17. The Bernissart Iguanodons, 1884


In 1878, deep underground in Bernissart, Belgium, miners tapped into what would prove to be a true mother lode of dinosaur fossils--dozens of Iguanodon skeletons jumbled together in a rocky matrix, many fully articulated. The fossils were slowly excavated, and Louis Dollo began to publish a series of papers based on the finds. Two different species were discovered, the smaller I. mantelli that was well known from the English Weald, and a new, larger species, I. bernissartensis. One conclusion was inescapable--after decades of debate over whether Iguanodon was bipedal or quadrupedal, the Bernissart specimens confirmed that Iguanodon was bipedal, and Dollo had it restored with a very upright posture.

The first published restoration of I. bernissartensis appeared in this journal in 1882, but we chose for exhibition an 1884 restoration of I. mantelli, because of the unusual nature of the plate. First of all, it is a print made directly from a photograph, rather than a drawing. Second, it is a photograph of an actual mount, with the structural supports readily visible. If this is not the first published illustration of an actual skeletal mount, it is a close contender.

Dollo's pose determined how iguanodons were to be exhibited for nearly a century, especially when the British Museum in 1895 acquired a cast of a Bernissart Iguanodon and set it up in their Reptile Gallery.


Dollo, Louis. "Cinquieme note sur les dinosauriens de Bernissart," in: Bulletin de Muse Royal d'Histoire Naturelle de Belgique, vol. 3 (1884-1885), pp. 129-146. This work was on display in the original exhibition as item 17.

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