1790 – Happy Birthday Gideon Mantell
Gideon Mantell is the ultimate tragic hero in dinosaur paleontology. Mantell is best known for his discoveries of Iguanodon, which, along with Megalosaurus and Hylaeosaurus, was one of the first dinosaurs to be recognized in 19th century England.
Mantell was a country doctor but he was seduced by fossils and the world of gigantic reptiles that he spent nearly all of his waking hours imagining. He needed a larger house to accommodate his obsession and soon his wife, Mary, and their children left him to suffer through poor health alone.
Hoping to achieve a good name and a fortune through paleontology, Mantell did neither. But today, most people who know Mantell’s name know him for bringing the Iguanodon out of the shadows and being a pioneer in the study of dinosaurs, before they were even defined as a group. In a way, Mantell’s dream of becoming a famous, well-respected scientist and expert in dinosaurs came true–but not soon enough to save him.
After surviving a terrible carriage accident which left him with a spinal deformity, Mantell began self-medicating with opium. An overdose several years after the accident put Mantell into a coma which he did not survive. He had been forced to sell his fossil collection to the British Museum even before his wife left him, so Mantell’s final days seemed far from what they should have been for a man who had discovered 4 of the 5 dinosaurs then known.