The first dinosaur

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One of the Museum’s most significant specimens is the iconic jaw bone fossil used in the first scientific description of a dinosaur – Megalosaurus – in 1824. For the latest in our Presenting… series of displays we are showing this ‘first dinosaur’ along with some archival material documenting its discovery and description.

The fossil was acquired by William Buckland (1784-1856), Reader in Geology at the University of Oxford, after being found in a slate quarry in Stonesfield, just a few miles north of this Museum. Buckland soon realised it was something out of the ordinary and showed it and other Stonesfield bones to comparative anatomist Georges Cuvier, who noted similarities with living lizards. The name Buckland chose, Megalosaurus, means ‘great lizard’.

The Presenting... display of Megalosaurus bucklandii, on show until 17 May.

The Presenting… display of Megalosaurus bucklandii, on show until 17 May 2015

Later, in 1842, Richard Owen coined the term ‘dinosaur’ to describe a group of animals including Megalosaurus and other recently found ‘great lizards’ such as Iguanodon.

The dentary bone was just the front half of the lower jaw. The blade-like, serrated teeth tell us that Megalosaurus was a meat eater. Its teeth were often damaged, worn out or lost in battles with prey or rivals. Fortunately, Megalosaurus could replace its teeth several times during its lifetime. In this specimen six of the teeth are only partially erupted, with two just emerging along the gum-line and only one fully erupted tooth remaining.

It is a mystery how this particular animal died. It may have been due to a lack of functional teeth, but it is also possible that many of the teeth fell out after death.

The single-case Presenting… display is located near to the Welcome Desk and the Megalosaurus material will be on show until 17 May – see it while you can. If you miss this, don’t worry as casts of the fossils are on permanent display in the main court.

These drawings, by William Buckland’s wife Mary Morland, featured in Buckland’s “Notice on the Megalosaurus or great Fossil Lizard of Stonesfield” in the Transactions of the Geological Society of London, Series 2, vol. 1, pp. 390-396.

These drawings, by William Buckland’s wife Mary Morland, featured in Buckland’s “Notice on the Megalosaurus or great Fossil Lizard of Stonesfield” in the Transactions of the Geological Society of London, Series 2, vol. 1, pp. 390-396.

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