fossil creatures: as gigantic lizards.
Yet 1809 was a remarkably opportune moment for such a discovery to be made. Realist walking dinosaur costume Things were happening in Europe in the branch of science concerned with fossils and their meaning. One of the greatest and most influential scientists of this age, Georges Cuvier (1769-1832), was a ‘naturalist’ working in Paris and an administrator in the Emperor Napoleon’s government. ‘Naturalist’ was, in these times, a broad category denoting the philosopher-scientist who worked on a wide range of subjects associated with the natural world: the Earth, its rocks and minerals, fossils, and all living organisms. In 1808, Animatronic dinosaur model Cuvier redescribed a renowned gigantic fossil reptile collected from a chalk quarry at Maastricht in Holland; its renown stemmed from the fact that it had been claimed as a trophy of war during the siege of Maastricht in 1795 by Napoleon’s army. The creature, originally mistaken for a crocodile, was identified correctly by Cuvier as an enormous marine lizard (later named Mosasaurus by the English cleric and naturalist the Revd William D. Conybeare). The effect of this revelation – the existence of an unexpectedly gigantic fossil lizard of a former time in Earth history – was truly profound. It encouraged the search for, and discovery of, other giant extinct ‘lizards’; it established, beyond reasonable doubt, that pre-biblical ‘earlier worlds’ had existed; and it also determined a particular way of viewing and interpreting such fossil creatures: as gigantic lizards.
Following the defeat of Napoleon and the restoration of peace between England and France, Animatronic T-rex Cuvier was finally able to visit England in 1817-18 and meet scientists with similar interests. At Oxford he was shown some gigantic fossil bones in the collections of the geologist William Buckland; these seemed to belong to a gigantic, but this time land-living, lizard-like creature, and they reminded Cuvier of similar bones that had been found in Normandy. William Buckland eventually named this creature Megalosaurus in 1824 (with a little help from Conybeare).