Book of the Month – A Pictorial Atlas of Fossil Remains

Posted by Tenby Museum on Oct 3, 2017 Blog No Comments

October’s book of the month from the museum research library is Dr G.A. Mantell’s A Pictorial Atlas of Fossil Remains, published in 1850, complete with various coloured illustrations.

Gideon Algernon Mantell lived in Lewes in East Sussex, where he practiced as a doctor, specialising in obstetrics. He also dedicated himself to geology (he was Vice President of the Geological Society), finding bones of gigantic animals as early as 1820 and he published his first book, The Fossils of South Downs or Illustrations of the Geology of Sussex the following year.

A letter dated May 1839 from Charles Darwin in his capacity as secretary of the Geological Society also showed Mantell’s devotion to the subject. Yet it was the discovery of a huge tooth, which Mantell believed belonged to a Mesozoic mammal, that really made his name even though the tooth proved controversial.

Other scientists dismissed it, believing his theory lacked scientific bite and many attributed the find as belonging to a rhinoceros. Yet Mantell persevered with his theory and against the discouragement of the Geological Society of London proved the tooth to belong to an herbivorous reptile, a discovery virtually unheard of in England. Mantell estimated the length of the partially bipedal dinosaur, Iguanodon, of being up to 100 feet (30.48 metres).

The book, published only two years before his death in 1852, features seventy-four full page plates of fossil finds, with many of the plates showing numerous specimens. There are nearly 900 figures in total. The illustrations are selected from James Parkinson’s Organic Remains of a Former World (published in 1804) and Edward Tyrell Artis’ Antediluvian Phytology (published in 1826).

Mantell provided a description of each of these finds, giving details such as the nomenclature, find location and age. The plates retain their freshness today.