Crystal Palace dinosaurs, in Views of the
Crystal Palace and Park, Sydenham (1854), by Matthew Digby Wyatt with P.H.
Delamotte (public domain)
Yesterday, in Part 1 of this 3-part
ShukerNature blog article (click here
to access it), we began a virtual, verbal tour of a veritable Lost World in
leafy southeast London – Crystal Palace Park's famous Dinosaur Court. It
contains a spectacular series of life-sized statues dating back to the 1850s, which
had been created by English sculptor and artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins
under the supervision of leading British zoologist and palaeontologist Prof.
Sir Richard Owen.
They represent no fewer than 20 different
species of prehistoric animal, reconstructed with varying degrees of accuracy
compared to today's palaeontological counterparts, but still unmatched in terms
of artistic magnificence. We have already visited the Court's Cenozoic mammals,
but now, here in Part 2, we shall be viewing its most celebrated and stupendous
sculptures – a menagerie of reptilian monsters from the Mesozoic Era, the Age
of Reptiles, whose most familiar examples are its trio of dinosaur forms.
Waterhouse Hawkins (Maull & Polyblank Wellcome/Wikipedia – CC BY 4.0 licence)
These dinosaurs, all originally known
from fossils excavated in England, are represented by a statue of the Jurassic
carnivorous theropod Megalosaurus
bucklandi, two composite statues of the Jurassic/Cretaceous herbivorous
ornithopod Iguanodon (as these were
apparently based upon fossil material derived from at least two if not three
different iguanodont species), and a statue of the early Cretaceous herbivorous
ankylosaur Hylaeosaurus armatus.
Whenever anyone talks about Crystal Palace Park's prehistoric animals, it is
this exceedingly impressive quartet of stately sculptures that always comes to
mind, because they absolutely epitomize the anatomical inaccuracy by present-day
standards yet truly iconic, idiosyncratic grandeur of Hawkins's creations. Having
said that, the dinosaurs in particular are actually not as inaccurate as they
might have been, as will now be explained.
To my mind, the most magnificent of
Hawkins's dinosaurs is his enormous Megalosaurus,
standing aloof and majestic, the absolute monarch of Secondary Island beyond
any shadow of doubt. Yet in morphological terms it resembles an incongruous
hybrid of reptile and mammal. For whereas it sports an unequivocally reptilian
head, vaguely crocodilian in profile, and its body is covered in scales, it
also possesses a muscular, ostensibly mammalian shoulder hump, as well as four
vertical, upright limbs, a typically mammalian characteristic. So how can its curiously
composite form be explained?
Crystal Palace Megalosaurus (© Dr
When in the 1820s dinosaur remains were
first scientifically named, described, and recognized to be giant reptiles,
some scientists assumed that they were nothing more than gigantic lizards, and
illustrations dating from that time period duly depicted them as such.
Consequently, had Hawkins heeded those views, he would have reconstructed his
dinosaurs not only as quadrupeds (as he did do) but also as ones whose limbs
splayed out laterally from their bodies, just like those of lizards do. Fortunately,
however, he took his lead from Owen instead, who was convinced that far from
simply being enormous lizards, the dinosaurs represented nothing less than the
zenith of reptilian development. As a result, in 1841 Owen allocated them to an
entirely new taxonomic suborder of reptiles, which he grandly christened Dinosauria
Moreover, based upon his studies of those
fossil remains so far disinterred, especially their mighty ribs and limb bones,
Owen opined that the dinosaurs' great size would necessarily have incorporated
much deeper bodies proportionately speaking than those of lizards, crocodiles,
and other present-day reptiles. This in turn would have required their limbs to
be sturdier and, crucially, vertical in stance, holding their heavy bodies
upright just as the vertical limbs of mammals do.
mother Mary Shuker and I with Hawkins's iconic Megalosaurus statue during our visit to Crystal Palace Park's
Dinosaur Court on 22 April 2010 (© Dr Karl Shuker)
Consequently, when referring to Megalosaurus in his groundbreaking 1841
monograph on British fossil reptiles, Owen confidently stated:
From the size
and form of the ribs it is evident that the trunk was broader and deeper in
proportion than in modern Saurians, and it was doubtless raised from the ground
upon extremities proportionally larger and especially longer, so that the
general aspect of the living Megalosaur must have proportionally resembled that
of the large terrestrial quadrupeds of the Mammalian class which now tread the
Megalosaurus model by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, c.1852, Oxford Museum,
England (© Ballista/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)
It was these comments by Owen that
directly influenced Hawkins's designing of Megalosaurus
and, to a slightly lesser extent, his other dinosaurs too, as veritable
mammalian reptiles, or reptilian mammals, depending upon which taxonomic
component of their form any given observer most readily notices. In my case, it
was the reptilian head and body scales of Megalosaurus
that first attracted my attention, albeit followed very closely by the
surprising realization of just how mammalian its body shape, stature, and
stance were – almost like some bizarre coalescence of crocodile and rhinoceros,
or alligator and elephant! Indeed, so many people at one time or another have
likened this particular statue to a reptilian rhino that I can't help but
wonder whether, instead of calling it a dinosaur, we would do better by dubbing
it a rhinosaur!
