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ALL IN THE WORST POSSIBLE TASTE! The West Midlands' most famous fossil hunter was not above serving his guests mice on toast. MIKE LOCKLEY finds out about the eccentric paleontologist from whose plate no living animal or insect was safe.


THE West Midlands most famous fossil hunter - a boffin who pretty much invented dinosaurs - was a man who put the danger in afterdinner speaking.

That's because William Buckland believed in pushing the envelope when it came to culinary experiments. And he expected guests to push the envelope with him.

Mice on toast were a particular favourite. Or roast puppy, anyone? Would you like flies with that, Sir? Buckland did.

Whisper it, but one of Britain's greatest brains - the foremost authority on dinosaur droppings - was a little bonkers.

The man whose discoveries in Coalbrookdale, the Black Country and Lickey Hills reshaped our understanding of life on earth possessed an appetite for destruction. His destruction.

Born on March 12, 1784, the paleontologist gave the world the first written account of a dinosaur fossil. The Rex, as they say, is history.

But Buckland had something in common with the long-gone giant lizards he loved so much. Their appetite.

The former Dean of Westminster was positively possessed when it came to diet. Quite frankly, no living animal or insect was safe.

At the social soirees he held, guests would be offered pre-meal nibbles of mice on toast. Porpoise and panther were a favoured main course.

He had one burning ambition: to taste every animal known to man. He was Noah in reverse.

Nowhere was too public for Buckland, based in Oxford, to tuck in.

During a cathedral visit, he was informed the floor was stained with the fresh blood of a saint. The adventurous academic immediately fell to the floor and began lapping the liquid.

"You are quite wrong, sir," he informed a concerned cleric, "it's bat urine."

We owe a lot to Buckland but, thankfully, didn't take his dining habits on board.

Born in Axminster, Devon, he began collecting fossil shells at an early age. After studying at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1818.

In 1822, he changed the general perception of creation through a discovery in Kirkdale Cave, Yorkshire. There, he found a large number of fossilised hyena bones and the animals they had eaten. His discovery tore up the long-held belief that ancient remains uncovered in this country had been washed up at their resting place by Noah's flood.

In the coal seams of Coalbrookdale, near Ironbridge, he became the first to discover the preserved remains of one of the earliest beetles, Eophrynus prestvicii. Soon after that, he unearthed an even better specimen in Coseley.

In Lyme Regis, the ravenous dean became the first to discover dinosaur droppings, dubbing the fossilised faeces coprolites.

a He put the ground-breaking discoveries into context, writing: "The myriads of petrified remains which are disclosed by the researches of geology all tend to prove that our planet has been occupied in times preceding the creation of the human race by extinct species of animals and vegetables.

"These are made up, like living organic bodies, of 'Clusters of Contrivances', which demonstrate the exercise of stupendous intelligence and power."

Buckland, fiercely religious, DID believe a mass flood carved out this country.

And the theory crystallised into fact following Buckland's discovery of quartz pebbles in the Lickey Hills. In an 1819 paper, he proved those pebbles had been scattered as far afield as London - scattered by raging waters.

the In 1824, Buckland became president of the Geological Society of London and announced his greatest discovery, the fossil bone of a giant reptile he dubbed Megalosaurus. He had discovered and labelled the first dinosaur.

the of In 1825, Buckland was made Canon of Christ Church - a reward for his academic achievements - and married Mary Morland of Abingdon.

the The couple had nine children, five of whom survived. Mary had a lot to put up with, particularly at teatime.

If the disgusting meals were not enough, Buckland filled his home with wild animals: a hyena wandered the halls. Still, he became Dean of Westminster in 1845.

Despite his odd ways, Buckland was a doting dad. Daughter Elizabeth said: "Buckland was a kind and affectionate father, and always liked to have his children about him.

"The young people were always presented to the numerous learned foreigners and illustrious travellers who came to Oxford to see the Professor's world-famed collection of fossils and bones at the Clarendon.

"And at dessert in the evening they were told, shortly and graphically, what these great men were famous for."

eulogy to the dean In his eulogy to Buckland, theologian Richard Whately wrote: Where shall we our great Professor inter That in peace may rest his bones? If we hew him a rocky sepulchre He'll rise and break the stones And examine each stratum that lies around For he's quite in his element underground

Whisper it, but one of Britain's greatest brains - the foremost authority on dinosaur droppings - was a little bonkers
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 19, 2016
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