The remains of some incredible creatures that lived and died in Kent over the last 145 million years are on show in our Earth Heritage Gallery. This fascinating collection also explains how local sedimentary rocks such as Weald Clay and Kentish Ragstone were formed and how the local scenery was transformed over and over again.
Both on display and in store, the geology collection at Maidstone Museum includes the most important collection of fossil material in the South East outside London, a mineral collection of worldwide scope and national importance, and a rock collection of global origin.
Our collection of rocks and minerals is comprehensive, and our superb fossil collection reflects the importance of Maidstone to the history of palaeontology (the study of fossils). It’s a little-known fact that Maidstone has the only coat of arms in the world to feature a dinosaur, and these unique arms commemorate the pioneering work of two 19th-century amateur scientists.
Gideon Mantell and William Benstead
In 1822, Gideon Mantell, a Sussex doctor passionately interested in the study of fossils, discovered the Iguanodon species based on only specimens of fossilised teeth. In 1834, however, he was alerted to a find of a much larger fossil. Found in a quarry near Queen’s Road, Maidstone, it was obviously the remains of a very large animal. The quarry’s owner, William Benstead, was also fascinated by fossils and excavated the fossil himself, recording his work with notes and sketches. Benstead’s find was widely reported and he wrote to Mantell inviting him to view the fossil. Mantell recognised it as an Iguanodon, and the world’s first articulated bird-hip dinosaur specimen, and purchased it for £25.
Mantell’s attempts to reconstruct the skeleton and life of the Iguanodon mark the beginning of palaeontology – the scientific study of dinosaurs. At the time of his death in 1850 he was credited with discovering four of the five genera of dinosaurs then known.
The Maidstone fossil is currently displayed at the Natural History Museum in London, but Benstead’s notebook with his reconstructions of the Iguanodon, and a cast of the fossil, are highlights of the museum’s palaeontology collection.
The main strengths of the palaeontology collection are the marine Cretaceous and Tertiary of Kent, especially Chalk, Lower Greensand, and Lenham Beds, but also Gault and London Clay. There is an extensive collection of Pleistocene vertebrate material and fossils from the Kent Coalfield, and we have collections representing British palaeontology from Cambrian onwards and some international material. Rocks (46,000) and minerals (7,000) are represented on a worldwide scale, and we possess one of the finest mineral collections in the country outside the national museums.