Today, conversely, Megalosaurus is typically reconstructed as a bipedal dinosaur (the
concept that some dinosaurs were bipedal was first raised in 1858, too late for
Hawkins to utilize it with his creations), possessing longer forearms but
otherwise superficially reminiscent of its mighty Cretaceous relative, Tyrannosaurus rex. This is undoubtedly a
much more accurate rendition palaeontologically, but is in my opinion a far
less memorable, romantic one aesthetically than the Crystal Palace version.
reconstruction of Megalosaurus
(Conty/Wikipedia – public domain)
In the case of the two Iguanodon statues (one constructed
standing, the other reposing with one front paw resting indolently upon a
reconstructed cycad), their most noticeable feature is the short pointed horn
perched somewhat precariously upon the tip of their snout. Yet even Owen was by
no means convinced that this structure was valid, expressing his doubts as far
back as 1854, which were duly vindicated when further remains and studies
revealed that this supposed 'horn' was actually a pointed thumb digit!
Also, once again their quadrupedal stance
has since been supplanted, first of all by reconstructions portraying Iguanodon as habitually bipedal, but
later still by the currently accepted view that it was both bipedal and
quadrupedal, its stance dictated by what it needed to do at any given time.
reconstruction of Iguanodon (public
As for Hylaeosaurus: this is an early Cretaceous ankylosaur, which just
for a change is still restored today as a quadruped. Hawkins reconstructed it
as a much more lizard-like dinosaur than his quasi-mammalian Megalosaurus statue and his two Iguanodon statues, and he equipped its
scaly body with an eyecatching mid-dorsal ridge of long pointed spines running
from its neck down the entire length of its back to the end of its long
Even today, little is known of the
overall appearance of Hylaeosaurus,
because few remains have been uncovered (it is now recognised that Hawkins
unknowingly utilized fossils from a wide range of different, but at that time
undifferentiated, dinosaurs for inspiration when creating his statue of it). However,
some researchers have conjectured that it may have sported not just one but
several rows of these spines, bearing them laterally upon its flanks too, not
only along its back – more like a reptilian porcupine, in fact, than Hawkins's
giant lizard lookalike! Incidentally, its head is a modern fibreglass replica –
the original was removed or fell off many years ago (further details concerning
it will appear tomorrow in Part 3 of this ShukerNature blog article).
engraving based upon Hawkins's Crystal Palace Hylaeosaurus
statue, depicting it looking straight ahead, rather than facing away (the latter
being how this statue is positioned in situ) (public domain)
Meanwhile, high upon a fabricated cliff
behind the dinosaurs squat a pair of what by today's standards are decidedly
strange-looking pterosaurs, with slender toothy jaws but heavily-scaled bodies,
membranous bat-like wings that seem oddly oriented, erroneously avian limb
posture and body shape, plus long, curved, swan-like necks. Looking up at them,
I remember thinking that these winged monstrosities would not look out of place
as stony gargoyles perched atop some lofty ledge on the exterior of a gothic
The limestone cliff upon which they were
originally sited was deliberately blown up during a less-than-successful park
modification attempt in the 1960s. However, it was replaced during the
extensive restoration work of 2002 by a new cliff, created from Derbyshire
limestone, at whose summit these pterosaurs were then duly relocated.
Palace statues of 'Pterodactylus cuvieri'
(© Ben Sutherland/Wikipedia – CC BY 2.0 licence)
In Owen's time, their species was named Pterodactylus cuvieri, but today this is
believed to have been based upon remains from more than one species, and they
are now deemed to be representatives of the genus Cimoliopterus. The fossils upon which they were based had been
derived from British chalk deposits of the Cretaceous Period.
There was once a pair of smaller but
extremely elegant pterosaur statues on display here too, perched upon a rock by
the teleosaurs (see later), which were notable for their billowing sail-like
wings. They were based upon an uncertain species referred to back then as Pterodactylus [later Rhamphocephalus] bucklandi, but they were known colloquially as the Oolite pterosaurs
because the fossils upon which they were based had been found in British Oolite
rocks, dating from the Jurassic. Tragically, however, as I'll be revealing tomorrow
in Part 3, Fate – or, to be more precise, the general public – was less than
kind to them.
