- Dinosaur

Visitor Put up | The Crystal Palace Dinosaurs: The place are they now? by Sam Shiny – Love within the Time of Chasmosaurs

As we speak, we welcome Sam Shiny to the weblog for a visitor publish on the Crystal Palace dinosaurs.

A latest Earth Sciences graduate from UCL, Sam labored on the holotype specimen of the ankylosaur Hylaeosaurus for his Masters thesis, utilizing X-Ray tomography to explain its bizarrely-preserved cranium. Since graduating he principally spends his time shuttling to and from London, the place he continues to be primarily based part-time, and his house in Dorset. Observe Sam on Twitter @pipedreamdino, or take a look at his folks band’s Instagram @for.folks.sake.

Victorian Britain was the time and place by which palaeontology started to emerge as a real and impartial scientific self-discipline, and it offered a romantic and infrequently troublesome surroundings for our early understanding of dinosaurs. Tasked with making sense of recent discoveries from Britain and the Continent, early palaeontologists (often both docs or aristocrats) started to reply essentially the most fundamental of questions: what had been these reptiles, and why do they now not stay in our world? Can we describe them in an identical method to residing creatures, and the way in that case? The lattermost query led to a flurry of makes an attempt to make use of modern organic data to achieve perception into what extinct animals might have regarded like when alive.

The megalosaurus sculpture at the Crystal Palace

The iguandon pair at the Crystal Palace

The Hylaeosaurus sculpture at the Crystal Palace

The Crystal Palace Dinosaurs as seen over time and seasons. From prime: Megalosaurus in summer season, 2022; Hylaeosaurus in autumn, 2022; the 2 Iguanodon in summer season, 2020. Photographs by Sam Shiny.

The ball had quickly been set rolling. Illustrations of long-extinct crops and animals, alive and reconstructed of their pure habitat, grew to become in vogue for his or her extravagant and infrequently fanciful show of historical worlds. This took on a brand new substance within the early 1850s, when the acme for palaeoart was propelled from drawings to 37 (probably extra; Witton and Michell, 2022) life-size, anatomically to-the-letter statues; these had been constructed to accompany the everlasting re-opening of the Crystal Palace, lately having been moved from Hyde Park to a specially-created panorama near Sydenham in South London. These sculptures, a part of a wider Geological Courtroom by which one might traverse prehistory from the Palaeozoic via to the Ice Age, had been for essentially the most half the brainchild of Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (the extent to which one Sir Richard Owen was concerned is debated [Cadbury, 2000; Witton and Michel, 2022]). They’re additionally distinctive amongst publicly-displayed prehistoric statues in that they’re thought to symbolize, as shut as is feasible, modern consensus on what palaeontologists thought these taxa regarded like (Naish 2015). On the biggest of the islands is the centrepiece of this unusual and principally untouched show; 4 dinosaur sculptures making up three totally different genera. These taxa – Iguanodon, Megalosaurus and Hylaeosaurus – are usually not simply traditionally vital for his or her place amongst these sculptures, but in addition as constituent members of a dinosaurian founders’ membership. Collectively they make up a triumvirate of taxa, from which Owen used to coin the time period Dinosauria (Owen, 1842).

Cartoon illustration of three Crystal Palace Dinosaurs in anthropomorphized form, in fancy Victorian era suits.

Sketch of the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs as ‘founding members’ – a Victorian eccentricity with classes to show concerning the historical past of palaeontology. Drawing by Rose Meadows.

A lot has been written over time in regards to the historical past and significance of the Crystal Palace sculptures. Most lately, Mark Witton and Ellinor Michel wrote a complete e book concerning the Geological Courtroom (Witton and Michel, 2022). I’d prefer to steal somewhat little bit of your time to be able to shine a light-weight on how these dinosaurs have been doing since their snapshot second in Crystal Palace. With the present revival of curiosity in these sculptures as monuments to the historical past of palaeontology, the time is ripe to spotlight the historical past of those fascinating, usually enigmatic genera, with the view of reintroducing them into the general public sphere (the place they’re usually overshadowed by bigger, extra fascinating dinosaurs from North America).


