Museum revives 160-year-old dinosaur tune to showcase Iggy the iguanodon

By Angelika Rusbridge | 31 July 2015

160-year-old carousing song from dinner at Crystal Palace reenacted in honour of Iggy the iguanodon

"Dinner in the Iguanodon Model" at Crystal Palace printed in the Illustrated London News on January 7 1854, p.22
"Dinner in the Iguanodon Model" at Crystal Palace printed in the Illustrated London News on January 7 1854, p.22© Illustrated London News, 1854
Iggy the dinosaur is a plaster replica of a skeleton found in a coal mine in Bernissart, Belgium, in 1878, given to Cambridge's Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences by the King of Belgium.

The discovery of the iguanodon - meaning ‘tooth of the iguana’ - was the first step in understanding the world which existed millions of years ago, as it was one of three founding members of the group which later became known as dinosaurs.

Iggy the iguanodon at the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences
The iguanodon skeleton overlooking the museum© Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences
Thanks to work by pioneering scientists Sir Richard Owen and Gideon Mantell, the journey that would result in current paleontological knowledge began. But Sir Richard remained unconvinced of its importance outside of his creationist beliefs, despite the evidence to hand.

“It was an insightful analysis from a notorious scientist, as he famously denied Darwin’s theory of evolution,” says Dr David Norman, an expert on dinosaurs and a former Director of the museum.

“He thought it was too mechanistic and was looking for an alternative solution, which he of course never found. He was an awkward, but a very clever man.”

Because of the fragmentary nature of initial revelations, much of the evidence had to be interpreted based on creatures living at the time.

For example, Mantell matched a conical bone he discovered to the horn of the South American iguana, from which he had already made many accurate informed assumptions about size and general skeleton structure. This remained the accepted truth until the realisation that it was a thumb.

Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins's Iguanodon statues, with innacurate representation of conical bone as a horn
Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins's Iguanodon statues, with innacurate representation of conical bone as a horn© Jes/FunkMonk via Wikimedia Commons
“Mantell was wrong but I would have made the same mistake. It wasn’t until the Bernissart mine that it became clear, and with the evidence he had it made perfect sense,” adds Dr Norman.

“It’s really a very important historical site. The mine itself has now been abandoned, but a group of scientists have raised funds in order to continue studying the site further.”

Iggy the iguanodon skull without conical bone as a horn - Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences
An image of the skull without horn appendage© Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences
The mine has been out of commission since scientific study ended in 1921, and Dr Norman hopes to continue rectifying the understandable mistakes of the past, including the misrepresentation of the iguanodon’s posture, which is in fact not a ‘kangaroo’ pose, as the creature walked using its front legs as well.

Iggy, who features in a video by the museum alongside the tune devised by Barney Brown, the University’s head of digital communications, is currently featured in the ‘kangaroo pose’, which was the most accurate belief at the time of mounting.

Iggy the iguanodon at Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences
Iggy the iguanodon in 'kangaroo pose'© Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences
The song is believed to have first been belted out at a gathering hosted by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins with guests including Sir Richard, Edward Forbes, John Gould and Joseph Prestwich to celebrate the first-ever concrete recreation of a dinosaur in the world, featured at Crystal Palace.

Rare photo of "Models of extinct animals" at the rebuilding of Crystal Palace, 1855
Rare photo of "Models of extinct animals" at the rebuilding of Crystal Palace, 1855© Philip Henry Delamotte via British Library
The event took place on December 31 1853 while the creature was still being completed, and the song was part of an evening of celebration reported in the papers the next morning as quite boisterous.

Hawkins himself noted: "The roaring chorus was so fierce and enthusiastic as almost to lead to the belief that the herd of iguanodons were bellowing."

"The Dinner in the Mould of the Iguanodon" given and drawn by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins - Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University
The picture by Benjamin Waterhouse on which the drawing in Illustrated News was based© Benjamin Waterhouse via Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University
Did you know?

Iggy would have lived approximately 120 million years ago and been 11 metres from nose to tail
It is still not understood why such a high concentration of iguanodons was found in the Bernissart coal mines
Though the images depict the dinner taking place inside the almost-complete iguanodon, it is not known for certain that this was the case
There were 21 dinner guests, which we know from recovered invitations, and the menu included: Roast Turkey, Ham, Raised Pigeon Pie, Boiled Chicken and Celery Sauce, Cotolettes de Moutonaux Tomates, Currie de Lapereaux au riz, Salmi de Perdrix and Mayonnaise de filets de Sole


Three museums to see dinosaurs and fossils in:

Dinosaur Isle, Isle of Wight
The home of the Isle of Wight's famous five dinosaurs - Neovenator, Eotyrannus, Iguanodon, Hypsilophodon and the giant Sauropod. The building is shaped as a giant pterosaur which mastered the Cretaceous skies.

The Dinosaur Museum, Dorchester
One of the country's original dinosaur museums, this museum combines fossils, skeletons and life-size dinosaur reconstructions with hands-on, interactive and cinematic displays to inform and entertain.

Booth Museum, Hove
More than half a million specimens, natural history literature and data extending back over three centuries are housed in this fascinating museum, including hundreds of British birds displayed in recreated natural settings.
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