A vintage picture postcard from 1911 depicting Crystal Palace Park's Dinosaur Court, including the two small, subsequently-destroyed Oolite pterosaurs, arrowed (public domain)
The Oolite pterosaurs in close-up (public domain)
Reposing on Secondary Island's shore and
also residing in its offshore waters, as well in as those of Primary Island, are
a sundry array of aquatic Mesozoic reptiles. These consist of three plesiosaurs,
three ichthyosaurs, and two marine crocodilians, based upon remains originating
from such famous English fossiliferous locations as Lyme Regis and Whitby.
There is also a semi-submerged mosasaur,
sited apart from the others in a dam setting at the edge of Secondary Island
nearest to Tertiary Island, and based upon Dutch fossils.
Overview of the
Crystal Palace dinosaurs and lake reptiles (© Nick Richards/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 2.0 licence)
The three plesiosaurs were reconstructed
by Hawkins according to the popular Victorian misapprehension that these water
monsters' elongate necks were inordinately flexible, virtually able to tie
themselves in knots, in stark contrast to modern-day views that they were in
fact relatively inflexible, stretching forward in a fairly stiff horizontal
manner. Their bodies are also more slender and supple than is nowadays believed
for such reptiles.
Each plesiosaur statue represents a
different species. Namely, Plesiosaurus
dolichodeirus, "P." [=Rhomaleosaurus?] macrocephalus, and Thalassiodracon
hawkinsi. However, there is some modern-day disagreement as to which statue
represents which species.
Hawkins's three Crystal Palace plesiosaur statues (© Dr Karl Shuker)
Hawkins's trio of ichthyosaurs (again each
one representing a different species) look distinctly odd too, due in no small
way to their conspicuous lack of both a dorsal fin and the very large vertical
shark-like tail fin that all but the earliest of these marine reptiles are now
known to have possessed. Instead, Hawkins simply gave them long flat tails
emerging directly from their backbone (plus a small flat terminal protuberance
for the biggest ichthyosaur's tail), and he positioned these creatures resting
partly out of the water on the island's shore, more like seals than sea
In addition, their large eyes are
encircled with exposed bony sclerotic plates, which are indeed present in
fossil ichthyosaur remains but were much more likely to have been hidden
beneath skin in the living animals (as they are in various modern-day creatures
that possess them). The three species represented are Temnodontosaurus platydon (the largest member of this trio), Ichthyosaurus communis (the mid-sized
one), and Leptonectes tenuirostris (the
of Hawkins's three Crystal Palace ichthyosaur statues – Temnodontosaurus platydon in foreground, with the head of Leptonectes tenuirostris visible in
background (© Dr Karl Shuker)
of Hawkins's three Crystal Palace ichthyosaur statues – Leptonectes tenuirostris at back, Ichthyosaurus communis in front (© Dr Karl Shuker)
Two marine crocodilians, Teleosaurus, are also present, sporting
very long, slender gharial-like jaws, elongate bodies, long tails, and clawed shortish
limbs, which is how this prehistoric oceanic reptile is still restored today. Unfortunately,
their scales are visibly based upon those of modern-day crocodiles rather than fossil
Teleosaurs belong to the now-extinct
suborder of crocodilians known as thalattosuchians. Some of its members
included fully aquatic species whose limbs had evolved into paddle-shaped
flippers, unlike the clawed limbs of teleosaurs.
two Crystal Palace Teleosaurus
statues (© Dr Karl Shuker)
As for the mosasaur: at the time of
Hawkins's statue, only the appearance of these varanid-related aquatic lizards'
head was known. So, supplemented merely by a generic scaly upper back portion
and a single forelimb, this is all that Hawkins created, skilfully positioning
this very incomplete statue so as to create the illusion that its largely non-existent
body was actually present but submerged beneath the water surface!
Having said that, Hawkins was more than
happy to improvise then-undescribed body portions for various other creatures
here, including the dinosaur Hylaeosaurus
and the therapsid Dicynodon (see
later). Hence it seems odd that he didn't do the same for this mosasaur. Its
species is Mosasaurus hoffmanni.
Modern-day reconstruction of Mosasaurus (Dimitry Bogdanov/Wikipedia – public domain)
Continuing along Dinosaur Court's
mainland footpath that leads past each of the islands and takes the visitor
ever further back in geological time, the Mesozoic's giant reptilian mega-stars
of land, air, and water that are present on and around Secondary Island are now
left behind, and five statues of smaller, less familiar archaic herpetological
creatures are encountered on Primary Island, near the water edge.
Three of these are prehistoric amphibians,
specifically temnospondyls – a diverse, long-extinct taxonomic group that
includes various amphibians formerly categorized as either labyrinthodonts or
stegocephalians. Moreover, unlike any amphibians alive today, some
temnospondyls were scaly-skinned, like reptiles; others, conversely, were
smooth-skinned, like modern-day amphibians.
drawing of Hawkins's Crystal Palace statue of Mastodonsaurus jaegeri, aka Labyrinthodon
salamandroides, a temnospondyl (public domain)
reconstruction of Mastodonsaurus (public
The largest temnospondyl species could
attain lengths of up to 20 ft, i.e. far bigger than any modern-day amphibian.
