Gideon Mantell’s life was full of exploration and learning and he wrote and published about it extensively but one mystery remains; who actually found the original iguanodon tooth? The story goes that Mary Ann Mantell accompanied her husband Gideon on a journey one day in 1822 and while he was visiting one of his patients she spotted a strangely coloured item by the road side in a pile of stones left by some road builders. She immediatly spotted the significance and showed it to her husband who went on to publish the find as evidence of a giant land lizard the Iguano-don (tooth of an iguana) in 1825. He later changed the story to being “found by me”. We know that later on Gideon and his wife separated; with her leaving him and her children, possibly exasperated by his obsessions with ancient stones and bones. Was she written out of the history books or is there a different explanation? Anthony Booth of West Sussex Geological Society gave a talk on Tuesday 24th February 2015 at Council Chamber, Lewes Town Hall looking for a different explanation. By delving into the sources such as Mantell’s published and unpublished diaries he attempted to discover whether Mantell was already in posession of fossil “teeth” before the date of the supposed original find.At the close of the talk he asked the people present for a show of hands. Most in the room were still for Mary Mantell – after all why would Gideon have lied when he wrote himself that “the first specimens of the teeth were found by Mrs Mantell in the course conglomerate of the forest”. See Mantell’s Illustrations of Geology of Sussex 1822 Vol 1 p 54 nos 40, 41.The fossils of the South Downs, or, Illustrations of the geology of Sussex pages 54-55. The illustrations of the first teeth found that appear in the publication were produced by Mary Ann Mantell. The case against this explanation was not therefore proven. However whatever the actual truths the whole story of the finding, identifying and naming of the first known land dinosaur is still of major national and international importance.
The actual tooth is kept in the Te Papa museum in New Zealand where the Mantells’ eldest son Walter emigrated to and who received many of the Mantell papers and artefacts after Gideon’s death. See a description of it at http://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/topic/2166