You can now see the Crystal Palace’s Victorian beasts in full 3D on your computer, after a project to scan them for restoration work also enabled a website to recreate the beasts online.
The project to photo scan the Victorian sculptures was carried out so that conservators could manage the condition of the fragile creatures and direct where repairs are needed. The scanning and subsequent modelling were undertaken by Historic England’s Geospatial Survey Team, in collaboration with the Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs.
As Historic England has published the scans on the Sketchfab website, if you own, or have access to a 3D printer, you could download the scan data and print your own beast at home.
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Simon Buteux, Partnerships Team Leader at Historic England, said: “The Crystal Palace Dinosaurs were a milestone in the public outreach of science when they were first created, and they still have admirers near and far. Our new models will let even more people get to know these wonderful prehistoric beasts. The scans will also help us to better understand the sculptures’ conservation problems and aid with their restoration.”
You can also play with the 3D scans online here.
Looking ahead with support from a number of partners
The future is looking bright for the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs and the wider historic Park. In March 2023 the National Lottery Heritage Fund confirmed a grant to advance the Park’s regeneration plans, including the restoration of the Tidal Lakes area, home of the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs.
Why are the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs so important?
The Dinosaurs were created in 1853–1855 by artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins as part of the original design of Crystal Palace Park. The Park was laid out to plans by Joseph Paxton.
The sculptures are the world’s first attempt to model extinct animals at life-size, using fossil remains as evidence. This was before the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species and the word ‘dinosaur’ had only been coined a decade earlier, in 1842.
Contrary to popular belief, only four of the sculpted animals are technically dinosaurs by definition. The collection includes ancient mammals and amphibians which are also now extinct, plus marine and flying reptiles.
While modern understanding of the pre-historic world has advanced since Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins’ day, the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs represent an important moment in the history of science and their significance is recognised by the highest level of listing, Grade I.