from the nose to the end of the tail, of that quantity the body with the neck contained about fifteen feet which when the pieces of the mould that formed the ridge of the back were removed the body presented the appearance of a wide open Boot with on enclosed arch seven feet high at both ends."
Although the actual sculptures of the dinosaurs wouldn't be accessible to the general public until later in 1854, these were the fist images anyone had seen of the dinosaur models. On the same day as the New Years Eve party described above, The Illustrated London News released the following image of the dinosaurs under construction, highlighting the Iguanodon in great detail. While the Iguanodon in the January 7th publication was based on the invitation given by the Waterhouse Hawkins, the December 31st image is assumed to be based on the actual models under construction.

Image of the dinosaurs and other animals under construction for the Crystal Palace Park. Printed in the December 31st, 1853 edition of the Illustrated London News.  
Within the image above, besides the giant Iguanodon (noticable for its nose horn) is the dinosaur Hylaeosaurus on the right (the first reconstruction of this dinosaur), a Palaeotherium in the back left (a prehistoric mammal from the Eocene), the dinosaur Megalosaurus in the front left, and a Dicynodon in the front right (an early synapsid, which is a prehistoric relative to mammals).

So, while these images may be laughed at today, they do represent the greatest leap forward from fragmentary scientific knowledge to full fledged dinosaur reconstructions that has ever, and will probably ever, be undertaken.

Illustrated London News, 7 January 1854, p. 22
Illustrated London News, 31 December 1853, pp 11-12

Sunday, December 22, 2019

DINOSAURS!: From Cultural to Pop Culture - 1841: Dinosauria


1841: Dinosauria

Before we had the countless species of dinosaurs that most nine year olds could easily school me on, we had a time before dinosaurs were called such. However, scientists started putting together the puzzles that the bones left behind and realized that the bones reconstructed animals that don't resemble anything currently alive.

These discoveries prompted Sir Richard Owen to evaluate what we knew about these fossils. Based on the discovery of animals like Megalosaurus, Iguanodon, and Hylaeosaurus, he noticed that these animals all shared a couple of interesting features.
  1. They had columnar legs, instead of sprawling legs, like how modern crocodilians have. This marked them as distinctly different from modern day reptiles.
  2. Their vertebrae were fused to the pelvic girdle.
It was because of this, that Owen gave a talk entitled Report on British Fossil Reptiles. Part II  to the 11th meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science held at Plymouth in July of 1841. This report was then published within the Report of the Eleventh Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1841)(p. 60-204). Within the publication, Owen stated:

"The combination of such characters, some as the sacral ones, altogether peculiar among reptiles, others borrowed, as it were, from groups now distinct from each other, and all manifested by creatures far surpassing in size the largest of existing reptiles, will, it is presumed, be deemed sufficient ground for establishing a distinct tribe or suborder of Saurian Reptiles, for which I would propose the name of Dinosauria."

Monday, December 16, 2019

DINOSAURS!: From Cultural to Pop Culture - 1837: The First Dinosaur Reconstruction


1837: The First Dinosaur Reconstruction

One of the most important milestones which propelled dinosaurs into becoming the cultural phenomenon that they have become, is the translation of the numerous bones that have been found up until this point into a visual representation of the beasts. As of 1834, there has been identified three different species of dinosaurs, although they aren't known as "dinosaurs" yet. As time progresses, these monstrous animals are slowly becoming more and more well known. The person who single-handedly had propelled dinosaurs into the spotlight that they found themselves in, was Gideon Mantell. Mantell was known for the naming of two out of those three species, Iguanodon and Hylaeosaurus. Mantell didn't settle with that though. He continued on the lookout for other potential Iguanodon material in the hopes that eventually he would be able to piece together what this behemoth looked like. 

