Crystal Palace Dinosaurs

Crystal Palace Dinosaurs

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The Crystal Palace Dinosaurs, also known as Dinosaur Court, are a series of sculptures of dinosaur
Dinosaurs are a diverse group of animals of the clade and superorder Dinosauria. They were the dominant terrestrial vertebrates for over 160 million years, from the late Triassic period until the end of the Cretaceous , when the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event led to the extinction of...

s and extinct mammal
Mammals are members of a class of air-breathing vertebrate animals characterised by the possession of endothermy, hair, three middle ear bones, and mammary glands functional in mothers with young...

s located in Crystal Palace
Crystal Palace, London
Crystal Palace is a residential area in south London, England named from the former local landmark, The Crystal Palace, which occupied the area from 1854 to 1936. The area is located approximately 8 miles south east of Charing Cross, and offers impressive views over the capital...

, London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

. Commissioned in 1852 and unveiled in 1854, they were the first dinosaur sculptures in the world, pre-dating the publication of Charles Darwin's
Charles Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin FRS was an English naturalist. He established that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestry, and proposed the scientific theory that this branching pattern of evolution resulted from a process that he called natural selection.He published his theory...

 On the Origin of Species by six years. Designed and sculpted by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins
Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins
Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins was an English sculptor and natural history artist renowned for combining both in his work on the life-size models of dinosaurs in the Crystal Palace Park, Sydenham, south London...

 with the help of Richard Owen
Richard Owen
Sir Richard Owen, FRS KCB was an English biologist, comparative anatomist and palaeontologist.Owen is probably best remembered today for coining the word Dinosauria and for his outspoken opposition to Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection...

, they were Grade II listed buildings from 1973, extensively restored in 2002 and upgraded to Grade I listed in 2007.

The models themselves are now considered out of date and to varying degrees inaccurate.


Following the closure of the Great Exhibition in October 1851, The Crystal Palace
The Crystal Palace
The Crystal Palace was a cast-iron and glass building originally erected in Hyde Park, London, England, to house the Great Exhibition of 1851. More than 14,000 exhibitors from around the world gathered in the Palace's of exhibition space to display examples of the latest technology developed in...

 was bought and moved to Sydenham Hill, South London by the newly formed Crystal Palace Company; the grounds that surrounded it were then extensively renovated and turned into a public park with ornamental gardens, replicas of statues and two new man-made lakes. As part of this renovation Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins
Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins
Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins was an English sculptor and natural history artist renowned for combining both in his work on the life-size models of dinosaurs in the Crystal Palace Park, Sydenham, south London...

 was commissioned to build the first ever life-sized models of extinct animals. He had originally planned to just re-create extinct
In biology and ecology, extinction is the end of an organism or of a group of organisms , normally a species. The moment of extinction is generally considered to be the death of the last individual of the species, although the capacity to breed and recover may have been lost before this point...

Mammals are members of a class of air-breathing vertebrate animals characterised by the possession of endothermy, hair, three middle ear bones, and mammary glands functional in mothers with young...

s before deciding on building dinosaurs as well, which he did with advice from Sir Richard Owen
Richard Owen
Sir Richard Owen, FRS KCB was an English biologist, comparative anatomist and palaeontologist.Owen is probably best remembered today for coining the word Dinosauria and for his outspoken opposition to Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection...

, a celebrated biologist
A biologist is a scientist devoted to and producing results in biology through the study of life. Typically biologists study organisms and their relationship to their environment. Biologists involved in basic research attempt to discover underlying mechanisms that govern how organisms work...

 and palaeontologist of the time. Hawkins set up a workshop on site at the park and built the models there.

The models were displayed on three islands acting as a rough time-line, the first island representing roughly the Paleozoic
The Paleozoic era is the earliest of three geologic eras of the Phanerozoic eon, spanning from roughly...

 era, a second representing the Mesozoic
The Mesozoic era is an interval of geological time from about 250 million years ago to about 65 million years ago. It is often referred to as the age of reptiles because reptiles, namely dinosaurs, were the dominant terrestrial and marine vertebrates of the time...

 era, and a third representing the Cenozoic
The Cenozoic era is the current and most recent of the three Phanerozoic geological eras and covers the period from 65.5 mya to the present. The era began in the wake of the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous that saw the demise of the last non-avian dinosaurs and...

 era. All of the mammals on the third island, however, were later moved to other locations on in the park (which in many ways directly led to them falling into ill-repair). The models' realism was aided by the lake at the time being 'tidal' and rising and falling, revealing different amounts of the dinosaurs. To mark the 'launch' of the models Hawkins held a dinner on New Year's Eve 1853 inside the mould of one of the Iguanodon.

