The world’s first dinosaur sculptures

A few years before the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species, a group of life size dinosaur models was commissioned by the Crystal Palace Company. They were to go on display in the pleasure park near the glassy Crystal Palace Exhibition hall. The sculptor, Hawkins, worked with paleontologist, Richard Owen, to visualise the dinosaurs and they based their ideas on fossil evidence at hand. The replicas stood on small islands or lay in the rising and falling tidal lagoons of the park.

However, within a few years the dinosaurs were discredited by the scientific community as inaccurate. A horn placed on the nose of the Iguanadon was proven false with a new discovery. The fossil bone it was based on turned out to be that of a thumb. The replicas were left untended and obscured by foliage until the 1950s when interest in them was revived, they were restored and repositioned.

These life-size dinosaur replicas are still impressive. Though they are inaccurate, they still provoke an emotional response in onlookers, perhaps because they give a sense of the bulk and presence of the creatures.

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