In 1825, Gideon Mantell described fossil teeth and bones from a quarry near Cuckfield in Sussex, England. He named these remains ‘Iguanodon’ meaning ‘having teeth like those of an Iguana’ (a lizard), but he correctly determined that they were quite unlike the teeth of any known lizard or mammal.
He is credited with being the first person to recognise the prior existence of a group of animals that were neither mammal nor lizard and that were subsequently named ‘dinosaurs’ in 1842 (by Richard Owen).
Dr Hamish Campbell writes about Gideon Mantell below:
Gideon Mantell (1790-1852) lived in Lewes near Brighton where he practised as a doctor. He enjoyed a reputation as an outstandingly successful obstetrician; very few mothers or babies lost their lives due to childbirth when he was involved. He was highly intelligent, well-educated and a skilled artisan. However, to the detriment of his marriage (1816-1839) to Mary Anne, he developed an abiding interest in natural history and, in particular, paleontology.
On his death, his sons inherited his estate but it was the younger Walter Mantell who ultimately acquired many of his father’s fossil collections, including the famous ‘Iguanodon tooth’ that resides here at Te Papa.
Walter first came to New Zealand in 1839 with the New Zealand Company. He was to spend much of his adult life here and played a significant role in the early colonial development of New Zealand, including the establishment of the Colonial Museum, the original fore-runner to Te Papa. Many descendents of Walter Mantell reside in New Zealand to this day.