Tuesday, December 31, 2019

DINOSAURS!: From Cultural to Pop Culture - 1853: Dinner Inside an Iguanodon


1853: Dinner Inside an Iguanodon

DECEMBER 31ST, 1853... It has been 16 years since the first public recreation of a dinosaur. In 1837, the first publicly released images any dinosaurs, ever, was created in the form of a watercolor painting of an Iguanodon and a Megalosaurus. Since that time, the announcement was made by Sir Richard Owen that this group of animals would now fall under the heading of "Dinosaurs". Other than that though, no other large strides in dinosaur presentation has occurred. That is, until 1852.

In 1852, Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins was approached to produce several life-sized models of many extinct animals, including the known dinosaurs of the time. The models were being built for the Crystal Palace Park that was created around the Crystal Palace, a building that was recently moved in 1851. These were to be the first life-sized reconstructions of dinosaurs ever created. But before they were to be finished, they needed to publicize the park, as well as the dinosaurs that were soon to be within it.

Towards the end of 1853, the models of some of the dinosaurs had started to come into focus. Waterhouse Hawkins, a renowned artist and sculptor with an extensive knowledge of natural history and geology, worked closely with Sir Richard Owen to produce the most accurate scientific models ever possible. Although they are "laughably incorrect" by today's scientific standards, they were more accurate to the scientific knowledge of 1853 than the Jurassic World dinosaurs are to today's scientific knowledge.

To kick off this major enterprise, Owen and Waterhouse Hawkins hosted a New Year's Eve dinner INSIDE the Iguanodon model. Invitations were sent out to prominent people of the time, specifically people who had supported the Crystal Palace Park dinosaur enterprise as well as newspaper reporters in order to publicize the event.

Invitation sketch created by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins for the December 31st dinner. Printed in the January 7th, 1854 edition of the Illustrated London News
The dinosaur itself was clearly very large since it was able to hold so many people. Eventually it was determined that twenty-one people were able to fit within the Iguanodon itself for the dinner. In an account given by Waterhouse Hawkins it was stated that:
"The Restoration of the lguanodon was one of the largest and earliest completed of Mr Waterhouse Hawkins’ gigantic models measuring thirty feet from the nose to the end of the tail, of that quantity the body with the neck contained about fifteen feet which when the pieces of the mould that formed the ridge of the back were removed the body presented the appearance of a wide open Boot with on enclosed arch seven feet high at both ends."
Although the actual sculptures of the dinosaurs wouldn't be accessible to the general public until later in 1854, these were the fist images anyone had seen of the dinosaur models. On the same day as the New Years Eve party described above, The Illustrated London News released the following image of the dinosaurs under construction, highlighting the Iguanodon in great detail. While the Iguanodon in the January 7th publication was based on the invitation given by the Waterhouse Hawkins, the December 31st image is assumed to be based on the actual models under construction.

Image of the dinosaurs and other animals under construction for the Crystal Palace Park. Printed in the December 31st, 1853 edition of the Illustrated London News.  
Within the image above, besides the giant Iguanodon (noticable for its nose horn) is the dinosaur Hylaeosaurus on the right (the first reconstruction of this dinosaur), a Palaeotherium in the back left (a prehistoric mammal from the Eocene), the dinosaur Megalosaurus in the front left, and a Dicynodon in the front right (an early synapsid, which is a prehistoric relative to mammals).

So, while these images may be laughed at today, they do represent the greatest leap forward from fragmentary scientific knowledge to full fledged dinosaur reconstructions that has ever, and will probably ever, be undertaken.

Illustrated London News, 7 January 1854, p. 22
Illustrated London News, 31 December 1853, pp 11-12

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