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Dinosaur Cherry on a Prehistoric Cake

Our Deputy Keeper of Natural History, Emma Nicholls, uses her expert eyes to examine the Velociraptor sculpture in our Prehistoric Garden. 

Over the last few months the super green-fingered Gardeners at the Horniman have created a landscape full of plants from the Cretaceous period. Now starting to flourish, the Prehistoric Garden is looking stunning. To top the Prehistoric Garden off, in August of this year we became home to a permanent installation of the most exciting kind- a stylised Velociraptor dinosaur.

  • Velociraptor  , The (r)awesome new addition to our Prehistoric Garden.
    The (r)awesome new addition to our Prehistoric Garden.

Velociraptors rose to fame in the 1993 timeless classic Jurassic Park, in which they are portrayed as scaly, scary, two metre tall monsters intent on feeding beyond stomach capacity and learning how to open doors. In reality Velociraptor was only about half a metre in height and most likely covered in feathers. Whilst pretty certain, the presence of feathers is an extrapolation from other fossil discoveries, and hasn’t been proven for sure. However our Velociraptor is skeletal so the choice of ‘to feather or not to feather’, was not something we needed to worry about.

Our Velociraptor was generously funded by an anonymous donor, for which we are incredibly grateful. It started life as a number of large 8 mm steel sheets, from which the raptor’s parts were cut and then welded together by Neil Bowen of Lakeland Steel. Now fully assembled in the Prehistoric Garden, it measures an impressive 1.5 m in height. It is therefore around three times life size and an imposing addition to our gardeners’ latest masterpiece.

  • Velociraptor, Upside down and in pieces
    Upside down and in pieces

When the Velociraptor first arrived it was deep silver in colour but we are letting it weather to a beautiful tan brown. Exposed to the elements, the mild steel corrodes at around 1 mm a year. Those of you quick at maths will have calculated that in 8 years’ time our Velociraptor will therefore be a pile of twinkling dust, but that’s only if we leave it untreated. Once corroded to the perfect tan colour, Head Gardener Wes Shaw will coat it in a protective sealant to protect the steel from further degradation.

  • Velociraptor, Before and after shots show how our Velociraptor is turning a lovely brown as the steel reacts with the elements.
    Before and after shots show how our Velociraptor is turning a lovely brown as the steel reacts with the elements.

I think it’s fair to say that no-one really wants an unsteady two metre steel Velociraptor wobbling around in the wind, so to keep its impressive bulk steady its feet were literally nailed to the floor. It has large steel plates beneath its feet which have been set in the ground with giant metal tent pegs. A large rock between its feet completed the task. So don’t worry, although it looks fearsome, it’s safe to visit… there won’t be any fearsome steel dinosaurs rampaging down the hill any time soon.

  • Velociraptor, The large steel plates beneath the feet of our Velociraptor.
    The large steel plates beneath the feet of our Velociraptor.

Have you visited our Prehistoric Garden yet? Tell us what you think and share you photos on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #horniman.  

Visit our Dinosaurs: Monster Families exhibition - on display until 30 October 2016. 

Summer Raffle

Win some fantastic prizes in our Summer Raffle. 

Tickets are just £1, or 6 for £5, and are available at the Horniman until 4 September 2016. Look out for ticket sellers at all Festival of Brasil events or visit the Ticket Desk.

The draw will take place on Friday 9 September.

All proceeds help support the work of the Horniman Museum and Gardens (Charity Registration Number 802725).

The prizes are:

Aquarium Tour

Join a curator for a fascinating behind-the-scenes tour of our much-loved aquarium.

The tour is for up to 5 visitors and available Monday – Friday. Prize must be taken up by 31 December 2016, dates subject to availability.
Find out more about the Aquarium.

Meet the Animals

An exclusive opportunity to meet the residents of our Animal Walk, including alpacas, goats, guinea pigs and chickens.