Hawkins benefited greatly from the public's reaction to them, which was so strong it led to what could be considered the first case of tie-in merchandising as a set of smaller versions of Hawkins's models were sold for £30 as educational products. But the building of the models was costly (having cost around £13,729) and in 1855 the Crystal Palace Company cut Hawkins's funding, leaving several planned models unmade or half finished and scrapped, despite protest from various sources including newspaper The Observer
The Observer
The Observer is a British newspaper, published on Sundays. In the same place on the political spectrum as its daily sister paper The Guardian, which acquired it in 1993, it takes a liberal or social democratic line on most issues. It is the world's oldest Sunday newspaper.-Origins:The first issue,...


As further and fuller discoveries of the species included in Crystal Palace were made, the reputation of the models declined. By as early as 1895 experts looked on them with scorn and ridicule. The Crystal Palace Dinosaurs by Steve McCarthy and Mick Gilbert quotes American fossil hunter Othniel Charles Marsh
Othniel Charles Marsh
Othniel Charles Marsh was an American paleontologist. Marsh was one of the preeminent scientists in the field; the discovery or description of dozens of news species and theories on the origins of birds are among his legacies.Born into a modest family, Marsh was able to afford higher education...

 who scorns the dinosaurs' 'friends' as doing them a great injustice and speaks angrily of the models. The models and indeed the park fell into ill-repair as the years went by, a process aided by the fire that destroyed the Crystal Palace itself in 1936. The visibility of the models became obscured by overgrown foliage, but a full restoration of the animals was carried out in the 1950s by Victor H.C. Martin, this is when the animals were moved around.

Though general and often ad-hoc maintenance was carried up in the meantime (including the use of plasticine the dinosaurs did not undergo a full restoration until 2002; during that time the park had fallen into total disarray and at one point a guided tour of the dinosaurs was the only time the park was open to the public. In 2002 the Institute of Historic Building Conservation totally renovated the models, including properly fixing and re-painting the existing models (in much lighter or at times totally different colors, for instance the Megatheirium was changed from blue to beige during the restoration). The institute also had fiberglass replacements created for the missing pterodactyls and their cliff, cutting away a lot of the foliage and restoring the original recreations of plant life that accompanied the models in the 1850s.

The sculptures

Fifteen species of extinct creatures currently reside in the park, as well as this at least three other genera
In biology, a genus is a low-level taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of living and fossil organisms, which is an example of definition by genus and differentia...

 (Dinornis, a mastodon
Mastodons were large tusked mammal species of the extinct genus Mammut which inhabited Asia, Africa, Europe, North America and Central America from the Oligocene through Pleistocene, 33.9 mya to 11,000 years ago. The American mastodon is the most recent and best known species of the group...

, and Glyptodon
Glyptodon was a large, armored mammal of the family Glyptodontidae, a relative of armadillos that lived during the Pleistocene Epoch. It was roughly the same size and weight as a Volkswagen Beetle, though flatter in shape...

s) were planned, and if contemporary reports are accurate at Hawkins began to build at least the mastodon before the Crystal Palace Company cut his funding in 1855. An inaccurate map of the time, reprinted in Steve McCarthy and Mick Gilbert's book The Crystal Palace Dinosaurs, even gives the planned locations of the Dinornis and mastodon.

The fifteen genera that were completed were:

Anoplotherium is an extinct genus of ungulates which lived from the Late Eocene to the earliest Oligocene. It was first found in the gypsum quarries near Paris....

An extinct mammal: Hawkins's models draw very much on speculation about its camel-like appearance, and they resemble camels a great deal (it is now believed they look more like hippopotamus
The hippopotamus , or hippo, from the ancient Greek for "river horse" , is a large, mostly herbivorous mammal in sub-Saharan Africa, and one of only two extant species in the family Hippopotamidae After the elephant and rhinoceros, the hippopotamus is the third largest land mammal and the heaviest...

 or pigs
PIGS is a four letter acronym that can stand for:* PIGS , Phosphatidylinositol glycan anchor biosynthesis, class S, a human gene* PIGS , the economies of Portugal, Italy , Greece and Spain...

