Iguanodon tooth – Tales from Te Papa episode 12


can you imagine what a dinosaur looks
like? Well of course you can. So it’s hard to
imagine that for most of our history people had no idea
that dinosaurs even existed. That for hundreds of millions of years the
earth was ruled by these huge creatures they wouldn’t have thought it was
possible. And what it took to change that was a very unusual tooth, found by a very
unusual English woman. Dr Hamish Campbell: To me this is I think one of the most valuable objects
that we have here at Te Papa. In terms of the history and philosophy of science it is immensely valuable. So this is a fossil, and it was
collected in 1820, in Southern England, in Sussex. This is considered to be the very first
fossil to be recognised as dinosaur it was found by, allegedly the wife of Gideon Mantell, who was a country
doctor. They lived Lewis near
Brighton, and this particular tooth was found by
Mary Ann Mantell, so we are told. When she and her husband were visiting a quarry some twenty to thirty miles away at Cook
Field, on the way to London. Gideon Mantell – Mary Ann’s husband, had an
abiding interest in fossil bones and fossil teeth and he
worked out that this belongs to no known mammal or lizard, therefore he considered this
to be utterly different and he named it ‘Iguanodon’ which means tooth like an iguana which is a lizard
from the Caribbean that he was familiar with.
Iguana are actually relatively small lizards whereas this belongs to some animal that
would have been perhaps eight meters. This was not the only fossil discovered
from this quarry, so other fossil bones and also teeth were discovered,
so there was quite a bit material to work with. And this was described in1825 by Gideon Mantell and only subsequently in 1842 was the
name dinosaur actually coined by Richard Owen, another famous biologist of the day. But this really kick-started the whole interest and study of dinosaurs. It’s immensely important, what have dinosaurs given to humanity? They have given us the
concept of extinction. This idea that there had been life forms, that have been and gone completely. It could be described as a true Holy Grail of Natural Science. So for all
those people who are interested in dinosaurs – and I’ve never met anybody who wasn’t, this must be one of the most
significant finds, and one of the most significant objects on the planet.

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