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Megalosaurus: The Door to New Worlds

The first dinosaur ever to be named was Megalosaurus. The first fossil to be “officially” discovered (England, 1676), Megalosaurus was believed to be a giant human. As the first dinosaur to be drawn, her thigh fossil was depicted as a piece of male anatomy by Robert Plot. This prompted Dr. Richard Brookes to name it “scrotum humanum” in 1763.

Meanwhile, Reverend William Buckland had different ideas about Megalosaurus. An avid fossil collector, Rev. Buckland realized that the bones he possessed were instead from an ancient animal. After reviewing Buckland’s collection, Baron George Cuvier said that the fossils were of a giant lizard creature. (Cuvier was the first scientist to realize that extinction occurs.) In 1824, Rev. Buckland wrote a scientific paper and named this “lizard,” Megalosaurus, which means “great lizard.”

In his paper, Rev. Buckland described Megalosaurus as a giant land-living reptile who lived in the ancient past. According to him, She was a fifty foot (about 16 meters) long lizard, who walked on all fours. After examining her teeth, Rev. Buckland said that She was a meat eater. His reasoning was that Megalosaurus had sharp teeth like a monitor lizard.

Then in 1842, British scientist Richard Owen was pondering just what were Megalosaurus, Iguanodon, and Hylaeosaurus (an ankylosaur). These were all recent discoveries of extinct animals. Owen noted that their fossils were different from any other reptile living or from the past. Their legs were directly underneath their bodies, unlike modern lizards. Also they had extra bones in their hips. Owen grouped these three animals into their own family – Dinosauria (deinous means “terrible,” and sauros means “lizard”). 

Later Owen decided to present Megalosaurus and her friends to the public. He had “life-sized” sculptures placed at the Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851, which being held in London. Megalosaurus was depicted as a lizard walking on four legs, with a crocodile-shaped head and a hump on her back. After seeing this sculpture, Charles Dickens described Her in his novel “Bleak House.” (This was the first mention of a dinosaur in literature.)

Despite being the first named dinosaur, Megalosaurus is still relatively unknown. Rev. Buckland’s collection had contained fossils of different families of dinosaurs. Scientists first had to sift through his collection to determine which fossils belonged to what dinosaur. As more complete skeletons were found for other dinosaurs, scientists could begin to identify the bones of Megalosaurus

Who was Megalosaurus? She looked nothing like Owen’s sculpture. Related to the ferocious Spinosaurus, Megalosaurus walked on two legs and hunted large sauropods. Her thick muscular legs allowed Megalosaurus to run fast for short distances. In this way, She could ambush and charge her prey. Also, She had large powerful jaws and long sharp teeth. Using them, Megalosaurus ripped off chunks of meat for her meal.

Megalosaurus opens the door to mystery, inviting people to walk through. Once people discovered her bones, they entered an ancient world, they never knew existed. She prompted them to consider new and strange animals. Through Megalosaurus, the world of dinosaurs came to life. Follow Her in and leave your old ideas behind.

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Virginia Carper, a Roman Polytheist, lives in the Washington D.C. area with her family. She navigates life with a traumatic brain injury which gives her a different view on life. An avid naturalist since childhood, she has a blog called “Nature’s Observations.” Having experienced the animals directly, she teaches on-line classes about the spiritual and natural aspect of animals. She has published articles on her brain injury, Roman polytheism, and working with extinct animals. In addition her writings on animals (including dragons and other mythic creatures) can be purchased her book site, Animal Teachers.  

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