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Everyone loves the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs, and everyone has something to add to their story. Special thanks to Ilja Nieuwland, historian of palaeontology, who sent us this material.

umschau_iguanodon

From Becker (1911). The caption reads “Iguanodon in Sydenham Park, designed about 40 years ago.” A sharp-eyed viewer will notice the infamous “horn” has been excised along with the background.

Pointing out “mistakes”

It’s easy to point out other people’s mistakes. Hans Becker chose to do this in his 1911 essay comparing “old” and “new” interpretations of extinct animals. The Crystal Palace Dinosaurs were used to ridicule several presumed errors by English-speaking palaeontologists. In his Figure 7 (above), he’s ridiculing the pachyderm model for Iguanodon favoured by Richard Owen.

In Figure 13 (below), he’s ridiculing Waterhouse Hawkins’ interpretation of Ichthyosaurus because it lacked a dorsal fin along the ridge of the spine.

In Becker’s case, “old” didn’t mean “classic”; it meant “wrong”. As Nieuwland points out, this is the tip of some serious differences of opinion between German scientists and their Anglophone colleagues.

This is a brilliant example of the way Crystal Palace Dinosaurs fit into an ever evolving story of science as well as sculpture and community history.

Becker 18.. Ichthyosaurus

Becker (1911). The caption reads “Ichthyosaurus, old view, from Sydenham Park, about 40 years old, missing dorsal fin”. (Please don’t follow this example by standing on the statues when you visit Crystal Palace Dinosaurs.)

Read the original

The original source for Becker’s images:

Becker, Hans. 1911. Alte und neue Rekonstruktionen ausgestorbener Tiere [Old and new reconstructions of extinct animals]. Umschau XV: 1022-1026, 14 figs. (pdf).

 
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