Children and adults alike are often fascinated by the thought of Iguanodons and other dinosaurs roaming through Sussex millions years ago. But did you know that our knowledge of dinosaurs owes a huge debt to a Brighton doctor?

Learn more about our fossil collections and the pioneering work of Dr Gideon Mantell with these resources.

Fossil collection catalogue 

A catalogue of the Type, Figured and Cited specimens in the fossil collections

Squalicorax fossil, Cretaceous
Squalicorax fossil, Cretaceous

Royal Pavilion & Museums’ outstanding Natural Science collections at the Booth Museum of Natural History were designated as of pre-eminent national importance in 1997. Amongst the many collections represented in the Museum, the geological collections, especially the fossils, are highly regarded. Their national importance was recognised as long ago as 1888.

One of the purposes of fossil collections is to form a reservoir of scientific material for specialists to explore. In the very first collection of fossils given to Brighton Museums, palaeontologists found a rich vein of specimens.

This richness has continued to the present day. When research uncovers new and exciting material, palaeontologists publish their findings in the scientific literature. Amongst museum collections they may find specimens which they identify as new species and to which they give new Latin names – these specimens become the type specimens and are forever the most important reference points for all future research. They may choose to illustrate their findings with pictures of other specimens – known as figured specimens. They may also simply refer to some specimens in their published discussions; these are referred specimens.

Download the catalogue

This catalogue is the result of previous research into older publications and a steady accumulation of information about modern ones. The most recent additions are about fossil insects found in Sussex and published in 2009, and further additions are expected in the coming years.

Further information about the fossil collections can be found in the introduction to the Catalogue. Many of the specimens from the Booth Museum’s fossil collections can be seen at Discovering Fossils website at: www.chalk.discoveringfossils.co.uk.

The Unpublished Journal of Gideon Mantell 1819-1852

Dr. Gideon Algernon Mantell, engraving by Samuel Stepney from a painting by J.J. Masquerier, painted in 1837 and published in 'Thoughts on a Pebble', 1849. From Collections of the Alexander Turnball Library
Dr. Gideon Algernon Mantell, engraving by Samuel
Stepney from a painting by J.J. Masquerier,
painted in 1837 and published in ‘Thoughts on a Pebble’,
1849. From Collections of the Alexander Turnball Library

One of the most famous figures in Sussex history is the doctor and geologist Gideon Algernon Mantell (1790-1852). He was born and bred in Lewes, and from an early age developed an interest and passion for the many different types of fossils that could be found in the chalk quarries in the nearby countryside. Geology then was a very young science and being a geologist could not be described as a profession. So Mantell studied medicine and became what we would today call a general practitioner, but then was known as a Surgeon. He practised from his house in Castle Place, Lewes from 1816 and at the same time began to build what became his ‘Mantellian Museum’. His most famous discoveries were the fossil teeth of an animal that he called the Iguanodon which he realised was an extinct, colossal, herbivorous reptile, and until then totally unknown to science. It was in 1842 that Iguanodon was first recognised as a new type of animal – a dinosaur.

Mantell’s further history includes a move to Brighton from 1833 to 1838, and then to Clapham and finally Pimlico. There are many books and publications about him, his own extensive publications and his associates, but the most authoritative is by Dennis Dean in 1999, reference below.

In 1818 Mantell began to keep a Journal – as he called it – “a sketch of passing events”. The original copies of the Journal – together with all the remaining archives of Mantell are kept in the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington, New Zealand to where one of his sons had emigrated. In 1940, E. Cecil Curwen published about half of this extensive record of Mantell’s often turbulent life and times. The unpublished parts have remained somewhat elusive until now.

The attached document in pdf format makes available for the first time all those parts of Mantell’s Journal which could not easily be consulted. Although Curwen published perhaps the most interesting parts of his Journal, the rest contains many hundreds of references to important people and significant events and is a reservoir of information for historians.

We wish to thank David Colquhoun of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington , New Zealand, for his kind consent to this online publication.

Download the journal

See also:

Further Reading:

Dean, Dennis R. Gideon Mantell and the discovery of dinosaurs. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-521-42048-2

Cadbury, Deborah. Terrible Lizard: the first dinosaur hunters and the birth of a new science. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2000. ISBN 0-8050-6772-8

McGowan, Christopher. The Dragon Seekers: how an extraordinary circle of fossilists discovered the dinosaurs and paved the way for Darwin. Cambridge: Perseus Publishing, 2001. ISBN 0-7382-0282-7