). Three models were originally made, but one, with its head raised, went missing in unknown circumstances but is now back with the other two on display.

Dicynodon is a type of dicynodont therapsid that flourished during the Permian period between 251 and 299 million years ago. Like all dicynodonts, it was herbivorous. This animal was toothless, except for prominent tusks, hence the name...

Crystal Palace's Dicynodon, of which there are two, are based on fossils found in South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

 which were largely incomplete, as such the models are based heavily on turtles or tortoises complete with a shells and turtle stance. To date there is no evidence of any shelled Dicynodon and recent more complete fossils have revealed they looked more like Hippopotamus
The hippopotamus , or hippo, from the ancient Greek for "river horse" , is a large, mostly herbivorous mammal in sub-Saharan Africa, and one of only two extant species in the family Hippopotamidae After the elephant and rhinoceros, the hippopotamus is the third largest land mammal and the heaviest...


Hylaeosaurus is the most obscure of the three animals used by Sir Richard Owen to first define the new group Dinosauria, in 1842. The original specimen, recovered by Gideon Mantell from the Tilgate Forest in the south of England in 1832, now resides in the Natural History Museum of London, where...

Curiously, when their names are taken into consideration, it is Hylaeosaurus, not Iguanodon, that most resembles the giant iguana
Iguana is a herbivorous genus of lizard native to tropical areas of Central America and the Caribbean. The genus was first described in 1768 by Austrian naturalist Josephus Nicolaus Laurenti in his book Specimen Medicum, Exhibens Synopsin Reptilium Emendatam cum Experimentis circa Venena...

A stereotype is a popular belief about specific social groups or types of individuals. The concepts of "stereotype" and "prejudice" are often confused with many other different meanings...

 of early ideas of dinosaurs. Today Hylaeosaurus is depicted similar to Ankylosaurus
Ankylosaurus is a genus of ankylosaurid dinosaur, containing one species, A. magniventris...

; Hawkins's depiction is of a large Iguana-like beast with long sharp spines along its back. The head of the Hylaeosaurus model is in fact not the original but a fiberglass replica; the original head is positioned outside the park's visitor's centre.

Ichthyosaurus is an extinct genus of ichthyosaur from the Early Jurassic of Europe . It is among the best known ichthyosaur genera, with the Order Ichthyosauria being named after it...

Though a portion of the three Ichthyosaurus are submerged by water (though early shots show that unlike the Mosasaurus most of the model was completed) they are in fact basking on the land similar to Seals
Pinnipeds or fin-footed mammals are a widely distributed and diverse group of semiaquatic marine mammals comprising the families Odobenidae , Otariidae , and Phocidae .-Overview: Pinnipeds are typically sleek-bodied and barrel-shaped...

 or Walrus
The walrus is a large flippered marine mammal with a discontinuous circumpolar distribution in the Arctic Ocean and sub-Arctic seas of the Northern Hemisphere. The walrus is the only living species in the Odobenidae family and Odobenus genus. It is subdivided into three subspecies: the Atlantic...

 do today, something we now know would kill them. In the time of the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs' productions the beasts were considered more along the lines of crocodiles or the Plesiosaurus; recently it has been uncovered they have more in common with shark
Sharks are a type of fish with a full cartilaginous skeleton and a highly streamlined body. The earliest known sharks date from more than 420 million years ago....

s and dolphins with a dorsal fin and fish-like tail, both of which are not present in Hawkins's models. Instead the tails are a flat protuberance from a straight backbone. A further discrepancy is that the models' eyes have exposed sclerotic plates
Sclerotic ring
Sclerotic rings are rings of bone found in the eyes of several groups of vertebrate animals, except for mammals and crocodilians. They can be made up of single bones or small bones together. They are believed to have a role in supporting the eye, especially in animals whose eyes are not spherical,...