Iguanodon might be the star of the present with regards to the Crystal Palace sculptures – partly (I suppose?) as a result of there are two of them, and partly due to semi-fictional tales about nostril horns and banquets hosted in one among their bellies. I believe the important thing factor concerning the present science of Iguanodon, as we see it at Crystal Palace, is that the specimens that Hawkins primarily based the sculptures from are now not categorised within the genus Iguanodon. This isn’t to say that no British iguanodontid specimens are Iguanodon anymore, however the ones that stay within the taxon weren’t even found till 20 years after the sculptures had been constructed (Witton and Michel, 2021), and so couldn’t have been utilized by Hawkins as references when constructing the Crystal Palace sculptures. Iguanodon anglicus, now a nomen dubium, was the recognized species of Iguanodon again within the 1850s, and the entire materials recognized from that point belongs to different iguanodontids or is taken into account indeterminate.

Iguanodontid systematics are continuously beneath revision, with nice work at the moment being completed at London’s Pure Historical past Museum, however it’s secure for now to say that a lot of the specimens consulted by Hawkins at the moment are categorised within the species Barilium dawsoni (previously Iguanodon dawsoni). This species was first recognised as separate from the unique Iguanodon materials by Richard Lydekker in 1888, who selected to erect a brand new species of Iguanodon quite than shove it into a brand new genus. Nonetheless, the flip of the twenty first century started a time of main splitting of iguanodontians. Questionable and nonetheless hotly-debated choices had been made, such because the Worldwide Fee on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN)’s referral of Iguanodon to I. bernissatensis kind specimens in Belgium (once more, described within the Eighties) quite than the unique, extra fragmentary English materials from the 1820s. I’ve heard from a number of folks that the holotype actually must have remained the holotype, though it’s a fairly undiagnostic piece of vertebra, so Iguanodon most likely would’ve been pronounced taxonomically lifeless if it wasn’t for the change to the Belgian kind specimen. Nearly all English specimens of Iguanodon had been break up into totally different genera, most famously Mantellisaurus (Paul, 2007), which options barely into the Crystal Palace chimeras. Nonetheless, it’s Barilium that dominates right here. What might be mentioned about Barilium? Effectively, it’s an eight metre-long, medium-sized iguanodontid, differentiated from different intently associated genera (together with Iguanodon) primarily based on some very minor variations… iguanodontids are peculiar issues.

Painting of the ornithopod dinosaur Iguanodon walking in front of a blue sky.

Trendy interpretation of Barilium dawsoni, the English iguanodontid taxon making up the vast majority of the Crystal Palace “Iguanodon”. Art work by Mark Witton. Used with permission from the creator.


For the higher a part of half a century Megalosaurus, the primary formally described dinosaur taxon (Buckland, 1824), was the staple of Victorian horror concerning the primordial world. It’s forgotten right now that this was the case, however this taxon crops up in cultural mainstays of the nineteenth century a lot that it was primarily a family identify. A passage from the opening of Dickens’ Bleak Home is oft-quoted, however calls for point out right here:

“London. Michaelmas time period currently over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Corridor. Implacable November climate. As a lot mud within the streets as if the waters had however newly retired from the face of the earth, and it will not be great to fulfill a Megalosaurus, forty ft lengthy or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill.”

That is usually thought-about the primary recognized reference to a selected dinosaur within the literary canon. Nonetheless, for credit score the place credit score is due, that is doubtless not true; an article mentioning Megalosaurus (titled Our Phantom Ship on an Antediluvian Cruise) was printed by Henry Morley about six months earlier within the journal Family Worlds, the editor of which was Dickens himself (Moskovitz, 2011).

Since these early days, together with its starring function in Crystal Palace, Megalosaurus has had a troublesome time conserving its stature inside dinosaurian canon. What has actually plagued altering scientific perceptions of Megalosaurus is our lack of information on the genus when put next with later theropod discoveries. For the reason that description of the kind species, M. bucklandii, many extra fragmentary fossil specimens had been assigned to the genus as an ensemble forged of various species. Inevitably, this led to Megalosaurus changing into one thing of a wastebasket taxon, with primarily any Jurassic-age English theropod being assigned to the genus. This meant that the true range of English theropods was wrapped up inside one taxon for fairly some time, compounded by the issue of British fossils infrequently being unearthed in a remotely full state (of the 100 or so British species of dinosaur recognized to science, solely three are recognized from virtually full skeletons: Hypsilophodon, Scelidosaurus and Mantellisaurus). Shifting down the record of ex-Megalosaurus taxa, some relative heavyweights of British dinosaurs are discovered – Proceratosaurus and Metriacanthosaurus for instance. However the record extends outdoors of the British Isles, and even outdoors of Europe – Carcharadontosaurus of bigger-than-T. rex fame might be essentially the most well-known taxon as soon as belonging to Megalosaurus, however different far-flung specimens from Tanzania and even India had been as soon as thrown into the genus. The idea of a cosmopolitan Megalosaurus, as this would appear to suggest, isn’t fairly as ridiculous because it sounds when you think about the wide-ranging habitat distributions many mammalian predators had earlier than the Holocene. Nonetheless, a collection of anatomical variations separated these specimens, and so the collapse of the Megalosaurus empire and all its constituent species was inevitable from the beginning. As we speak solely M. bucklandii is recognised as belonging to the genus, and materials for this species stays scant. Because of this, Megalosaurus continues to be styled in palaeoart after comparable theropods that had been as soon as assigned to it, resembling Torvosaurus.

