Which was the first dinosaur to be described in the scientific literature?
Megalosaurus (meaning "Great Lizard") is an extinct genus of large meat-eating theropod dinosaurs of the Middle Jurassic period (Bathonian stage, 166 million years ago) of Southern England. Although fossils from other areas have been assigned to the genus, the only certain remains of Megalosaurus come from Oxfordshire and date to the late Middle Jurassic.
Megalosaurus may have been the first dinosaur, apart from modern birds, to be described in the scientific literature. Part of a bone was recovered from the Taynton Limestone Formation of Stonesfield limestone quarry, Oxfordshire in 1676.
Sir Thomas Pennyson gave the fragment to Robert Plot, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Oxford and first curator of the Ashmolean Museum, who published a description and illustration in his Natural History of Oxfordshire in 1676. It was the first illustration of a dinosaur bone published.
Plot correctly identified the bone as the lower extremity of the thighbone or femur of a large animal and he recognized that it was too large to belong to any species known to be living in England. He therefore at first concluded it to be the thighbone of a Roman war elephant and later that of a giant human, such as those mentioned in the Bible. The bone has since been lost, but the illustration is detailed enough that some have since identified it as that of Megalosaurus.