Inside an enclosure at the Crystal Palace Park in London, is a collection of over thirty concrete sculptures of dinosaurs. Built more than one hundred sixty years ago, these sculptures were the first ever attempt anywhere in the world to model dinosaurs as full-scale, three-dimensional creatures. Although the sculptures are wildly inaccurate by modern standards, they are still an important part of history because they show how the Victorians viewed prehistoric life.
These concrete beasts were designed and built by sculptor Benjamin Waterhouse-Hawkins in collaboration with Professor Richard Owen, a celebrated biologist and paleontologist of the time, best remembered today for being the one who coined the word “dinosaur”, meaning “terrible lizard”. Hawkins and Richards were asked to build a total of thirty three models of dinosaurs, as well as other extinct animals, in 1852 as part of a new attraction at the recently relocated Crystal Palace Park in Sydenham in south London. The trouble was, Hawkins didn’t have enough fossil evidence to begin with. For instance, for the Iguanodon, the largest and the most impressive of the sculptures, Hawkins had no more than a handful of teeth and a few bones. So he did what anybody with a contract and a looming deadline would have done —he used his imagination.
A Megalosaurus model at Crystal Palace Park. Photo credit: Peter Reed/Flickr