Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Darwin and the First Dinosaur Hunters

I found a very interesting article on Livescience today. Here are some neat excerpts:

Dinosaurs feature prominently among the Transactions, including several papers by Rev. William Buckland, who became the Society’s president in 1824. These include the first full description of a dinosaur, developed from lower jaw bones found at quarries near Oxford from a creature he named "Megalosaurus," and published in the Transactions in 1824 under the heading "Notice on the Megalosaurus or great Fossil Lizard of Stonesfield." Megalosaurs were carnivorous theropod dinosaurs. Buckland’s interest in dinosaur remains included more than bones. He also carried out a large amount of research into dinosaur coprolites, more commonly known as dung, much of which was published in the pages of the Transactions.

His 1829 paper, "On the Discovery of Coprolites, or Fossil Faeces, in the Lias at Lyme Regis," states that they have "undergone no process of rolling, but retain their natural form, as if they had fallen from the animal into soft mud, and there been preserved," later comparing them to "oblong pebbles or kidney-potatoes."

Dinosaur coprolites are so common that many people sell and collect them today. Of coprolites suspected to be from Ichthyosaurs (large marine reptiles that looked like fish and dolphins), Buckland notes that they seem to contain the bones of other Ichthyosaurs, suggesting that "these monsters of the ancient deep, like many of their successors in our modern oceans, may have devoured the smaller and weaker individuals of their own species."

Like many of the papers, this one contains references to Mary Anning, the famous fossil hunter of Lyme Regis. Elsewhere Buckland credits her directly with the discovery of a new species of Pterodactyl at Lime Regis in 1829, although the paper is published under his own name.

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