Geology And Geophysics

Biography Gideon Mantell

Geo-Evolution's image for:
"Biography Gideon Mantell"
Image by: 

Gideon Mantell, an early geologist, made many notable accomplishments, even when some of the world tried to deny his work. He expressed his geological accomplishments through various literary works including scientific papers and books. Even though some societies took him in as one of their own, Mantell was faced with frequent issues that were not limited to scientific difficulties. His problems leaked into his domestic life, disrupting his family and home.

Gideon Algernon Mantell was born in Southeast England in 1780. He became interested in geology and oryctology, now called paleontology, at an early age when he discovered his first fossil, an ammonite, at a rough age of 12 or 13 (Dean 19-20). Later apprenticed to surgeon James Moore in February 4, 1805, Mantell became a well known surgeon who balanced his illustrious career with his love for geology until his sad death in 1852 (Dean 11).

Throughout Gideon's lifetime, he found and identified many new species of animals. He is remembered mostly for his work done with Iguanodon, which is said to be the first dinosaur correctly identified, but not necessarily found (Dean 4). Mantell was not limited to finding just this one beast. He also found specimens of Hylaeosaurus, the first armor plated animal found, Megalosaurus, a carnivorous dinosaur, and also various specimens of Cetioaurus, Pelorosaurs, Regnosaurus, and Hypsilophodon (Encyclopedia 1). All these dinosaurs were discovered and identified as large extinct reptiles by Mantell. What makes this commendable is with his identification of Iguanodon, which he said was a large herbivorous reptile. This was a new and radical idea because there are no known living herbivorous reptiles and the thought that there may have been one in the past, and at such sizes, was inconceivable to most people, even the well respected Baron Cuvier (Cadbury 99). Mantell was a true scientist however; he continued to pursue his ideas until he gathered enough information to prove that the teeth he showed the Baron belonged to an Iguanodon and not a rhinoceros as it was first suspected. Mantell's work and determination paid off when he proved the infamous Cuvier wrong and received generous confirmation from him on June 2nd, 1824 (Cadbury 116). His exceptional work with dinosaurs did not end at identifying them as new species. Mantell should also be applauded for the fact that "he was the first researcher to place living dinosaurs within their real environment" (Dean 5). Mantell's discoveries were not limited to just large reptilian animals though. His work in the field revealed many new species of mollusks, fishes, insects, sponges, plants and even foraminifera (Dean 5). This just goes to show the extent of his knowledge of geology and paleontology. Among Mantell's finds was a relatively large ammonite which was later named after him being called, Ammonites manteli (Dean 28). These are many examples as to how Mantell made countless accomplishments in the field. His accomplishments were not limited to uncovering new specimens however.

Mantell, though a great contributor to geology with his hammer, was no less as great a contributor with his words. Among the many literary books and papers Mantell wrote during his extended career, arguably one of his best works was The Fossils of South Downs also called Illustrations of the Geology of Sussex which was published in 1822. In this book, Gideon included an extensive list of as many fossils located in the areas that he knew of and also incorporated over forty plates which showed illustrations of many of the mentioned fossils. Mantell's book did not end with just mentioning fossils; he also integrated a complete understanding of the stratigraphy, the study of rock strata, of the Sussex area as he knew it to be. His book, which was a respectable 328 pages, was printed by his brother-in-law and was purchased by many people, including the King himself. However, despite the fact that the book was of immense scientific value, Gideon failed to sell a suitable amount of copies and in the end was forced to face the fact that his endeavor cost him more money than he could bring in (Dean 45). Other books written by Mantell include The Medals of Creation a two volume set which was published in 1884, The Wonders of Geology printed in 1938, and Thoughts on Animalcules which was put into print in 1850 (Encyclopedia 1). Mantell also wrote various scientific papers such as "On the Extraneous Fossils found in the Neighborhood vicinity of Lewes" which included fossils that could be found around the Lewes area, much like his other book did (Dean 24). Though his publications were many and the work immeasurable, his attempts at getting his works published was no small feat either. He was often forced to wait a vast amount of time before the scientific societies would even look at his works. On many occasions, it would be years before some of his papers would finally meet the press (Cadbury 93). The fact that Mantell kept trying to write more papers and spread the knowledge to the scientific world and the public, even when he was continuously denied print or suffered from writing expenses, is an extraordinary show of perseverance. Having difficulty getting papers published would end up being the least of Gideon's troubles.

