The Anglo/ US link

Mantell had a long (over 20 years) correspondence with American Benjamin Silliman (1779— 1864), geologist and chemist who founded the American Journal of Science. For many years known simply as Silliman’s Journal, an important outlet for American scientific papers, still exists and is now devoted to geology alone. Silliman taught at Yale University in New Haven, Conn. USA 1802 -1853 and developed his thoughts on geology and deep time through their letters.

Mantell and Silliman eventually met as “old familiar friends” in 1851 and Mantell took him to the Isle of Wight, they took a stroll around Lewes and also visited the Crystal Palace Great Exhibition and the British Museum. They parted on 31 August, for ever and Mantell died the following year.


Silliman pictured here around the time of his visit wrote up his trip in A Visit to Europe in 1851 (2 vols USA 1853)

Their correspondence is lodged at Alexander Turnbull Library in New Zealand [location] along with much of Mantell’s papers on his death in 1852; sent there by his younger son Reginald for the safekeeping of older son Walter who had emigrated there.

The early fossilised discoveries made by Mantell,  William Buckland, William Conybeare and of course Mary Anning’s Ichthyosaurs were all made in the UK. The stories of these early palaeontologists are told in the Dinosaur Hunters by Deborah Cadbury London; Fourth Estate, 2000 and in The Dragon Seekers by Christopher McGowan Abacus 2003 amongst others.

The creation of the Crystal Palace dinosaurs however led on to more discoveries and attempts at depictions of what they would have looked like in Belgium and the USA. The story of these further developments are described in this blog here  The Transatlantic Connection: Dinosaurs after the Crystal Palace by Richard Fallon.



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Walk with Dinosaurs talk

There’s a chance to find out more about the park in South London where you can Walk with Dinosaurs – although these are not as we imagine them now. These Dinosaurs were ‘given flesh’ in the first attempt at three-dimensional life-like reconstructions when they formed the centrepieces of Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins’s inspired Crystal Palace geological islands. More here


Ellinor Michel chair of the Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs will speak in Lewes for the Gideon Mantell Memorial Lecture* about the challenges and  importance of these models. She is a taxonomist and evolutionary biologist at the Natural History Museum.

Date of talk Friday 9 February 2018 7.30pm at the Linklater Pavilion, Railway Lane, Lewes BN7 2FG. Entry £3. Contact for more information debby.matthews[at]

* Mantell was born in St Mary’s Lane Lewes on 3 February 1790 and spent much of his life in Lewes as doctor, geologist, early palaeontologist and writer. Every year around this time we invite a speaker on a related theme to present a talk.

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Recording the Lewes Avalanche 1836

Mantell was living in Brighton when the terrible snow storms of Christmas 1836 swept across Europe. The winds created a large crest of snow on the chalk cliffs above South Street in Lewes. On Boxing Day this fell and completely smashed the houses in Boulder Row. He records the event in his diary. The full account can be read in the Sussex County Magazine i (1927) pp70-74, 598


Snowdrop Mantell was Poor Law doctor while in Lewes and would have known and tended to those who lived in the poor houses on Boulder Row.

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Lewes Fossil Festival write up

Around 150 children plus parents and other adults attended the all day event at the Linklater Pavilion on Sunday. Time was spent making paper Pterodactyls, painting model Ammonites, dino biscuit icing and following the Treasure Hunt around the Railway Land Nature Reserve.

We had fossils on display and people on hand to talk about them, and some people brought their own ones in to show. Cllr Graham Mayhew is pictured here with Laura McLennan from the University of Derby geology faculty who brought with her fossils to handle and to be on hand to talk to people. Laura was introduced to the festival by the Lewes STEMfest which encourages all things Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathemats aimed at children and families


Children’s author Nicky Dee held sway for two sessions of story telling and introducing her new book Bone Wars. Later on children also attended two sessions from story teller Jane Terry, who also provided the dino biscuits and icing activity, on The Trouble with Trilobites.

And the giant dinosaur skeleton hidden in his underground cave stole the show. Many thanks to Carinan, Katherine and co. for the model


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Mantellisaurus atherfieldensis

It is now accepted that there were different types of Iguanodontids ie dinosaurs with teeth that look like those of the Iguana. This early plant eating creature whose remains had been found around the south of England was identified as Iguanodon and first publicised by Mantell in a letter to Davies Gilbert who read it to the Royal Society of London on 10 Feb 1825 entitled “Notice on the Iguanodon, a newly discovered fossil reptile from the sandstone of Tilgate Forest” This made Iguanodon the second land dinosaur to be named (after Megalosaurus).


It has been assumed that there were two species of Iguanodon – a larger form called Iguanodon bernissartensis, from remains found in a coal mine in Belgium, and a more graceful species called Iguanodon atherfieldensis, more common in southern England.  Although there may have been other sub species as they lived from the late Jurassic through to the late Cretaceous. This latter has now been renamed Mantellisaurus atherfieldensis after Mantell.

See here for the background story of the discovery of these dinosaurs

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Lewes Fossil Festival programme

A5 backFossil Festival flyer

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August 3, 2017 · 5:07 pm

Georgian Dragon

This Harvey’s Brewery beer is a seasonal brew celebrating England’s Father of Palaeontology. In 1821, Lewes doctor and fossil collector Gideon Mantell’s understanding of fossilised Iguanodon teeth, discovered in a Sussex quarry, heralded the start of the classification of prehistoric reptiles. Ruby in colour with a fruity aroma and a sustained, lingering bitterness

Allergy Advice: Contains Barley
ABV: 4.7%
Tasting Note: Ruby Ale with Pioneer hops. A hint of fruitcake.

This beer comes out in time for St George’s Day on 23 April.


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