Thursday, August 26, 2010

An Iguanodon Rampant

Dinosaur buses
Photo from Boxley, via Flickr

You would think that a civic coat of arms featuring a dinosaur, the only one in the world, would be fairly well-represented on the web. Not so. The above photo, taken from the side of a bus, is the only one I could find of the coat of arms of Maidstone, a small town in Kent. A British site dedicated to collecting images of civic heraldry does feature a drawing of it, but angry red letters warn me not to use it without permission. I'm neither inclined to write to the borough government for permission nor to invoke their wrath by ganking it, so feel free to take a look at it here; scroll down approximately 2/5 of the way down the page to view it.

Sure enough, what you're seeing is an Iguanodon on the left hand side of the crest. In 1834, the bones of an Iguanodon were discovered in a local quarry owned by W.H. Bensted, who proceeded to collect the bits that had been blasted out by his workmen and chisel the rest out of the limestone encasing them.

Thought to be the remains of an antediluvian giant, they were properly identified as belonging to Iguanodon by the world's foremost authority on the creature, to whom Bensted summarily sold the bones. Dr. Gideon Mantell, who had described and named the giant herbivorous saurian nearly ten years earlier, paid £25 for the bones, which he then described. Mind you, at the time of the Maidstone discovery, eight more years would have to pass before Sir Richard Owen would name Iguanodon and its Mesozoic kin the Dinosauria. The Maidstone find was the one that positively connected the titular teeth of Iguanodon with other skeletal remains, adding much to our knowledge of the animal, though there was still a long way to go. In a correspondence to the American Journal of Arts and Science, Mantell himself estimated that in life, his great herbivore would have been 75 feet long, a measurement which has been cut down by more than half since then.

Soon after this discovery came one of the earliest literary references to a dinosaur I've found. It comes from the poem Poetical Epistle - The Grand Kentucky Balloon, published in New Monthly Magazine in 1837. It tells the tale of a balloon flight that goes awry; after "piercing... night's topmost atmosphere," the narrator falls asleep and dreams that the constellations come to life:
The roaring Lion, rushing from his lair
Lifted his paw and bared his snarling teeth;
Up, with a growl appalling, sprung the Bear;
The hissing Serpent darting, from his wreath,
Transfix'd me with his eyeballs' fiery glare;
And all the forms I saw--(I'm here beneath
The mark) were ten times bigger, every one,
Than Doctor Mantell's famed Iguanodon
A smidgen more than a century later, Maidstone would commemorate its place in the history of paleontology by placing its famous dinosaur on its coat of arms.

3 comments:

  1. Cool! But I wonder, with all the splitting going on, would the Maidstone specimens still be considered Iguanodon, or one of the newer genera?

    ReplyDelete
  2. You are a sick man.

    Good question.

    But still, sick, sick man.

    ReplyDelete
  3. The Iguanodon is worthy of this honor.

    I've made a line of t-shirts for him in tribute:
    Who Doesn't Love the Iguanodon?

    ReplyDelete

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