STL Science Center

STL Science Center

02 July 2011

The Crystal Palace and Iguanodon

 I thought I'd start the picture festival with a fairly simplistic version of the modern, and anatomically correct, version of Iguanodon. Simply put, Iguanodon is the cow of the early Cretaceous. It has that thumb spike, which you can see in this illustration, which is clearly un-cow-like. One large adaptation that Iguanodon presented to its descendants was the mouth and facial features surrounding it. The large beak for clipping off vegetation was an enormous evolutionary step that we can see quite plainly here, however, the dental battery, which we cannot see, was another giant step in the war to eat more. The grinders and vegetation mashers in that mouth were complexly shaped and made to tear apart rough leaves and other aspects of vegetation. The other part of the highly evolved mouth area that we can see in this illustration is the cheek. Earlier dinosaurs, especially herbivores, lacked the muscles and attachment points to have had cheeks. We take our cheeks for granted, but these early hadrosaurs were very grateful for them. Having a cheek meant one could keep their food in their mouth as they chewed as opposed to earlier dinosaurs who, while chewing, would have lost all sorts of vegetation to the forest floor due to their inability to hold it in with the flaps of skin we call cheeks. An interesting tool that we don't think of, but pay attention to your cheeks at your next meal!

 This model of Iguanodon I decided to include on account of the fact that very rarely are dinosaurs shown in sculptures in resting positions. Typically we see dinosaurs about to run, locked in mortal combat, or, at the very least, eating some unfortunate tree into non-existence. Here someone has sculpted what appears to be a younger Iguanodon in a resting position. The thumb spikes are flexed inward under the chest of the dinosaur and the we can clearly see the large clipping beak and even the cheeks puffed outward vaguely. The tiger striping on the animal, something we clearly associate with a predator, is a bit of well done artistic interpretation on the part of the sculptor and, in the shading with a little more foliage to cover it, this would appear to be fairly interesting and successful camouflage.

Now, onto some older sculptures. Commissioned and created in the years from 1852 to 1854, the Crystal Palace sculptures were created by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins with scientific advice from Richard Owen. Here is the original Iguanodon reconstruction, well preserved to this day, in the Crystal Palace in London, England. As one can see, Iguanodon was certainly thought to resemble a modern day Iguana and the thumb spike, if we look closely, has been  relocated to the top of the nose of the animal. This sculpture gives Iguanodon a very reptilian and predatory stance and look to it, which we know to be false. The resting position here is much more of a sunning position which goes hand in hand with its reptilian look. These are the famous versions in which a grand banquet was held with the dinner party seated inside the sculpture of the rather silly looking and anatomically incorrect version. How the entire dinner party was seated inside the sculpture I am not entirely sure, but the famous lithograph of the event still exists today and is one of the most famous images in the entirety of paleontology as a science despite its representation of a complete gaff and misinterpretation by the scientific community.

The final image is one that has not been presented in any way at this point. Unfortunately I have found no artist but the artist's vision of herding behavior is what has really drawn me to use this piece today. Juveniles and adults walk together as a family unit in this illustration while the wildlife around them interacts accordingly; meaning that the herd is given its path through the world without much hindrance from the other animals. A predator in the background, for instance, is not even paying much attention to the herd, though it is clear from the rearmost adult that the family unit is paying attention to the predators and other animals around them. Again we also have some striping on the animals in both adult and sub-adult versions and, looking at the youngster, we can see the artist believes even sub-adults had the exact same coloration pattern as the adults.

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