I was reviewing a children’s nonfiction graphic novel on dinosaurs-First Second Press’s Science Comics (love the concept!) Dinosaurs: Fossils and Feathers. It was more about the discovery and scientists than dinosaurs themselves. There were some aspects of the book that I liked, some I wasn’t so fond of.
One thing that did catch my eye was the name Mignon Talbot. They mentioned that she was the first woman to name a dinosaur. I hadn’t heard of her before. So of course I had to hunt down a little more information. She was a professor of Geology and Geography at Mount Holyoke College for thirty-one years in the early 20th century.
She discovered the only specimen of Podokesaurus holyokensis in 1910 while walking with her sister. They noticed a pretty hill, which upon investigation was over a gravel pit. Professor Talbot saw something white in the sandstone and went down for a closer look. Recognizing it for a fossil she found the land’s owner who let her take the boulder for the university. She loaned it to Yale, where they encouraged her to write a scientific description.
She formally described it in 1911, becoming the first woman to name a non-avian dinosaur. It was a poorly preserved fossil with a largely incomplete skull, but indicated a small (probably fast-hence her naming it swift footed) bipedal carnivore about one foot high and 3-4 feet long.
Sadly, though she urged her fossil be sent to Washington or New Haven (because it ‘should be with its own kind’), the powers that be opted to keep the fossil in Mount Holyoke’s science building and was destroyed in a fire in 1916.
Leg bones in the Boston Museum of Science and similar looking casts found in Connecticut hint that it (if they are indeed closely related species) the dinosaur she found might have been a juvenile and the adults might have been between 6 and 9 feet long.
With the original destroyed there will probably always be some mystery about holyokensis. It was argued in the 60s that it should be consumed in another genus, but that research was overturned. It still seems to be a matter of some debate. Currently it remains in its own genus.
The Peabody and AMNHNY museums have external casts of the fossils, but those don’t yield the same volume of information contemporary studies on the original fossil would.
Our fleet footed little mystery was probably responsible for some of the preserved dinosaur trackways in Connecticut and Massachusetts.
The book that started this little digging (yes, it does have great art!) :