This Lego brick Polacanthus dinosaur model was created by Warren Elsmore and is premiering in the exhibition Brick Dinos, at the Horniman.
Polacanthus was a five-metre-long herbivorous (plant-eating) dinosaur. It lived in the Early Cretaceous Period, about 125 million years ago. It is known as an ‘armoured’ dinosaur because of its body armour, created by plates of bone in the skin, and numerous bony spikes, both of which helped protect it from predators. Its name actually means ‘many spines’.
Polacanthus was first discovered on the Isle of Wight in 1865 and is closely related to the well-known, huge, armour-plated Ankylosaurus.
Find the Polacanthus model in Brick Dinos, on until October 2023.
Ichthyosaurs were ancient marine (sea) animals that looked a lot like modern dolphins or fish, but they were actually reptiles. As a result, they were given the name ‘ichthyosaur’ which means ‘fish lizard’. The first ichthyosaur fossil to be scientifically recognised was discovered in 1811 on the Jurassic Coast in Dorset, England. The skull was found by Joseph Anning, and the rest of the skeleton was found and excavated by Mary Anning when she was just 12 years old.
Ichthyosaurs lived between 250 and 90 million years ago, during the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods. They went extinct about 24 million years before the end-Cretaceous mass extinction, famous for the demise of the non-bird dinosaurs.
In 2021, Senior Curator of Natural Sciences Dr Emma Nicholls was part of the team which excavated the skeleton of an ichthyosaur specimen in Rutland, England. At nearly ten metres, the Rutland ichthyosaur is the largest, near complete reptile fossil ever found in the UK.
Find the ichthyosaur skeletons on the balcony of the Natural History Gallery.
Did you know that birds are dinosaurs?
All modern birds are descendants of theropods, a group of dinosaurs that includes Tyrannosaurus rex.
Many ancient bird fossils, such as the famous Archaeopteryx, have features that are more typical of reptiles, such as jaws full of sharp teeth. Although modern birds have lost their teeth and other reptilian features through evolution, if you look at the huge claws and scaly feet of an ostrich or a vulture, you can see how dinosaur-like they still are in many ways!
See all of the many types of birds from across the world (all of which are dinosaurs!) in the cases at the back of the Natural History Gallery.
These spiral-shaped animals look a little like snails, but they are actually the fossil remains of a group of extinct marine molluscs, called ammonites.
Ammonites lived from 200 to around 66 million years ago. They are nicknamed ‘snake stones’ because, before fossils were properly understood, people thought they looked like curled-up snakes.
Ammonites are part of the cephalopod family, which includes modern squid and octopus. The shell of a squid is internal, whereas octopuses have lost the shell altogether through evolution. As an ammonite grew larger, it would create a new chamber at the end of the whorl, always larger than the last one. This created the spiral shape in the shell.
You can find a case of beautiful ammonites on the right-hand side of the Natural History Gallery.
The ground you stand on has been impacted by dramatic geological and climatic forces over millions of years. The geology of London varies greatly and its history is very complex. However, the primary rock types are chalk from the Cretaceous Period, and London Clay, from the Eocene Epoch (within the Paleogene Period).
London Clay was lain down in warm oceans between 56 and 34 million years ago, and it’s this clay that gives the Horniman’s Gardens their distinctive soil.
As the geology of the area has changed over time, so has the climate, the habitats and the animals. For example, ancient hyenas, lions, and hippos all once lived in England, and we have some of their fossils at the Museum.
The Prehistoric Garden contains ‘living fossils’ – these are plant species that have been around, unchanged by evolution, for thousands of years.
This includes a ginkgo tree, which is the last living species in the order ‘Ginkgoales’. The Gingko tree first appeared over 290 million years ago.
The Prehistoric Garden also contains a monkey puzzle tree. Monkey puzzle trees were around in the Mesozoic Era, which was around 252 to 66 million years ago.
You can also spot a metal Velociraptor!
Discover the Prehistoric Garden by the Butterfly House.
This sandstone block contains the natural casts of the footprints of a dinosaur, thought to be an Iguanodon. Iguanodon were herbivorous dinosaurs that roamed parts of Europe from the Late Jurassic Period to the Early Cretaceous Period. Iguanodon fossils have so far been found in both Belgium and England.
Footprint fossils are known as ‘trace fossils’. This means that they do not contain parts of the animal or plant, but are signs that the organism existed, subsequently preserved in the rocks. Other examples of trace fossils are teeth marks or leaf prints.
Iguanodon grew to around 10 metres long, and it’s thought that they could have walked on either four legs (quadruped) or two legs (bipedal).
See the footprints on the Natural History Gallery balcony.
There are fossils all around us, if you know what to look for. Even in the floor!
Sedimentary stone was commonly used in the construction of many grand buildings across London (such as museums), either for the walls themselves or as floor tiles. ‘Sedimentary’ means sediment like clay or sand that was laid down in water before it hardened to rock. Therefore lots of creatures, that once lived in ancient seas have been fossilised in the stone!
If you stand by the main ticket desk in the Horniman and look down you will see patterns on the stone slabs. Some of these are fossils. There’s a fossilised oyster shell, sea snails and lots of other fossil shelly material.