A sculpture of an extinct animal that was created to go among the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs but vanished in the 1960s has been restored.

Palaeotherium magnum (c) Natural History Museum / James Balston

Palaeontologists, historians, and artists have collaborated to rebuild a Victorian-era sculpture of Palaeotherium magnum, a 2.2-meter-long, extinct mammal distantly related to horses, and it has been installed amongst the collection of dinosaurs at Crystal Palace.

Although the Palaeotherium magnum comes long after the dinosaurs went extinct/evolved into birds, that was as well known to the Victorians who created the Crystal Palace park, so we can forgive that historic anomaly.

The Crystal Palace Dinosaurs, comprising approximately 30 extinct animal sculptures, up to around 40 geological displays, and related landscaping, form a unique and historic collection in Crystal Palace Park. Created between 1853 and 1855, the statues, created by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, were the world’s first attempt to model life-size extinct animals.

While the term ‘Dinosaurs’ is used to refer to the collection, only four of the statues are strictly dinosaurs with others representing marine and flying reptiles as well as crocodilians, amphibians, and mammals like Palaeotherium magnum.

Ellinor Michel, evolutionary biologist at the Natural History Museum and Chair of the Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs said, “The sculptures are of huge historic and scientific importance. The display first opened 28 years before the Natural History Museum and was the first-time models of extinct creatures had been used to engage people with science and the natural world in an accessible, entertaining way. It was also the first ‘walk through geological time’ and for many visitors, this was their first introduction to the idea of lost worlds of animals and environments that no longer exist.”

This project marks the first attempt in 20 years to replace a lost sculpture at the site and the project emphasises the need for more archival work and better records of the historical changes that have taken place within the grounds.

Alongside recreating those missing, the existing sculptures are in urgent need of conservation measures. This project is part of a broader effort to revive and conserve the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs site, with a wider range of regeneration due to start in a few years time.


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