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. 


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