The tour is for up to 5 visitors and available Monday – Friday. Prize must be taken up by 31 December 2016, dates subject to availability.
Find out more about the Animal Walk.

Meal in the Café

Treat yourself with our delicious selection of hot and cold meals, amazing cakes and locally-sourced drinks.

Voucher for all food and drink up to £50. The voucher can be used any time during usual Café opening hours. Valid until 31 December 2016.
Find out more about the Café.

Tickets to Dinosaurs: Monster Families

Discover the world of dinosaurs and their young in our family-focused interactive exhibition. The winner will receive a free family ticket for two adults and two children, valid until 30 October 2016.
Find out more about Dinosaurs: Monster Families.

Horniman Family Membership

Enjoy a year of fantastic benefits including free and unlimited entry to the Aquarium and our temporary exhibitions, and a 10% discount in our Shop.
Find out more about Membership.

Plus, five more winners will receive one of our famous cuddly walrus toys!

Terms and Conditions

1. Closing date 04/09/2016.
2. Entry is via tickets purchased at the Horniman Museum and Gardens only. Entrants must provide details of their chosen contact method. Please keep the ticket as proof of purchase.
3. The prize winners will be chosen at random from all valid entries received by the closing date. The decision is final and non-negotiable.
4. The winner of each prize will be notified by their chosen contact method by 12/09/2016. The winners must claim the prize within two weeks or they will be considered forfeited and another draw will take place.
5. Winners may be asked to provide a photograph or to be photographed and interviewed to provide a quote about winning in order to help promote future fundraising.
6. Entrants must be over 16 and resident in UK.
7. No cash alternative.
8. Prizes are non-transferable.
9. The Horniman Museum and Gardens reserves the right to substitute the prizes with a prize of similar value at its own discretion.
10. The Horniman Museum & Gardens reserves the right to withdraw or amend the raffle as necessary due to circumstances outside its control.
11. By entering the raffle, all entrants will be deemed to have accepted and agreed to be bound by these rules.
12. Employees of the Horniman Museum and Gardens, their agencies and other companies directly involved in the running of the raffle are not permitted to enter.
13. The competition is run by the Horniman Museum and Gardens, 100 London Road, London SE23 3PQ

We are committed to protecting your privacy in line with the Data Protection Act. The data you have supplied will be held securely. We will not share this information with any third party without your consent.

Thank you for supporting the Horniman.

Travel back in time at the Prehistoric Garden

This summer, a new display of Prehistoric plants and living fossils is being planted in the Horniman Gardens. Here, we introduce you to some of the plants you will be seeing in the new bed.  

You may have noticed that our gardeners have started some work in the conifer bed on the lawn above the herbaceous border. This is going to be our new Prehistoric Garden. The theme will tie in with our current major exhibition, Dinosaurs: Monster Families but it will also remain as a permanent planting after the exhibition has moved on. 

We have kept three trees in place from the original planting: the yew, the redwood and the Lawson cypress. We will be replanting the rest of the area with other plants known as 'living fossils' - species that have been around for thousands of years. This planting will include a ginko and a Wollemi pine, as well as tree ferns, cycads and a monkey puzzle tree. 

The tree ferns, or Dicksonia antarctica, were particularly appealing to low-slung herbivorous dinosaurs like the stegosaurs because they did not grow too high off the ground. Today, ferns have prospered, with over 12,000 named species. Perhaps because there are not any dinosaurs left to eat them!

Monkey Puzzle trees, or Araucaria araucana, were around in the Mesozoic Era - which is sometimes known as the Age of Conifers. Conifers were some of the first to evolve on dry land. Today, these cone-bearing trees are represented by familiar species such as cedars, firs, and pines. 

It will still be a while before the bed is completed but there is already a lot to see, so do go and take a peek. 

This project has benefted from funding from the Tesco Bags of Help initiative, with a grant of £8,000.

