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Owen was a staunch supporter of creationism and rejected the teachings of transmutation, the theory that was the precursor to Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. Owen created the dinosaur group from Megalosaurus, Iguanodon and Hylaeosaurus, but rather than depicting them as reptiles, Owen perceived them to be more mammal-like. Under Owen's thinking this was an argument against evolution as mammal-like creatures could not evolve from reptiles (something that today can actually be proven by the existence of synapsids and the later therapsids like Thrinaxodon as well as later forms like Megazostrodon). Rather than being seen as lizards, dinosaurs were now envisioned as being elephantine creatures with scaly skin and mouths full of sharp teeth. The culmination of this vision were the Crystal Palace dinosaur sculptures built from concrete sculpted around brick and steel frames by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, who was guided by Owen in their construction. Another famous story associated with these sculptures is that Hawkins held a dinner party within the body of the standing Iguanodon sculpture before it was finished, however this party actually took place within the mould that was used to cast the sculpture.
Still, if Richard Owen could appreciate what we know of dinosaurs today he might just kick himself for the entertaining but grossly inaccurate depictions of these ancient animals. Owen was also stickler for giving animals the correct name for their group. Two examples for this include his attempts to get the prehistoric whale Basilosaurus and the pterosaur Ornithocheirus renamed because the literal translation of their names imply they are different types of animal to what they actually were. While Owen created the word dinosaur which means 'terrible lizard', dinosaurs were not lizards but their own group of reptiles. The saurus part continues to upset some palaeontologists today who prefer to translate it as 'reptile' rather than the literal meaning of 'lizard'.
The main fault with this reconstruction is that the tail is curved. This is something that would have been impossible in the living animal because ossified tendons along the caudal vertebrae held the tail rigid so that it could not bend. Also the posture of the body was in an almost upright walking position, something that would have also been impossible because of the tails true construction. Accurate depictions of Iguanodon began to appear in the twentieth century and started to become common in popular depictions such as books and documentaries during the 1980's and 1990's. These show Iguanodon to be a dinosaur that could shift between bipedal and quadrupedal postures, although the back is straight and typically held horizontal to the ground rather than upright walking positions. The tail is now always shown to be straight and carried high off the ground. - Bernissart's Iguanodon: the case for "fresh" versus "old" dinosaur bone. - Identification of proteinaceous material in the bone of the dinosaur Iguanodon - Connective Tissue Research 44 (Suppl.
Iguanodon as a living animal Today Iguanodon is usually depicted as a primarily quadrupedal animal that could comfortably shift to a bipedal posture for high browsing or possibly other purposes. The main argument for this comes not from the overall body shape but the actual construction of the forelimbs. Firstly these limbs are about three quarters of the total length of the hindlimbs which would result in a fairly comfortable walking gait when fully extended, while the elbow could still be bent to bring the head closer to the ground for easier browsing on low vegetation. - Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 23 (Supplement to Number 3): 45A.
William Buckland's 1824 description of Megalosaurus sent shock waves throughout the scientific community and caused many to start thinking about the kinds of animals that once lived and how they could be different. Buckland himself visited Mantell soon after to look at his collection of bones and realised immediately that Mantell had a creature that appeared to be similar to Megalosaurus. The idea of giant 'lizards' like Megalosaurus being carnivores was still fresh in the head however, and Buckland still insisted that what Mantell had was a carnivore and not a herbivore. At least encouraged by Buckland's identification of the bones, Mantell sent the herbivore teeth to Cuvier so that he may have a second opportunity to examine them. Cuvier remembered his doubts after initially declaring the teeth to be those of a rhinoceros, and this time his interpretation was very different. Cuvier replied and confirmed to Mantell that the teeth were reptilian, and could be those of a herbivore. On top of this Cuvier printed a public retraction of his first interpretation and confirmed that he now believed the teeth to be reptilian, not mammalian. Georges Cuvier was a highly respected scientist in natural history circles and when he spoke, others stopped and listened. - Early and "Middle" Cretaceous Iguanodonts in Time and Space.