 (bones that stopped their eyes from being crushed by the pressure under sea). However as a whole the ichthyosaurs are one of the more accurate animals and became one of the three 'mascot dinosaurs' along with the Iguanodon and Megalosaurus (although ichthyosaurs are not dinosaurs at all). The models more closely resemble more basic ichthyosaurs such as Cymbospondylus
Cymbospondylus was a basal early ichthyosaur that lived between the middle and later years of the Triassic period...


Iguanodon is a genus of ornithopod dinosaur that lived roughly halfway between the first of the swift bipedal hypsilophodontids and the ornithopods' culmination in the duck-billed dinosaurs...

Easily the most recognizable and most commonly shown of Hawkins's models are the pair of Iguanodon. The inaccuracy of having thumb spikes mistaken for horns is used repeatedly on documentaries about dinosaurs and their history when talking about Victorian ideas of the beasts. Aside from this the Iguanodon, like the Megalosaurus, were depicted as quadrupeds (walking on all fours) and look as though they are inspired by modern day dogs.

Labyrinthodon Three Labyrinthodon models were made for Crystal Palace, heavily based on frogs. One is smooth skinned and is based on the species Labyrinthodon salamandroides. Two were based on Labyrinthodon pachygnathus (both have since been re-classified). Casts of the animal's real footprints were included in the ground around the models (one of which had survived by the time of The Crystal Palace Dinosaurs being written).

The deer of the genus Megaloceros - ; see also Lister - were found throughout Eurasia from the late Pliocene to the Late Pleistocene, and were important herbivores during the Ice Ages. The largest species, M...

Hawkins built a whole family unit of male, female and fawn; the adults bore antlers made from actual fossil antlers, though these have since been replaced. Moved from the third island, they had fallen into disrepair as they were in a place easily accessible by vandals. Until their antlers were replaced, the Elks were the most accurate of the models, though given that they are only large deer
Deer are the ruminant mammals forming the family Cervidae. Species in the Cervidae family include white-tailed deer, elk, moose, red deer, reindeer, fallow deer, roe deer and chital. Male deer of all species and female reindeer grow and shed new antlers each year...

 and stag
STAG: A Test of Love is a reality TV show hosted by Tommy Habeeb. Each episode profiles an engaged couple a week or two before their wedding. The cameras then follow the groom on his bachelor party...

 anyway, there was much more reference for them in 1852.

Megalosaurus is a genus of large meat-eating theropod dinosaurs of the Middle Jurassic period of Europe...

Giant and visually impressive even by today's standards, the Megalosaurus became one of the park's three 'mascot dinosaurs' along with the Iguanodon and (less so) the Ichthyosaurs. Yet it is arguably the most inaccurate of all of Hawkins's models, depicted as a quadruped that looks like an elephant with a lizard's head and paws.

Megatherium was a genus of elephant-sized ground sloths endemic to Central America and South America that lived from the Pliocene through Pleistocene existing approximately...

Wholly more accurate than most of the dinosaur species, the Megatherium was part of the park's children's zoo for many years with its tail in the goats and guinea pigs enclosure. Once the zoo was closed, it became totally inaccessible, only to be seen through the railings that kept visitors out of the derelict area. Recent renovations demolished the zoo and a walkway has caused the Megatherium to become one of the models visitors can now get the closest to.

Mosasaurus is a genus of mosasaur, carnivorous, aquatic lizards, somewhat resembling flippered crocodiles, with elongated heavy jaws. The genus existed during the Maastrichtian age of the Cretaceous period , around 70-65 millions years ago in the area of modern Western Europe and North America...

At the time of the models being built, only skulls of Mosasaurus had been discovered. In a clever way of disguising this lack of information, Hawkins only built the head and back of the animal. He submerged the model deep in the lake so the water hid this fact, leaving little room for inaccuracy. Despite this it does look noticeably different from modern reconstructions of the beast. The Mosasaurus at Crystal Palace is positioned in an odd place near the secondary island that was originally a waterfall, and much of it is obscured if viewed from the lakeside path.

Palaeotherium is an extinct genus of primitive perissodactyl ungulate. George Cuvier originally described them as being a kind of tapir, and as such, Palaeotherium is popularly reconstructed as a tapir-like animal...

The herd of Palaeotherium, an extinct tapir
A Tapir is a large browsing mammal, similar in shape to a pig, with a short, prehensile snout. Tapirs inhabit jungle and forest regions of South America, Central America, and Southeast Asia. There are four species of Tapirs: the Brazilian Tapir, the Malayan Tapir, Baird's Tapir and the Mountain...

