Tuesday 26 February 2013

DINO SORE: Iguanodon, Iguanodon't

Sketch of the original K. tilgatensis jawbone

I happen to live in quite an interesting place, as far as paleontology goes. The science was basically invented in England, and a lot of discoveries happened in the south-east, down my way. Piltdown, home to the notorious hoax the Piltdown Man, is just a few miles east of me, while the south coast provided a host of fossils that were important to the developing field.

However, my favourite Sussex paleontological fact is the discovery of Iguanodon, in 1820, by Gideon Mantell (or possibly his wife, but that's a matter for debate and very old gossip). Iguanodon was discovered in Cuckfield, specifically in Whiteman's Green on the edge of Tilgate Forest. I, along with most of the people I went to school with, was born in Cuckfield, which is very, very close to where I live. Well, that original find, and even the slightly better one later in Maidstone, Kent, which was named Iguanodon anglicus, was some pretty scrappy material. Not much use for describing Iguanodon, so the type species, used as the basis for its description, was changed to Iguanodon bernissartensis, a later, much better, European find (it's the whole herd of them found in an old Belgian coalmine, which puts the English finds to shame).

Not how it actually looked.
This left I. anglicus in a bit of a funny position, and it's now considered a bit of an anomaly, and not really counted as 'proper' Iguanodon, even though it was the original discovery. Not good enough I say, but them's the breaks. I. anglicus is officially nomen dubium, although I will always consider Iguanodon to be the Cuckfield dinosaur. It was also only the second dinosaur scientifically named and described, after Megalosaurus and before Hylaeosaurus, the three genera which formed the basis for Richard Owen's new grouping, the Dinosauria.

However, sometime after I. anglicus was found, Mantell returned to Tilgate Forest found some more bones and teeth, but never got round to analysing them. So they sat in a museum storeroom for 150 years till some paleontologists got round to looking at them properly. They were almost certainly Iguanodon bones, but the 2010 scientists (Andrew MacDonald, Paul Barrett and Sandra Chapman) decided they couldn't name it as part of the now dubious I. anglicus. So they created a new genus for it, something which happens rather too frequently in paleontology. However, I just adore the name they chose for this genus and species: Kukufeldia tilgatensis. So Cuckfield is still recognised, back-translated to a thousand-year-old Middle English version, as the name of this version of Iguanodon. Which I think is pretty cool.

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