Throughout the past two hundred years a number of people have played important roles in the discovery of dinosaur fossils. Some of these people were scientists, whose field was later called “Paleontology”, many great discoveries were made by regular people who hunted for fossils in their spare time, or stumbled across them quite accidentally.
Let us look at some of the early fossil hunters, they are listed below according to the time lines of their discoveries, the oldest being first.
Reverend Robert Plot. In 1676 he discovered a huge bone, probably the femur of a dinosaur, however due to his relationship with the English church he insisted the bone had to have belonged to a giant human, one who had been killed during “the flood”.
Mary Anning (1799 -1847). Even as a young girl she was fascinated by fossils and is credited with discovering many marine animals such as plesiosaur, and Icthyosaurus. In fact she supported her family in England by selling many of her fossil finds.
William Buckland. (1784-1856). His most well known discovery was in 1824 when he found some knife like teeth, clearly belonging to a great predator. He named the beast “Megalosaurus”. Although they were not called dinosaurs at that time, he is credited with writing the first account of a dinosaur.
Gideon Mantell. (1831- 1899). In 1822 as an early fossil hunter, either he, or his wife, found some teeth jutting up along a roadway in Sussex, South East England. Mr. Mantell was also an active collector who purchased finds made by others to advance his own knowledge and studies. He named four dinosaurs, including Iguanodon, whom the teeth belonged to.
Sir Richard Owen. (1804-1892). He is credited with coining the term “Dinosaur” from the Greek, roughly meaning “Terrible-Lizard”. Although he went on to name and describe over a dozen dinosaurs, he is also is known for making several mistakes, including the wrong assembly for Mantell’s Iguanodon, and trying to claim Mantell’s find as his own.
Joseph Leidy. (1823-1891). Although he did excavate, and name, many dinosaurs, such as Hadrosaurus in 1858, he is best known for his knowledge in discovering many prehistoric mammals such as the extinct sloths, tigers, camels, and horses.
Edward Drinker Cope. (1840-1897). This man was a very successful fossil hunter in North America, he and a rival at the time, Othneil Marsh, started “the Bone Wars” a not-so-friendly competition to see who could gather the most fossils. They did not exchange information and this resulted in some duplications of identified species, such as the Brontosaurus, one of Cope’s finds.
Othneil, Charles Marsh (1831-1899). He found and named hundreds of North American dinosaurs, and like Cope (above) worked primarily in the American west. Both Marsh, and Cope, had numerous people working for them in their search for more fossils.
Joseph Tyrell. (1858-1957). In 1884, while working as a geologist, he discovered one of the largest finds in North America, this being in south east, Alberta, Canada, in an area known as “the Badlands”.
Earl Douglas. (1862-1931). In 1909 he found one of the richest dinosaur deposits in the United States, now referred to as Dinosaur National Monument, in Utah, it boasts over 350 tons of dinosaur fossils.
Barnum Brown. (1873-1963). He is the finder of one of the most recognized dinosaurs ever in popular culture, the T. Rex. As a fossil hunter he also discovered many other species including Ankylosaurus.
Roy Chapman Andrews. (1884-1960). An American fossil hunter, he lead many expeditions to the Gobi dessert, where five new species, including Velociraptor was found. They also found the first fossilized dinosaur eggs.
Alexander Wetmore. (1886-1978). His specialty was studying fossilized birds.
Roland Bird. (1899-1978) Although he found other fossils in the United States, his claim to fame was the 1938 find of what became known as the Glen Rose Trackway, a set of 105 million year old dinosaur footprints in Texas.
These are only a handful of the important people who have found or studied fossils to better our knowledge of the past. There are still many more amazing things waiting to be discovered or learned, by whom remains to be seen.