February 20th

1824 – Buckland Presents Megalosaurus

On this date in 1824, the world changed. Reverend William Buckland presented a paper to the Geological Society that outlined the discovery of mysterious bones in the English countryside. The paper was entitled “Notice on the Megalosaurus or Great Fossil Lizard of Stonesfield” and it is historically important because it represents the first scientific description of what would come to be known as a dinosaur.

William Buckland
William Buckland / Wikimedia Commons

Buckland’s descriptions of the gargantuan bones are tentative. He wrote “…in the hope that, imperfect as are the present materials, their communication to the public may induce those who possess other parts of the same reptile, to transmit to the Society such further information as may lead to a more complete elucidation of its osteology.”

Having not a great deal of information on which to base his ideas, Buckland estimated his Megalosaurus to be sixty to seventy feet long and its height to be that of the largest elephants. We now know much more about Megalosaurus and recognize it as a bipedal carnivorous animal that bears no small resemblance to famous dinosaurs like Allosaurus and Tyrannosaurus–though it was well shy of 60 feet long. Surviving illustrations show the various parts of the skeleton Buckland had discovered, along with a very haunting lower jaw fragment.

Megalosaurus Jaw Illustration
Megalosaurus Jaw / Wikimedia Commons

This first description of a dinosaur marks the official start of humanity’s fascination with the great animals of the Mesozoic. In sounding the starting gun in the race for the past, William Buckland secured for himself and Megalosaurus a place in scientific history.

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