Before the early 1800s, no one knew that dinosaurs existed. Even when people found gigantic fossils, how could they know the fossils' history?
When Robert Plot, an English antiquarian, found a huge, unusual bone in a Cornwall quarry, he didn’t know what it was. When he published a drawing of it, in 1676, he said it was probably the bone of an elephant, brought to Britain by the Romans.
How could he have known his discovery was likely part of a Megalosaurus femur?
When Mary Ann Woodhouse Mantell (or her husband, Dr. Gideon Mantell) reportedly "discovered" the first dinosaur tooth in 1822, and William Buckland found a fossilized jaw (with teeth still in place), the word "dinosaur" had not been coined.
The tooth, allegedly found by the side of the road in the English village of Cuckfield, was similar to other teeth Gideon would later discover in the "Sandstone of Tilgate Forest in Sussex." They belonged to a creature Dr. Mantell named Iguanodon (literally "iguana tooth").
During the ensuing years, other fossilized Iguanodon remains were found:
Meanwhile the jaw, which William Buckland had found in a quarry near Oxford, was about to gain its own fame. It was featured in Buckland’s 1824 paper which describes, for the first time, a class of creatures we now know as dinosaurs. Buckland named his find Megalosaurus (literally, "great lizard").
Nearly two decades later, when Sir Richard Owen coined the name Dinosauria (meaning the "terrible lizards"), paleontology was not the science it is now. Since then, the subject of dinosaurs has become a passion for both professionals and amateurs.
Let's examine evidence of Jurassic-era dinosaurs.