The Victorian Era brought with it many strange and unusual things that not many would consider being 'advancements' in today's day and age. One example of a more modern interpretation of the world can be found in Crystal Palace park, which is home to the world's first dinosaur sculptures. During the time they were built, it was believed that these reptiles were anatomically correct; now, we know that the attempt, while slightly amusing, was entirely incorrect.


During a time when science was still a fairly new concept and there was no research - nor a technological means by which to conduct it - these sculptures served as a glimpse into the prehistoric era. They can still be seen today by those who choose to stroll through the English park, but their features should be taken with a grain of salt.

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The History Of Crystal Park's Famed Dinosaur Sculptures

As with any scientific guess, there's bound to be some inaccuracies - it's part of the learning process. In the case of Crystal Palace, its contribution to paleontology made an impression and for centuries, it was thought that dinosaurs resembled somewhat of the sculpted reptiles that adorned the park's trails. The artist responsible for the sculptures, Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, revealed his work in 1854. At that time, there had been three major discoveries in regard to dinosaur species: Megalosaurus, Hylaeosaurus, and Iguanodons. There's one of each of the first two in the park, as well as two of the latter species - or, what it was thought to look like, anyway.

While the species had been found, not much was known about them besides the fact that they were reptiles. The resulting inference left Hawkins and his team believing that these dinosaurs would have been similar to large-breed species of lizards, thus, their final form in Crystal Palace. The sculptures themselves feature bulky, muscled arms and backs, with faces that resemble oversized iguanas, for the most part. The skin on the dinosaurs has a texture that one might associate with a desert lizard species, scaled and rough to the touch.

It was also known during that time that crocodiles were one of the oldest living prehistoric species in the world, therefore, the newly-discovered dinosaur species took on this form, as well. While the sculptures are not disturbing in their created form, they're certainly befuddling consider what we now know about these three dinosaur species. One taking a stroll through the park might just consider them to be akin to the massive monitor lizard or some kind of crocodile cousin - but this is not the case. The sculptures still remain, to this day, the earliest form of 'research' in regard to the dinosaurs.


For starters, the obvious problem with the sculpture of Megalosaurus in Crystal Palace is the fact that it was bipedal, which means it walked on two legs, not four. It's believed that Hawkins may have taken inspiration from the monitor lizard specifically for this dinosaur, hence its lizard-like body and crocodile-like head. While there's still no complete skeleton for this dinosaur species today, researchers have a pretty good idea of what the dinosaur would have looked like - which is absolutely nothing like its replica in Crystal Palace.


Out of the three depicted in the park, the Iguanodon is the most accurate in terms of the clues left behind by its fossil remains. Closely resembling that of the iguana (but much larger, obviously), the sculpture has lizard-like teeth, a lizard head, and a body to match. However, the posture of the dinosaur isn't quite right, as it was determined a few decades later that Iguanodon would have been primarily a quadruped.


Still somewhat of a mystery, it was determined that Hylaeosaurus is by far the most inaccurate of the bunch. There was only one specimen discovered prior to the revealing of the sculpture, and it was discovered in 1832. Now, we know that this species is more closely related to that of the ankylosaurs. However, Hawkins was flying without a lead, somewhat, during the creation of this early species. It's presumed that the creature faces away from oncoming trail-hikers due to the lack of information regarding its face and front portion. Aside from its menacing back spikes, the dinosaur itself is rather vague.

Visiting The Park Today

Those who visit Crystal Palace park today will be greeted by the same dinosaur sculptures, which are maintained by The Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs. Regardless of their accuracy in terms of modern-day paleontology, these dinosaurs are a crucial part of Victorian history nonetheless. They depict a time when the dinosaurs were first discovered and the world was trying to make sense of them, making this park a significant piece of prehistoric history - not unlike the earliest sketches of the human body in regard to medical practices.

  • Admission: Free
  • Parking: Free
  • Dinosaur Locations: Near the park's lakes in the southern part of the park; dinosaurs can be found by following an unpaved footpath, and each one is marked by an informative plaque.

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