The most frequently found dinosaur remains in Sussex are those of the Iguanodon, which lived during the Lower Cretaceous period, between 125 and 110 million years ago. This dinosaur was first identified by Lewes doctor Gideon Mantell in 1822, although the discovery was actually made by his wife Mary Ann. These early finds from a quarry nears Cuckfield were teeth, recognised by Mantell as being similar to those of the South American iguana - hence the name iguana-don, or iguana tooth. Since Mantell's discovery remains of the Iguanodon have been found in many parts of Northern Europe although the richest finds have been in Belgium, Germany, Sussex and the Isle of Wight.
What did the Iguanodon look like?
The Iguanodon was a large cumbersome animal, 5 to 10 metres in length, usually standing vertically but also able to walk on all fours. Its back legs were large and heavy and its three-toed feet have left distinctive tracks of footprints, which are sometimes uncovered by rock-falls from the cliffs at Fairlight, Ecclesbourne and Galley Hill. Some of these footprints have been cut out of the rock and are preserved at the Museum.
The fore limbs of the Iguanodon were smaller and lighter. They ended in a hand with five digits; a large spiked thumb, which could be used as a formidable weapon, and four fingers with hoofed ends. It is believed that the long, heavy tail of the Iguanodon helped to balance the rest of its body.
Iguanodon was a herbivore and needed to eat large quantities of plants to survive. Its head was elongated like that of a horse with large jaws and room for plenty of grinding teeth. There were no teeth at the front of its jaw, but a horn beak ideal for cropping swathes of foliage. The vegetation of the low lying marshy plains that stretched across what is now South East England, North East France and Belgium was lush and supported large numbers of Iguanodon. They fed on the tall horsetails, tree ferns, cycads and conifers that covered the landscape 100 million years ago.
Iguanodon bones in the Museum
Hastings Museum has a large collection of Iguanodon bones. These include an example of its spur-like thumb, as well as a complete finger, several leg bones, vertebrae, and parts of the jaw bone with teeth sockets clearly visible.
Most of the Museum pieces were found in the rocks at Fairlight, but there have also been finds in old quarries at Boscobel Road, St Leonards and Blackhorse, Telham.
In 1871 a virtually complete skeleton of an Iguanodon was uncovered while foundations were being dug at Silverlands House, now Silverlands Road in St Leonards. This skeleton is in the Natural History Museum in London.