Moreover, we know today from abundant fossil evidence that they were
long-jawed, long-tailed, lengthy-bodied beasts, superficially resembling
crocodiles, with smaller ones resembling salamanders.
Back in the days of Owen and Hawkins,
conversely, with far fewer uncovered fossils available for study, it was wrongly
assumed that they simply looked like very large frogs. Hence this is how
Hawkins reconstructed the bodies of the two temnospondyl species on display here
in Dinosaur Court, adding only short stumpy tails, although he did provide
their heads with longer jaws than those of frogs.
Crystal Palace statue of Mastodonsaurus
jaegeri, aka Labyrinthodon
salamandroides (© Dr Karl Shuker)
One of these species, represented by a
single large statue, was known back then as Labyrinthodon
salamandroides, but was subsequently renamed during various
reclassifications, and is currently referred to as Mastodonsaurus jaegeri. Hawkins reconstructed it with smooth skin.
It lived in what is today Europe, including the UK, during the early Mesozoic's
mid-Triassic Period, 247-237 million years ago, and is nowadays believed to
have been predominantly aquatic, rarely leaving the water, whereas Hawkins
positioned his statue of it on land. The biggest specimens were up to 20 ft
The other species, represented by a
couple of smaller statues, was known in Hawkins's time as Labyrinthodon pachygnathus, but today is called Cyclotosaurus pachygnathus. This was a temnospondyl
with scaly skin, which Hawkins duly incorporated into his reconstruction, but
otherwise his statue of it looks very similar to his Mastodonsaurus specimens, i.e. frog-like but with fairly long jaws.
It existed from the mid to late Triassic Period, which ended around 200 million
years ago, grew up to 14 ft long, and lived in Europe, especially in what is
two Crystal Palace statues of Cyclotosaurus
pachygnathus aka Labyrinthodon
pachygnathus (© Dr Karl Shuker)
The final two statues displayed on
Dinosaur Park's Primary Island, one somewhat larger than the other, represent a
strange creature known as Dicynodon, which
existed in what is now South Africa, and dates further back in time than any
other animal form represented here. Flourishing during the upper Permian Period
of the late Palaeozoic Era, approximately 252 million years ago (certain
Triassic species have also been described but these are all nowadays reclassified
in other genera), Dicynodon was a
therapsid, That is, it belonged to a reptilian group commonly dubbed the
mammal-like reptiles, because this was the group that did indeed give rise to
the mammals, evolving certain anatomical features that would characterize the
mammals once the therapsids themselves died out.
Unfortunately, however, back in Hawkins's
day, this reptile was principally known only from skulls, which were
characterized by a pair of sizeable upper tusks and a horny tortoise-like beak.
Consequently, adhering to Owen's conjecture that its body may have borne a
shell, Hawkins accordingly reconstructed Dicynodon
as a veritable sabre-toothed tortoise, and sporting not only a domed chelonian
carapace but also a scute-bearing tail reminiscent of the American snapping
turtle's. This is of course all dramatically different from the shell-less,
barrel-bodied, mammalian predecessor that we now know this reptile to have
been. Herbivorous by nature, Dicynodon
is believed to have used its two large upper tusks (which were its only teeth) for
digging up roots and tubers, whereas its beak was probably used for cropping
Crystal Palace Dicynodon statues (©
Ben Sutherland/Wikipedia – CC BY 2.0 licence)
Rear view of
Hawkins's two Crystal Palace Dicynodon statues,
showing their tail scutes (© Loz Pycock/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 2.0 licence)
Continuing along the mainland footpath
leads round to the opposite side of the islands, which afforded a clearer view
of the pterosaurs and the giant ground sloth when I visited in 2010, before
finally ending full circle back at the entrance.
Unexpectedly, just before the entrance is
reached, a statue of London Zoo's famous former resident Guy the Gorilla is
encountered – offering some great opportunities for selfies!
statue of London Zoo's Guy the Gorilla in Crystal Palace Park (© Dr Karl
Having now completed our virtual tour of
Crystal Palace's Dinosaur Court, tomorrow, in Part 3 of this ShukerNature blog
article (click here to access it), its spectacular exhibits' continual battle against the ravages of
time, not to mention wanton vandalism, will be revealed.
We shall also look further afield, to
discover what would have – should have – been Hawkins's supreme, transatlantic
triumph. But as will be seen, Fate – and inhuman humanity – had other ideas.
Don't miss it! And be sure to click here
to read Part 1, posted on ShukerNature by me yesterday.
of Hawkins's Crystal Palace Teleosaurus
statues alongside a very much alive grey heron! (© Chris Sampson/Wikipedia – CC BY 2.0 licence)