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Victorians Missed Key Dental Detail in 1st Dinosaur Ever Named

When paleontologists first described <i>Megalosaurus</i> in 1824, they thought it looked like the humped creature on the right. But now, researchers have deduced that it looks like the dinosaur on the left.
When paleontologists first described <i>Megalosaurus</i> in 1824, they thought it looked like the humped creature on the right. But now, researchers have deduced that it looks like the dinosaur on the left. (Image credit: Mark Garlick/University of Warwick)

Victorian researchers missed a key dental detail when they described Megalosaurus, the first dinosaur on record to get a scientific name, a new study finds.

When William Buckland (1784-1856) — an English theologian, geologist and paleontologist — described the Jurassic-age carnivore in 1824, he named it Megalosaurus. The genus name means "great lizard" in Greek, as Buckland knew the fossil belonged to an ancient reptile.

But during his Megalosaurus inspection, Buckland missed five teeth hidden in the creature's jawbone — a finding that a computed tomography (CT) scan recently uncovered, researchers at the University of Warwick and the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom announced yesterday (June 7). [7 Surprising Dinosaur Facts]

In the recent scan, researchers took more than 3,000 X-rays of the 167-million-year-old Megalosaurus jawbone, and then used computer software to piece the X-rays together into a 3D digital image.

The scan revealed that the jawbone was damaged, likely when it was removed from the rocky ground in southern England. In fact, records at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, where the specimen is on display, as well as information from the CT scans, suggest that the fossil underwent two phases of repair with different types of plaster, likely when a museum assistant did restoration work on the fossil between 1927 and 1931, the researchers said.

More importantly, the scan showed that the 30-foot-long (9 meters), 3,000-lbs. (1,400 kilograms) dinosaur had previously unknown teeth that were growing deep within its jaw when the animal was still alive. These included the remains of old, worn teeth and newly growing teeth, the researchers said.

"Being able to use state-of-the-art technology normally reserved for aerospace and automotive engineering to scan such a rare and iconic natural history specimen was a fantastic opportunity," said Mark Williams, a professor in the Warwick Manufacturing Group at the University of Warwick.

The new research has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, but it was presented last month at the IEEE International Instrumentation and Measurement Technology Conference in Turin, Italy.

Original article on Live Science.

Laura Geggel
As an associate editor for Live Science, Laura Geggel covers general science, including the environment, archaeology and amazing animals. She has written for The New York Times, Scholastic, Popular Science and Spectrum, a site covering autism research. Laura grew up in Seattle and studied English literature and psychology at Washington University in St. Louis before completing her graduate degree in science writing at NYU. When not writing, you'll find Laura playing Ultimate Frisbee.