People buried here
These fossil bones were found by Gideon and Maryann Mantel.
Gideon Mantell (1790-1852) was a British physician and natural historian. Like many medical men of his time, Mantell was deeply interested in geology and natural history. He is credited with the discovery of the remains of a large, fossil reptile resembling in some ways the modern iguana, which he named Iguanodon
. Mantell's fossil was, after Buckland's Megalosaurus
, the second large fossil reptile discovered and named, but Iguanodon was, if anything, even more striking to Mantell's contemporaries than was Buckland's find because Iguanodon's teeth suggested that it was herbivorous. All of the largest modern reptiles (e.g., crocodiles, anacondas, and komodo lizards) are carnivores, as was Megalosaurus
, but Iguanodon
was the first known large reptile that ate plants, and for this reason, it caused quite a stir in scientific circles.
Actually it was Gideon's wife, MaryAnn, who found the first Iguanodon
material. She had gone with her husband to Surrey to take a spring ride in the country while Gideon visited a patient. On her ride she noticed some strange tooth-shaped fossils in the gravel with which the road had recently been paved. She took these to show Gideon, and he was so intrigued by them, that he spent years searching local rock quarries for more specimens. The picture at left is a contemporary print of fossil bones being removed from a Surrey quarry. Mantell spent more time at England's universities and museums, in search of an answer to the riddle his fossils posed. At the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons in London, he finally found that his fossil teeth were closely similar, but much larger than those of a modern iguana. Hence Iguanodon
It is worthwhile noting that MaryAnn contributed more to this story than the first fossils. When Mantell published his description of his Iguanodon
material, it was MaryAnn who provided the many exquisite pen and ink sketches of the fossils that fill its pages. The picture shown at left is one of her drawings of the teeth that she had found lying in the road in Surrey. Although Gideon and MaryAnn appear to have made a formidable research team, their marriage was not a happy one. Eventually, Maryann became thoroughly exasperated by Gideon's overarching devotion to his work and his lack of interest in her, and she divorced him - a bold thing to do in the early 19th century.
Mantell reconstructed Iguanodon
as a four-legged lizard-like animal as depicted in his sketch figured at the left. He based this view on the sizes and shapes of the fossil bones that he had found, and on similarity to modern lizards. In fairness to Mantell, it should be noted that he did not have much of Iguanodon's
skeleton to work with. He did the best he could with the evidence he had available to him.
Sadly for Mantell, the rest of his life was anticlimactic: in 1838, he was forced by poverty to sell his fossil collection to the British Museum. In 1841 he was involved in a carriage accident which left him in persistent pain and feeling depressed. After a long illness he committed suicide in 1852 by taking an overdose of opium. The Natural History Museum purchased the remainder of his collection – they have over 25,000 of his specimens. Weirdly, one of Mantell's paleontological rivals, Richard Owen, got hold of Mantell's pickled spine after his death and displayed it in his museum! Owen, the coiner of the word "dinosaur", who never gave Mantell the credit he deserved, is also believed to have written an anonymous, damning obituary of Mantell after the latter's death. Mantell’s life and work is now recognised as of great importance.