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Edward Lhwyd (died June 30, 1709) and the dinosaur Rutellum impicatum (NOT implicatum!)

Ben Creisler

This posting belongs in the category of "better late than never"--in
multiple ways. It is first meant to honor Edward Lhwyd, a pioneering
paleontologist, who died on June 30, 1709, on the premises of the Old
Ashmolean Museum at Oxford University in England. This posting is thus
already more than a week late to commemorate his death.

For bio info, see:



Lhwyd is now recognized as the first person to name and describe (if
briefly) a dinosaur fossil, published along with an illustration.
Unfortunately, his name Rutellum impicatum ("little shovel covered in
pitch" for its shape and black coloration) for a dinosaur tooth has
been nearly universally cited since 1945 in books and journal
articles, and more recently in blogs, web content, etc. , in the
misspelled form "Rutellum implicatum" (with would mean something like
"entangled little shovel" or "unfolded little shovel").  So a
correction--with explanation--is needed, if belatedly. (The
translations from Latin here are my own.)

Lhwyd is best known now for his illustrated catalog of the fossils and
minerals in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford University-- Lithophylacii
Britannici Ichnographia, published in 1699.

The entire book is available online from Google Books and the Hathi Trust:




Like many of his contemporaries, he did not accept that fossils were
remains of once living animals, but saw them rather as "formed stones"
that were germinated in the Earth and that could take the form of
parts of animals such as teeth and vertebrae.

In the catalog, Lhwyd gave distinct Latin names to some of the fossils
that he deemed particularly notable. He invented the Latin name
Plectronites (similar to Ammonites) and the general term plectronita
(plural plectronitae) "cock's spur stone" (from Greek *plektron*
"cock's spur" + Greek suffix *-ites* "stone" ) for "fish" teeth with a
pointed shape.

One "fish" tooth described as specimen 1328 and simply referred to as
a kind of Plectronites  is almost certainly a tooth crown from a
Megalosaurus. (It  was illustrated on the same plate with Rutellum.)

1328. Plectronites belemnitam referens compressior, ab utroque latere
excoriatus. E fodinis Stunsfeldiensibus. (pg. 66)

[A somewhat compressed Plectronites recalling a belemnite, abraded on
both sides. From quarries in Stonesfield.]



One fossil object to which he did give an individual name was a "fish
tooth"  with an unusual shape and shiny black appearance, which he
called *Rutellum impicatum* ("little shovel covered in pitch"),
although it was not meant as a genus and species in a modern sense.
The illustrated specimen is now lost but was unmistakably the
spoon-shaped tooth of a cetiosaur sauropod. The name Rutellum
impicatum with a brief description and a specimen number (1352) thus
stands as the first scientific name given to a dinosaur, although it
is not valid in formal zoological nomenclature because it predates
Linnaeus 1758.

1352. Plectronitae aliquatenus affine Rutellum impicatum, seu
Ichthyodos anomalus mucrone Palam referente, piceo splendore
conspicuo. E fodina Caswelliana juxta Witney agri Oxoniensis oppidum.
(page 67)

[Rutellum impicatum ['little shovel covered in pitch'], to some degree
akin to a plectronite;  or, an anomalous fish tooth with a sharp point
recalling a spade, with a conspicuous pitch-black sheen. From a quarry
at Caswell near to Witney, a town of Oxfordshire.]



The tooth was illustrated as specimen 1352 on Table 16. (The
megalosaur tooth is illustrated as specimen 1328 on the same plate.)



A bit of Latin grammar might be useful.

The Latin word *rutellum* means "little shovel"  (from *rutrum*
"shovel, spade"). (It's also been adopted as an anatomical term for
invertebrates (plural rutella).)


The neuter participle form *impicatum* comes from the Latin verb
*impico* "to cover with pitch, pitch over, mark with pitch":

*impicatus,-a, -um*  "pitched over, covered in pitch"

See page 262 in

John Entick, M. G. Sarjant. 1840. Tyronis Thesaurus: Or, Entick's
Latin-English Dictionary. Baltimore. Joseph Neal.


Note that on the following page (263) Latin *implicatum* is defined as:

"Implicatus, a, um. pt. issimus, sup. unfolded, entangled, involved,
tied, implied, understood, joined in affinity."


The specific names implicatus, implicata, and implicatum are much more
commonly used in zoological nomenclature, so it  is  perhaps not too
surprising that the error "Rutellum implicatum" has been so widely
repeated. The earliest I have found so far it is in:

Gunther, R. T. 1945. Life and letters of Edward Lhwyd. Early science
in Oxford. Vol. 14. Oxford.

"1352. Rutellum implicatum [Tooth of Ceteosaurus.] Caswell, near
Witney" (pg. 411)


So, I might suggest that everybody "pitch in" to replace the error
"Rutellum implicatum" with the originally intended Rutellum impicatum
in future publications and online. As I said at the beginning, better
late than never...