Historic England tries to future-proof dinos with 3D models

Monster lake: ‘dinosaur island’ in Crystal Palace Park has fascinated visitors for 170 years

Twenty-nine interactive 3D models of the surviving Crystal Palace Victorian dinosaur sculptures have been created by Historic England, in collaboration with the Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs.

Model creature: the Mosasaurus emerges from the waters, as captured in 3D by English Heritage. This sculpture represents the biggest mosasaur, which grew to up to 17metres. Today mosasaurs are understood to have been fully marine with shark-like tail fins – the lizard equivalent of toothed whales.

The models let you get up close and personal with the Grade I-listed beasts and will help inform future repairs.

The models will be available and on display this Sunday at the Crystal Palace Park Trust Garden Party.

“The Crystal Palace Park Trust is really excited that Historic England will be enlivening our Garden Party by bringing along their state-of-the-art technology that will give enthusiasts a close encounter with our favourite dinos,” said Val Shawcross, the CEO of the Crystal Palace Park Trust.

The Trust, formed by the south London community, is about to take control of all aspects of the management and maintenance of the park from Bromley Council, and this weekend’s party has been organised to mark this auspicious move.

The park itself, which once formed the pleasure gardens around the Crystal Palace, is itself Grade II*-listed, with the dinosaurs among its foremost attractions. “Historic England have worked hard over the years to help conserve the dinosaurs which are global, but increasingly fragile, historic treasures,” Shawcross told Inside Croydon.

New future for heritage: Val Shawcross, the CEO of Crystal Palace Park Trust

“In taking over the park, the Trust will be working with the Friends of the Dinosaurs, Historic England, the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Bromley’s regeneration team to maintain the park’s famous dinosaurs to a high standard.

“We want to ensure that future generations can learn about the history of science from these dinosaurs and enjoy the fun and fantasy they add to the park.”

The dimensionally accurate photogrammetric models have been created from multiple digital scans of the dinosaurs, which were made from a Victorian form of concrete, and not stone as BBC presenter Fiona Bruce said in her introduction of last Sunday’s episode of Antiques Roadshow, which was filmed in the park in June this year.

It is because of the deteriorating state of the concrete that so much care and attention is being lavished on the dinosaurs, which were designed by sculptor Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins.

“People can now get up close and personal with the ‘Dinosaurs’ without disrupting the vulnerable animal artworks or their setting on Dino Island,” a spokesperson for Historic England said today.

Object lesson: the 3D model of the Hylaeosaurus. The first fossil specimen was found in a quarry in the Sussex Weald in 1833 by the pioneering palaeontologist Gideon Mantell.
The sculpture is a Victorian patchwork based on fossils from different types of dinosaur, and much about it is inaccurate. The original statue in the park lost its head 40 years ago, and has had a fibreglass replacement. 

“The models also allow conservators to benchmark the condition of the fragile creatures, decide where repairs are most needed, and help shape plans for their maintenance into the future.”

The scanning and subsequent modelling was undertaken by Historic England’s Geospatial Survey Team, in collaboration with the Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs.

Simon Buteux, from 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.”

In March, the National Lottery Heritage Fund confirmed a grant to advance the Park’s regeneration plans, including the restoration of the Tidal Lakes area, where the dinosaurs have been located for 170 years.

The dinosaurs were created in between 1853 and 1855 by Waterhouse Hawkins as part of the original design of Crystal Palace Park when it was laid out to plans by Joseph Paxton.

Come fly with me: Two Pterodactyle statues were among the park’s original collection

In some ways, Crystal Palace Park was an early theme park, and the sculptures were the world’s first attempt to model extinct animals at life-size, using fossil remains as evidence. This was before the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, and the word “dinosaur” had only been coined a decade earlier.

The Crystal Palace dinosaurs are now regarded as an early example of “edu-tainment”. The Dinosaurs represented the cutting edge of the Victorian understanding of the prehistoric world.

Only four of the sculpted animals are technically dinosaurs.

The collection includes ancient mammals and amphibians which are also now extinct, plus marine and flying reptiles.

While modern understanding of the prehistoric 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.

There will be a chance to take a closer look at the 3D dino models on Sunday, when English Heritage will be at the Crystal Palace Park Garden Party.

From 10am to 6pm in the Concert Bowl, there will be a chance to see and feel fragments from some of the original dinosaur statues and later replacements, showing just how they were made.

Weather permitting, you could see the recreation of a 19th-century photograph of the dinosaurs using the same calotype method as was used back in 1855, and you can even take home an origami sheet so you can make your very own dinosaur.

For more details of this Sunday’s event, click here.

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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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