Tyrannosaurus and Tarbosaurus

Our current exhibition Dinosaurs: Monster Families features an impressive Tarbosaurus skeleton. Author Dave Hone tells us more about the Tyrannosaurus and Tarbosaurus dinosaur species.

  • Tarbosaurus, Tarbosaurus Bataar, a name with Greek and Mongolian elements
    Tarbosaurus Bataar, a name with Greek and Mongolian elements

'Probably everyone has at least passing familiarity with Tyrannosaurus, but this is only one of some thirty species that make up the tyrannosaur 'family'.

This group of dinosaurs was around for 100 million years and became the dominant carnivores in North America and Asia (and perhaps Europe, though fossils here are scarce) in the Late Cretaceous period, from around 100-65 million years ago. Starting at a small size, the earliest tyrannosaurs were just a few meters long but they evolved to produce 12m-long, 5 ton giants.

Some of the Asian tyrannosaurs are the most interesting, including lightly-built fast runners with narrow heads and the huge Tarbosaurus from Mongolia (a specimen of which is on display in the Dinosaurs: Monster Families exhibition) which is one of the closest relatives of Tyrannosaurus.

Some of these bigger tyrannosaurs had numerous adaptations in their skulls to deliver a bone-crushing bite. The bones of their heads were especially thick, they had huge sites for attaching powerful jaw muscles and their teeth were much thicker than those of other carnivorous dinosaurs - to better resist the massive forces going through them.

Take a look at a Tarbosaurus and it is also clear that the giant tyrannosaurs were somewhat built around the head. The neck is short but very strong and the body is stocky - there's a lot of support there to help hold of that great skull.

And although the legs are long, the arms are very small because they probably got very little use. Even so, this was clearly a successful body plan which lasted for millions of years.

Had the mass extinction not hit, it is likely the tyrannosaurs would have endured and diversified further. We should be grateful that we have any record at all of them. This magnificent and fascinating group are a great example of what we can learn about the dinosaurs and their lost world.’

Dave Hone is the author of Tyrannosaurus Chronicles published by Bloomsbury.

About the Art: Luis Rey

We interviewed Luis Rey, artist of Dinosaurs: Monster Families, focusing on his vivid piece: Gigantoraptor Found.

What scene have you portrayed here?

This painting shows Gigantoraptors, a gigantic versions of the oviraptor. These huge dinosaurs were larger than even T Rex and the Alectrosaurus. They actually laid the biggest eggs of all dinosaurs.
Inspired by these dinosaurs, I wanted to recreate their nesting grounds.

What inspired you to paint this scene, and create this artwork?

First of all, my fascination with dinosaurs, usually I go to the species that fascinate me first.

Then I try to produce something that is different, and think what can I do that is different. Conducting scientific research, looking at fossils and other work is essential - if you do this, the sky is the limit.

I want to be ground breaking and provide a new vision

How do you balance the scientific facts with your own creativity?

You have to study the evidence, but paleo-illustration isn't an exact science. I study the anatomy, and the environment; I want to make them more believable animals, monstrous, not monsters.
I also want to show the dinosaur link to birds, they are not extinct and live on in this form.

What advice would you give young artists, illustrators or paleo illustrators wanting to develop their own work?

You always need to do your homework, studying your medium but the work of others and then make it your own. Everyone starts by copying, and that leads to inspiration. If you look at the Great Ovirpators next to the nesting portrait they are different medium, but my style is still there and distinctive.

The artwork on the left is digital, on the right acrylic and cardboard

How do you use digital tools in your artistic process?

We have to follow evidence, so I make amendments to paintings when new evidence is found, naturally this is a lot easier with digital art and tools.

Like dinosaurs, art is a product of evolution, with new digital media we can correct and create artworks in new ways


Nests and nurture

In Dinosaurs: Monster Families, we have a case dedicated to the animals who use nests to protect their eggs and raise their young.

Nests come in a huge range of shapes and sizes, using a variety of different materials. These hummingbird nests are incredibly intricate, lined with spider silk and camouflaged with lichen.

