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Naming the Bristol dinosaur, Thecodontosaurus

Three dinosaurs were reported from 1824 to 1842, Megalosaurus Buckland, 1824, Iguanodon Mantell, 1825, and Hylaeosaurus Mantell, 1833, the latter being the year in which Richard Owen named the 'Dinosauria'. The fourth dinosaur ever named was Thecodontosaurus, based on numerous isolated bones from Late Triassic cave deposits, excavated in 1834 from a working limestone quarry in Bristol in south-west England. The genus was named in 1836, and it was the first dinosaur ever reported from the Triassic.

The remains were shown first to Samuel Stutchbury, curator of the museum of the Bristol Institution. He recruited the noted Bristol surgeon and anatomist Henry Riley to assist in interpreting the bones, but local amateur geologist, the Reverend David Williams, was competing to be the first to report the fossils.

The squabble between Stutchbury and Williams has now been reconstructed from manuscript letters, and it highlights the clash between individuals, but also between supposed professionals and amateurs in these early days of the development of geology and palaeontology as sciences.

The paper

Benton, M.J. 2012. Naming the Bristol dinosaur, Thecodontosaurus: politics and science in the 1830s. Proceedings of the Geologists' Association 124, online ahead of print (doi: 10.1016/j.pgeola.2012.07.012). Download pdf.

One of the two original plates from Riley and Stutchbury's (1840) description of Thecodontosaurus, showing the type lower jaw (top left), teeth (top right), a partial ilium (lower left), vertebrae (lower right), and a rib (bottom).

Dicynodon Illustration courtesy of John Sibbick.
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