In 1834, after years of finding teeth and other bits of bone, Mantell struck upon a proverbial goldmine. In a limestone quarry near Maidstone in Kent, workers had ended up blowing apart a rock with what looked like pieces of petrified wood in it. The owner of the mine, William Harding Bensted, contacted Mantell who traveled to analyze the rock slab. 
The Maidstone Mantell piece. Image from The Natural History Museum

Gideon Mantell identified the remains as those belonging to the Iguanodon. After discovery of the Maidstone slab, Mantell supposedly created a sketch of what the Iguanodon would look like. This reconstruction looked amazingly like an iguana, since Mantell was so set on the fact that they were homologues of each other, with the Iguanodon really just being a very large iguana.
Purported original sketch of Iguanodon by Gideon Mantell (~1834) (image from The Natural History Museum)
I say that he "supposedly" made the above sketch because I can't find any evidence that he actually made the sketch or where it came from. The best case that I can find, is that he made the sketch within his own private notes and it was never released to the public. Since it was a private sketch, it's not an example of dinosaurs in pop culture because it was never released into the wild. What the sketch turned into though did enter into Pop Culture as the first ever dinosaur reconstruction. 

The Country of the Iguanodon, 1837, London, by John Martin. Gift of Mrs Mantell-Harding, 1961. Te Papa (1992-0035-1784)
In 1837, John Martin was approached by Gideon Mantell to create a reconstruction of the Iguanodon based on what was known about the animal at the time, including the nose horn. Martin recreated a prehistoric type landscape in watercolor with an Iguanodon being attacked by a Megalosaurus, two of the three dinosaurs known at the time. Mantell eventually took this image and made it the frontpiece for his book The Wonders of Geology

As a part of pup culture, "The County of the Iguanodon" will go down in history as the very first dinosaur reconstruction, which had helped propel how dinosaurs were viewed in the centuries to come. 


Monday, December 02, 2019

DINOSAURS!: From Cultural to Pop Culture - 1833: Hylaeosaurus


1833: Hylaeosaurus 

When Sir Richard Owen announced the term "Dinosauria", he used three previously announced and described species as his hallmark for the group. These include the initially announced Megalosaurus, the second dinosaur named, Iguanodon, and the third described dinosaur, which was named Hylaeosaurus.  

In the previous entry, we looked at how Gideon Mantell requested quarry workers to notify him if they noticed anything that might be of interest to him. Well, in 1832 they noticed something rather significant. The quarry workers had blasted a large block of stone and upon noticing some bone in the fragments had contacted Mantell that was documented in his 1833 publication The Geology of the South-East of England.  
"Upon repairing to the quarry, the considerable number of pieces into which the block was broken, the extreme hardness of the stone, and the unpromising appearance of the fragments of bone that were visible, seemed to render the attempt to dissect it alike hopeless and unprofitable. I resolved, however, to collect the scattered fragments together; and after much labour succeeded in reducing the specimen to the state in which it now appears."
The rock that was blasted apart had a large number of bones, which, even though they were not directly articulated, were near enough that they could be placed within the animal. This was something that has not occurred much up until this point. Previous published descriptions were generally localized bones with the occasional connected bones, but nothing to this degree. Within the cluster of bones, Mantell was able to identify, and describe, a large number of vertebrae, ribs, other bones, and most importantly, dermal plates.

Fossil material of the newly announced Hylaeosaurus from Mantell's 1833 book, The Geology of the South-East of England
Although much smaller than either Iguanodon or Megalosaurus, Mantell realized that this was something unique in it's own right. 
"I venture to suggest the propriety of referring it to a new genus of saurians. The generic characters would, of course, be the peculiarity of the sternal apparatus, and the remarkable processes which are distributed around it ; and I propose to distinguish it by the name of Hylaeosaurus, to indicate the locality in which these remains were discovered."
The name Hylaeosaurus is derived from the name of the Wealden Woods, giving it the moniker of "Fossil Lizard of the Weald". Future discoveries eventually identified Hylaeosaurus as the very first anklyosaurus. This is very interesting given his comments on the vertebrae of the tail that he discovered:
"The vertebrae are lumbar, sacral, and caudal; and there are two of the latter anchylosed, and two others disposed to become so; which is remarkable, for in all my skeletons of reptiles an analogous case is not observable, except where the tail has been broken, and then the bone becomes united by exostosis, which is not the case in these fossils: hence it would seem that these must have belonged to an animal making such feeble use of the tail, that the vertebra' were occasionally anchylosed together."
Even though other eventual dinosaurs are named before the term "Dinosauria" is coined, this was the last verifiable dinosaur of the time before the announcement. The other animals won't be identified as dinosaurs until much later.