-like mammal, have suffered the most ill-repair of all of the models, and the standing model looked very little like the original model by Hawkins; prior to the 2002 restoration they were in such bad shape they were removed totally and were stored with miscellaneous equipment. They have since been restored and put back on show but still show surface wearing. Some sources state that these models were added at a later date but a London News illustration of Hawkins's workshop clearly shows them in the background, appearing to prove these sources inaccurate.

Plesiosaurus was a genus of large marine sauropterygian reptile that lived during the early part of the Jurassic Period, and is known by nearly complete skeletons from the Lias of England...

Each of the three plesiosaur models are intended to represent a different genus, and generally are fairly accurate to today's standards with the exception of two models' incredibly flexible necks, which twist in nearly impossible ways.

Pterodactyl The most common way of someone drawing a pterodactyl is to give the animal a head with an additional point, making its head almost symmetrical to its beak, but there were species of Pteranodon
Pteranodon , from the Late Cretaceous geological period of North America in present day Kansas, Alabama, Nebraska, Wyoming, and South Dakota, was one of the largest pterosaur genera and had a maximum wingspan of over...

that had simple bald heads devoid of these points. Hawkins's pterodactyls are some of his more accurate models (again despite their pipe-cleaner style necks). At some point the two models that stood beside the Iguanodon on the central island went missing; they have since been restored in the recent 2002 renovations.

Teleosaurus was an extinct genus of teleosaurid crocodyliform that lived during the Middle Jurassic. It was approximately in length. Teleosaurus had highly elongate jaws, similar to those of a modern gharial. It had a long, slender, body, with a sinuous tail that would have helped propel it...

Arguably Hawkins's most accurate model, the two Teleosaurs are depicted virtually the same as they are today (thin crocodiles with very long thin jaws and small eyes).

In Literature and popular culture

In the children's book Dinosaurs Don't Die
Dinosaurs Don't Die
Dinosaurs Don't Die is a children's book, written by Ann Coates and illustrated by John Vernon Lord. It tells the story of a young boy, Daniel, who lives opposite the Sydenham Hill park in South London where the Crystal Palace was moved after the Great Exhibition...

a young boy who lives near Crystal Palace Park discovers Hawkins' models come to life; he befriends one of the Iguanodon and names it 'Rock' and they visit the Natural History Museum.
Brett Anderson
Brett Anderson
Brett Lewis Anderson is an English singer-songwriter, best known as the lead vocalist of the band Suede. After Suede disbanded in 2003, he briefly fronted The Tears, and has released four solo albums...

, used the line 'So I went and sat in Crystal Palace, by the plastic dinosaurs' on his solo track To The Winter, from his 2007 self-titled album
Brett Anderson (album)
Brett Anderson is the first solo release from Suede and [The Tears]] frontman Brett Anderson.In May 2006, Anderson announced sketchy details for the album...

In Have His Carcase
Have His Carcase
Have His Carcase is a 1932 novel by Dorothy L. Sayers, her seventh featuring Lord Peter Wimsey and her second novel in which Harriet Vane appears...

, by Dorothy Sayers, character Lord Peter Wimsey
Lord Peter Wimsey
Lord Peter Death Bredon Wimsey is a bon vivant amateur sleuth in a series of detective novels and short stories by Dorothy L. Sayers, in which he solves mysteries; usually, but not always, murders...

 makes reference to the "antediluvian monsters" of the Crystal Palace.
In Paul Theroux
Paul Theroux
Paul Edward Theroux is an American travel writer and novelist, whose best known work of travel writing is perhaps The Great Railway Bazaar . He has also published numerous works of fiction, some of which were made into feature films. He was awarded the 1981 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his...

's 1989 novel My Secret History, the novel's narrator, Andre Parent, accidentally learns of his wife's infidelity when his young son, Jack, reveals to his father that he has visited the dinosaurs in the company of his mother's "friend" during Andre's prolonged absence gathering material for a travel book.
The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins: An Illuminating History of Mr. Waterhouse Hawkins, Artist and Lecturer (Hardcover) by Barbara Kerley (Author), Brian Selznick (Illustrator).