It was the first dinosaur ever described scientifically and first theropod dinosaur discovered (this is all in hindsight, because the dinosaurs had not yet been recognized as a separate taxonomic group - the word dinosaur hadn't even been invented yet).
The first dinosaur models (life size and made of concrete) were made by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins of England in 1854. The first dinosaur used for amusement was a life-size model of an Iguanodon (made by Hawkins) that was used to house a dinner party for scientists (including Richard Owen) at a major exhibition. The invitations to the party were sent on fake pterodactyl wings. The party took place in London, England, in 1854
Other Early Dinosaur Finds
|Gideon A. Mantell (1790-1852) was another early British fossil hunter. He described and named Iguanodon, a duck-billed plant-eater (1825); Iguanodon's teeth and a few bones were found in 1822, perhaps by his wife, Mrs. Mary Mantell in Sussex, (southern) England. Gideon Mantell also named Hylaeosaurus, an armored plant-eater (1833) , and others.||
He had noticed that a group of fossils (which included remains of Megalosaurus, Iguanodon, and Hylaeosaurus) had certain characteristics in common, including:
This new taxonomic name, Dinosauria, and new group of reptiles was only the beginning of a great scientific exploration. Since Owen's time, about 330 dinosaur genera have been described. Every few months (sometimes every few weeks), a new species is unearthed (for recent finds, see Dino News). Paleontologists have varying estimates of how many dinosaur genera existed during the Mesozoic Era; estimates range from about 1,000 to over 10,000. Whatever this number really is, there are a lot of new dinosaurs left to discover!
The First Nearly-Complete Dinosaur Skeleton and First American Dinosaur
The first dinosaur fossil found in the US was a thigh bone found by Dr. Caspar Wistar, in Gloucester County, New Jersey, in 1787 (it has since been lost, but more fossils were later found in the area).
A Hadrosaur footprint.
The first nearly-complete dinosaur skeleton was discovered by William Parker Foulke. Foulke had heard of a discovery made by workmen in a Cretaceous marl (a crumbly type of soil) pit on the John E. Hopkins farm in Haddonfield, New Jersey beginning in 1838. Foulke heard of the discovery and recognized its importance in 1858. Unfortunately, some of the bones had already been removed by workmen. The skull-less dinosaur was excavated and named by US anatomist Joseph Leidy who named it Hadrosaurus fouki (meaning "Foulke's big lizard"). It was a duck-billed dinosaur (but it is now a doubtful genus because there is so little fossil information about it). The "Haddonfield Hadrosaurus" is on display at the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences.
Leidy's analysis of this Hadrosaur skeleton was thorough; from its anatomy, he wrote imaginitively about the dinosaur's way of life and its death. Leidy wrote, "Hadrosaurus was most probably amphibious; and though its remains were obtained from a marine deposit, the rarity of them in the latter leads us to suppose that those in our possession had been carried down the current of a river, upon whose banks the animals lived." (Quoted from J. Leidy, Account of the Remains of a Fossil Reptile Recently Discovered at Haddonfield, New Jersey. Proceedings Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, Dec. 14, 1858 pp.1-16.)
This study influenced the popular image of dinosaurs and dinosaur science for years. This beautiful skeleton made dinosaurs come to life in peoples' imaginations and spurred generations of paleontologists.
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