Dermal bones, otherwise known as scutes, of Hylaeosaurus from Mantell, 1833.

Sunday, December 01, 2019

DINOSAURS!: From Cultural to Pop Culture - 1831: The Iguanodon's "Horn"


1831: The Iguanodon's "Horn" 

One of the most memorable paleontological "mistakes" has to be the placement of  the Iguanodon's thumb spike initially as a horn. But where did that idea originate from and how did it progress from there? 

Although the first illustration of the "horn" was in Gideon Mantell's 1833 book The Geology of the South-East of England (presented below), that is not the first place that the horn was mentioned. In 1831, Mantell wrote an article entitled The Geological Age of Reptiles in which he briefly mentioned that the Iguanodon had a horn. At the time he presented no evidence or background to the story, an oversight he would eventually correct in his 1833 book.
"This creature [the Iguanodon], like some of the recent species of Iguanas, had warts or horns on its snout, and an appendage of this kind has been found of the size and shape of the lesser horn of the rhinoceros!"
Fast forward two years to his The Geology of the South-East of England publication and Mantell provides us with not only details on the discovery of said horn, but also an image of the bone. Since Mantell was the person who initially named Iguanodon back in 1825, it seems apropos for him to further Iguanodon's cultural development. Or, more accurately, Gideon kept himself in the loop, even paying quarry workers to notify him if they find anything of interest. 

Gideon attributes the initial discover of the "horn" to his wife, Mary Ann, who is also credited with the initial discovery of the teeth from which the Iguanodon was named. Mary Ann will have to go uncredited though, until Mantell's 1838 publication, The Wonders of Geology. Mantell describes the discovery such that the horn...
"...like the claw-bone, it was discovered imbedded in the conglomerate of Tilgate Forest."
I find it extremely interesting that the horn, eventually to be identified as the thumb spike, was discovered "like the claw-bone" of the Iguanodon. Such was the time that every little piece of bone became a publication, Mantell actually published a brief announcement on the discovery of the claws in 1829, however they contained no mention of the "horn". 

Mantell, it seemed, was determined to make the Iguanodon into a giant replica of the modern day iguana. Mantell's description of the horn leads the reader to believe that this horn must have been another indication that the Iguanodon really was just a giant iguana. 
"The nature of this extraordinary fossil was for some time undetermined ; and it is to the discrimination of Mr. Pentland, whose high attainments in comparative anatomy are well known, that we are indebted for the suggestion that it probably belonged to a saurian animal. It is well known that some reptiles of that order have bony or horny projections on their foreheads ; and it is not a little curious, that, among the Iguanas, the horned species most prevail. The Iguana cornuta, which is a native of Saint Domingo, resembles the common Iguana in size, colour, and general proportions; on the front of the head, between the eyes and nostrils, are seated four rather large, scaly, tubercles; behind which rises an osseous conical horn, or process, covered by a single scale. That our fossil was such an appendage, there can be no doubt; and its surface bears marks of the impression of an integument by which it was covered, and probably attached to the skull. This fact establishes another remarkable analogy between the Iguanodon, and the animal from which its name is derived."
The original illustration of the Iguanodon's "horn" from Mantell's
1833 book, The Geology of the South-East of England 
Even with the discovery of various bits and pieces of the skeleton over the years, from the teeth to the "horn", Mantell was still hesitant to provide anyone with an illustration of the Iguanodon by this point in 1833. That will come in the near future with a discovery that Mantell will be unable to restrain himself from speculating on what the Iguanodon looked like in real life.