Iguanodon bernissartensis

The enormous skeleton of the dinosaur named Iguanodon bernissartensis stands like a sentry guarding the entrance to the museum. This dinosaur has a long association with the Sedgwick Museum. The first teeth and bones of Iguanodon were discovered near the village of Cuckfield, West Sussex. It was the second dinosaur to be scientifically described, in November 1825. In the archives of the museum we have a letter sent on 26 October 1825 by Dr Gideon Mantell (the discoverer and describer of Iguanodon) to Professor Adam Sedgwick. The letter came with a parcel of specimens, including ... " casts of the best teeth of the Iguanodon in my collection; and of a horn (which you well doubtless remember) which the French [experts] declare is the bony base of a horn of a saurian animal – of course I shall claim it for the Iguanodon." Some of these original specimens are exhibited nearby.

Iguanodon proved vital to the scientific understanding of dinosaurs during the Victorian Era and, almost single-handedly, demonstrates how scientific ideas change or ‘evolve’ over time. When first described by Mantell, on the basis of just a few teeth and broken bones, Iguanodon was thought to be a gigantic herbivorous lizard-like creature (some estimates gave Iguanodon a body length of 60metres!). Two decades later (1842), after some more bones had been discovered, Richard Owen used his anatomical skills to suggest that Iguanodon resembled a giant rhinoceros-shaped reptile (life-sized models of which can, to this day, be seen in Crystal Palace Park, South London). Then, in 1878, an extraordinary discovery was made at a coal mine in the tiny village of Bernissart, Belgium: a treasure-trove of Iguanodon skeletons, many of which were complete and therefore allowed a much more accurate reconstruction of its appearance.

Louis Dollo (based in Brussels) described these dinosaur remains in the 1880s and kindly offered to Cambridge (through King Leopold II) a cast of one of the best Bernissart Iguanodon skeletons. The rearing pose of the animal conforms to Dollo’s original conception of the animal, but we now understand (through the work of a former Director of the Sedgwick Museum) that it would have normally walked with a more horizontal pose.

 
 


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Dec 20, 2018

How do you get thirty-six 8-11yr olds excited about science in museums? Give them a ‘crime scene’ and skills to solve the crime.


Dec 1, 2018

Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated expedition to the North-West Passage has often been in the news ever since he left England on the 19th May, 1845 never to return. Successive searches throughout the 19th century eventually found artefacts and human remains. But it was not until 2014 the wreck of Franklin’s ship, HMS Erebus was found and two years later the wreck of HMS Terror. Now the extraordinary story of HMS Erebus is receiving new publicity thanks to the publication of Michael Palin’s new book – ‘Erebus : the story of a ship’. Whilst the earliest searches did not find any traces of Franklin and his crew, one of them, led by Captain Kellett did find a superb mammoth tusk, which is now part of the Sedgwick Museum’s Ice Age display.