Go back to article: A discourse with deep time: the extinct animals of Crystal Palace Park as heritage artefacts

Abstract

When the Crystal Palace at Sydenham opened in 1854, the extinct animal models and geological strata exhibited in its park grounds offered Victorians access to a reconstructed past – modelled there for the first time – and drastically transformed how they understood and engaged with the history of the Earth. The geological section, developed by British naturalists and modelled after and with local resources was, like the rest of the Crystal Palace, governed by a historical perspective meant to communicate the glory of Victorian Britain. The guidebook authored by Richard Owen, Geology and Inhabitants of the Ancient World, illustrates how Victorian naturalists placed nature in the service of the nation – even if those elements of nature, like the Iguanodon or the Megalosaurus, lived and died long before such human categories were established. The geological section of the Crystal Palace at Sydenham, which educated the public about the past while celebrating the scale and might of modernity, was a discursive site of exchange between past and present, but one that favoured the human present by intimating that deep time had been domesticated, corralled and commoditised by the nation’s naturalists. Initially, the claim that extinct animals were aligned with British national heritage was a construction that matched the agenda of the Crystal Palace Company. Over time, the extinct animal models themselves (rather than the animals they represented) became historical artefacts recognised as heritage assets.

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/191102/001