Regardless of these caveats, we all know sufficient about Megalosaurus to make some generalisations about its look and way of life. Though medium-sized for theropods general, it’s one of many largest Center Jurassic theropods recognized, and is considered sturdy in comparison with early theropods of an identical dimension, with mass estimates simply shy of 1 tonne (Benson, 2010). It’s fairly vital to have the ability to make these generalisations, as Megalosaurus is the namesake of the household Megalosauridae, and thru this semantic the taxon stays a benchmark for comparisons with different megalosaurid theropods.

Painting of the theropod dinosaur Megalosaurus bent over a dead animal, feeding.

Trendy interpretation of Megalosaurus bucklandii consuming its fill, because it certainly should have in its time as apex predator of Center Jurassic Britain. Art work by Mark Witton. Used with permission from the creator.


I believe that Hylaeosaurus has at all times been essentially the most criminally neglected of our three founding dinosaur taxa. Why did this dinosaur by no means ‘take off’? This has been recommended to be attributable to a mix of things: an absence of information on this dinosaur, the problem of gaining new knowledge, and its place because the sufferer of potential synonymy with its extra well-known relative Polacanthus.

Issues began off fairly sourly for the debut of Hylaeosaurus on the islands of Crystal Palace. For one factor, it was positioned going through away from the view of the walkway, its head (now a duplicate) simply out of view. It has been intuitively recommended that this was as a result of Hawkins wished to cover the entrance finish of the sculpture, as the one specimen at the moment recognized to Hylaeosaurus, described in 1833 by Mantell, has such a multitude of a preserved cranium that no person had a clue what its head regarded like. Nonetheless, this speculation has change into an unlikely prospect (Witton, 2018), as in the course of the creation of the Crystal Palace sculptures Hawkins used a number of totally different specimens (then assigned to Hylaeosaurus [Owen, 1842c]) for reference, together with part of a decrease jaw and a few tooth fragments. As we speak these fragments are thought-about to belong to non-ankylosaurian dinosaurs (Upchurch et al., 2011; Barrett and Maidment, 2011; Witton and Michel, 2021), however it stays that summing this materials collectively offers an identical quantity of cranium materials for Victorian Hylaeosaurus as was recognized for Megalosaurus, which Hawkins had no such hassle displaying off the cranium for.

New Hylaeosaurus specimens have been exhausting to come back by. The Sussex quarry by which the holotype was found has lengthy since been infilled, and an issue with British dinosaurs typically is that a lot of the UK has been claimed by urbanisation that significant exploration of explicit strata is tougher than within the open, barren badlands of Wyoming or Alberta. Discoveries of actually thyreophoran dinosaurs proceed to be made, however a number of these are so fragmentary that they find yourself being taxonomically indeterminate, at finest often proposed to belong to at least one genus or one other. Revisions in taxonomy haven’t simply dwindled Hylaeosaurus to at least one specimen, both; the as soon as widely-represented Polacanthus has additionally been diminished to only a single specimen (Raven et al., 2020).

Difficulties with British ankylosaur taxonomy have beforehand led lumpers to push for synonymy with the species we do have. For instance, within the Nineteen Eighties and Nineteen Nineties a debate raged as as to if Hylaeosaurus and Polacanthus ought to be thought-about a single genus (with the latter changing into a junior synonym, or Hylaeosaurus foxii). Nonetheless, the 2 taxa are separated by over 20 million years… can they actually be a single genus? For perspective, the final frequent ancestor between people and orangutans lived simply 12 million years in the past (Tocheri et al., 2008). And so, British ankylosaurs thunder on, usually with poorly understood specimens which actually require additional examine, ideally with newer methods resembling Computed Tomography. My Masters thesis concerned utilizing CT knowledge on the Hylaeosaurus holotype to convey this long-debated cranium materials into the twenty first century with descriptive work not attainable by learning the specimen by hand. However extra on that quickly…

A painting of the armored dinosaur Hylaeosaurus at the edge of a body of fresh water.