Mantell's achievements surely aroused praise from various people in the science world, but as in most situations, there were some who worked to disprove and or discredit him. Most of the time the opposition came from fellow researchers who just wanted to make sure the facts were straight. One good example of this is when the Baron dismissed the Iguanodon teeth as merely belonging to a dead rhinoceros (Cadbury 99). There are other incidents too, for example, researchers such as William Buckland had trouble accepting the ideas and theories presented by Mantell due to the fact that he was educated as a surgeon and had no educational background in the geological sciences. This kind of hesitation led to the prevention of Mantell's admission into the Geological Society of London and the Royal Society in London; he did however become a member of these at later dates (Cadbury 89). The fact that Gideon was granted membership into these two distinguished societies is not necessarily the reason why his life should be remembered, rather, he should be remembered for how he obtained membership. He did not get in by giving up when rejection after rejection came in. Instead, Gideon worked hard to learn everything he could about his specimens and he wrote letter after letter and article after article. He did all this through his love for geology and his determination to be successful and for this reason Gideon deserves to be remembered and respected.

Not all the people who opposed the ideas Gideon presented did it out of hope to benefit the science, rather, they did it for personal gain. The person who challenged Mantell through the final years of his life was the renowned Richard Owens. Owens, known primarily for coining the term dinosauria, was a young sleazy researcher who throughout his career, belittled others and stole their work for the sole purpose to benefit himself. During the time that Owens was ascending to the top science positions in England, he continued to try to discredit Mantell, however, the harder he tried the more determined Gideon was to get the right information to the science world and to the public. He gained so much respect that friends and fellow scientists defended his name from Owens even after Mantell died (Dean 239). This kind of respect can only be given to a person who was truly loved and really made a positive difference during their life, and Mantell was that person.

Mantell had a third hindrance during his life and career as a geologist, but it occurred at the core of his life, his home. His geological hobby caused his family much distress due to the fact that it ruled his life and house. Mantell's fossils filled every nook and cranny in their small home and caused them to move to Brighton to a house that was larger and more suitable for the collection he possessed. This caused more problems than any of them could foresee. Gideon had trouble getting new patients in the town and the lack of income caused much difficulty when it came to paying for the large expensive house. Gideon tried to make up the money by lecturing on geology and fossils, and for a while it worked and he became well known for his ability to lecture, but in the end, he could not raise enough money to keep up with payments. The result was that Gideon's wife left with some of the kids, leaving him alone with his youngest daughter Hannah. Gideon was forced to sell his house and collection of fossils and move to London where he, for a time, forgot the science which brought him both happiness, and despair. It was not until after his daughter Hannah got sick and later died (Cadbury 224) did Gideon drag himself out of his self-pity and returned to his love for geology. It was then that he made his greatest accomplishments, overcoming intolerable grief and challenging the person who tried to make all he worked for useless. It was during this time of grief and turmoil that Gideon learned the most about his friend the Iguanodon and will be granted the honor of the Royal Medal in 1849 (Encyclopedia 1). Mantell persevered.

Gideon Mantell was truly a gentleman of science who worked tirelessly to better the understanding of geology. His determination and love for knowledge allowed him to push aside the numerous challenges which would have crushed a man of weaker heart. It is for this undying determination that he should be remembered, along with his ability to make extraordinary contributions to science when all odds were against him. Mantell is beyond doubt a life worth knowing.

Works Citied

Mantell, Gideon Algernon (1790-1852)." Encyclopedia Americana. 2006. Grolier Online. 29 March 2006 .

Cadbury, Deborah. Terrible Lizard. New York City: Henry Holt and Company, 2001.

Dean, Dennis. Gideon Mantell and the Discovery of Dinosaurs. New York City: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

More about this author: Geo-Evolution

From Around the Web