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American Dinosaurs: Who and What Was First

Who gets credit for the first dinosaur in North America depends on one's definition of a description and a fossil

Keith Thomson

1787: What Constitutes a Description?

But Leidy is still only the first by default. As early as 1787, the Philadelphia merchant Timothy Matlack and the distinguished physician and anatomist Caspar Wistar read before a meeting of the American Philosophical Society an account of "A large thigh bone found near Woodbury Creek in Glocester County, N.J." The creek runs not far from where, 70 years later, the first associated remains of any dinosaur were excavated and described by Leidy as Hadrosaurus—another herbivore like Iguanodon. The Minutes of the October 5, 1787 meeting of the Society record only the subject of the presentation and the admonition that the authors, with a Dr. John Rodgers, were "to search for the missing part of the skeleton." Unfortunately, no copy of their manuscript exists, nor is there any information about whether further collecting was attempted. Even the specimen itself is missing, but we can be reasonably sure that this femur was the first discovery of an American dinosaur. It would be nice to think that the bone still exists in someone's attic.

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