Mary Ann Woodhouse, better known as Mrs Gideon Mantell, was born on April 9, 1795. In 1816, she married surgeon-geologist Gideon Mantell.
In the summer of 1822, during a walk while her husband was visiting a patient, Mary found the first Iguanodon tooth. In her book “The Dinosaur Hunters”, Deborah Cadbury described Mary’s unusual finding:
“As she walked, her eyes were irresistibly drawn to a strange shape in a pile of stones that had been heaped by the side of the road. Picking up the stone, she brushed away the white dust, gently removing any loose rock with her fingers. Gradually a shape emerged never previously seen by human eye. It was very smooth, worn and dark brown, rather like a flattened fragment of a giant tooth.”
Gideon Mantell sent the teeth to Georges Cuvier, who first suggested that the remains were from a rhinoceros, but in a letter from 1824 admitted his mistake and determined that the remains were reptilian and quite possibly belonged to a giant herbivore. A year later, Mantell described them and named them Iguanodon (“iguana tooth”) because their resemblance with those of living iguanas. The tooth turned out to be around 130 million years old and incredible scientific discovery.
Mary helped Mantell illustrating his book on The Fossils of the South Downs (1822). She made over 364 fine lithographs from her husband’s drawings. Etheldred Benett commented to Mantell that with a little practice Mary’s sketching would be ‘stronger and bolder . . . all that is wanting to make them a great ornament to your work’. Unfortunately, it seems that Mary didn’t contribute to Mantell’s second book of Tilgate Forest fossils.
In 1839, she left her husband and the children remained with their father as was customary at the time.
Gideon Mantell died in 1852 from an opium overdose. Mary died 16 years later.
BUREK, C. V. & HIGGS, B. (eds) The Role of Women in the History of Geology. Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 281, 1–8. DOI: 10.1144/SP281.1.
by Holder of the Order of the Blazing Trowel Fernanda Castano
edits by Brenna
Read more on Fernanda’s blog about Mary Ann’s other TrowelBlazing connections!