Trendy interpretation of Hylaeosaurus armatus taking a drink, in opposition to a backdrop of some typical Creatceous British climate. Art work by Mark Witton. Used with permission from the creator.

Concluding remarks

To sum up: Iguanodon isn’t the Crystal Palace Iguanodon, Megalosaurus is an emptied wastebasket and Hylaeosaurus is (nonetheless) obscure. That’s good to know, I suppose, however now what? Why is that this vital to know? I believe the person tales of the taxa at Crystal Palace are deeply entwined with the Geological Courtroom itself, and the present resurgence of curiosity in them is the proper time to shine a light-weight on the analysis that has gone into these taxa since. For readability and brevity I’ve chosen to deal with the precise dinosaurs of the Crystal Palace sculptures, however the identical story can (and may) be checked out for all of the taxa making up this distinctive relic within the historical past of recent science.

The important thing now’s to show the historic curiosity from just a few folks ‘within the know’ to the broader palaeontological neighborhood, after which the general public. The previous is already taking place; a palaeontology convention that came about final yr at London’s Pure Historical past Museum featured a chat on the sculptures by Witton, a poster on new cranium materials discovered within the Hylaeosaurus holotype (a shameless self-plug), and was capped off by a subject journey to the park itself. Nonetheless, the latter factor – getting this curiosity to stay to a public largely involved with extra urgent worldly issues – is massively depending on the diploma to which we will maintain these sculptures attention-grabbing and above all, secure from hurt.

Regardless of occasional refurbishments and common repairs the place doable, components of the sculptures regularly break with out the obtainable funds for fast repairs. A stunning instance got here in the course of the first COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, when the snout and decrease jaw of the Megalosaurus sculpture was damaged off in an act of obvious vandalism (or carelessness). Whereas persevering with curiosity in these sculptures is actually bolstered by understanding their historical past, it’s also vital to grasp the context of the dinosaurs themselves, as they symbolize not simply the historical past of British palaeontological science, however to a terrific extent the dinosaurs that also lie beneath our ft in twenty first century Britain.

Crystal Palace Megalosaurus statue with a damaged lower jaw

The lacking snout of Megalosaurus, as seen in August 2020. It took a superb few months for a substitute to be made, and the result’s barely totally different in look (color, and some different minor particulars) to the unique work. Photograph by Sam Shiny.


Benson, R. B. (2010). An outline of Megalosaurus bucklandii (Dinosauria: Theropoda) from the Bathonian of the UK and the relationships of Center Jurassic theropods. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 158(4), 882-935.

Buckland, W. (1824). XXI.—Discover on the Megalosaurus or nice Fossil Lizard of Stonesfield. Transactions of the Geological Society of London, 2(2), 390-396.

Cadbury, D., Mantell, E. G., & Owen, R. (2003). The Dinosaur Hunters: A Story of Sdentific Rivalry and the Discovery of the Prehistoric World. Geoscience Canada, 30(3).

Naish, D. (2016). The dinosaurs of Crystal Palace: Among the many most correct renditions of prehistoric life ever made. Scientific American.

Owen, R. (1842). Report on British fossil reptiles. Experiences of the British
Affiliation for the Development of Science, 11:60–204.

Paul, G. S. (2007). Turning the previous into the brand new: a separate genus for the gracile iguanodont from the Wealden of England. In Okay. Carpenter (Ed.), Horns and beaks: ceratopsian and ornithopod Dinosaurs (pp. 69–77). Bloomington: Indiana College Press

Raven, T. J., Barrett, P. M., Pond, S. B., & Maidment, S. C. (2020). Osteology and Taxonomy of British Wealden Supergroup (Berriasian–Aptian) Ankylosaurs (Ornithischia, Ankylosauria). Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 40(4), e1826956.

Tocheri, M. W., Orr, C. M., Jacofsky, M. C., & Marzke, M. W. (2008). The evolutionary historical past of the hominin hand for the reason that final frequent ancestor of Pan and Homo. Journal of Anatomy, 212(4), 544-562.

Witton, M and Michel, E. (2022). The Artwork and Science of the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs. The Crowood Press Ltd, London. ISBN: 9780719840494

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