Hummingbird eggs are very small, but not relative to the adults' tiny size. On the other hand kiwis, native to New Zealand, lay the largest eggs compared to their body size.

Laying out the nest and egg related objects for our case.

The largest bird egg comes from the extinct Great Elephant Bird, once native to Madagascar. Their eggs were even larger than dinosaur eggs. These huge birds could be 3 metres tall and weigh half a tonne, more than the vast moas of New Zealand.

Some egg laying parents are very caring. Nile crocodiles are very ferocious hunters, capable of hunting fish and even antelope, but they are also nurturing parents, guarding their eggs and gently carrying their young to the water's edge once hatched.

  •  Crocodile head, clean and on its mount, 
Crocodile head, clean and on its mount
    Crocodile head, clean and on its mount

Nile crocodiles dig a shallow hole a few metres from a water source and then cover them with the sand or soil for incubation. The eggs take about 90 days to hatch, and the female crocodiles will try their best not to leave the nest side during this time - pretty dedicated parenting.

Be sure to visit Dinosaurs: Monster Families to see dinosaur nests, as well as the eggs and nests of modern-day animals.

Meet the Artist: Luis Rey

We caught up with artist, Luis Rey, whose vivid artworks capture the exciting world of dinosaur families in our exhibition, Dinosaurs: Monster Families.

How would you describe your artwork?

I consider myself a "paleoillustrator", so my art skills are at the service of palaeontology and science. My art techniques range between the traditional acrylics and inks on cardboard, to the digital painting, where I use my computers as an "orchestra".

I have fun recreating the dinosaurs in a distinctive style, but always based on my research

Reconstructing dinosaurs has both a scientific responsibility and a labour of the imagination, we are restricted by science but fuelled by imagination.

What first interested you in dinosaurs?

I have always been interested in dinosaurs.  The Dinosaur Renaissance in the seventies and eighties saw dinosaurs became "real" animals living in a different (even if similar) natural world from ages ago.

Every dinosaur is amazing, but I think I have become more fascinated and specialised with the bird-dinosaur link, from the real look of winged Velociraptors and Oviraptors to protofeathered T. Rexes. 

How are your representations of dinosaurs unique?

I want my dinosaurs to be colourful but believable, some people might be surprised by seeing colourful dinosaurs after so many years of people reconstructing them in drab colours. I also like them dramatic.

Years ago I might also have started a personal trend towards a new, dramatic viewing angle to Dinosauria.

How do you create the scenes you paint?

First and foremost studying the anatomy of the animal, and seeing what I can provide in the artistic sense, then the sky is the limit.

Sometimes I simply paint, sometimes I even use photography, real skin, hair and feathers as digital brushes.

Dinosaurs: Monster Families is now open, you can book online and beat the queues or become a Member and enjoy free unlimited entry to the exhibition.

Name that Dino

Dinosaurs roamed the earth for nearly 150 million years, leaving us tantilising clues in the forms of fossils to try and piece together their world.

Dinosaurs have always been fascinating to humans, with extensive digs and studies unearthing species for hundreds of years, but what do you do when you find a dinosaur skeleton? Well, you have to name it and the naming of dinosaurs is as much of a science as the finding thing in the first place!

'Dinosaurs' are they really terrible lizards?

The word 'dinosaur' was coined by Sir Richard Owen an eminent biologist and comparative anatomist. An avid dinosaur reasercher, Owen worked with Benjamin Hawkins to produce the dinosaur skeletons that are now residents of Crystal Palace.

Dinosaur comes from two Greek words: Deinos (terrible - where we get the word dire from) + Sauros (lizard), so dinosaur = Terrible Lizard. This name reflects the contemporary scientific thought of the time, of dinosaurs as savage and scary creatures.

  • An Utahceratops, Natural History Museum Utah− © Natural History Museum Utah
    , Natural History Museum Utah

 An Utahceratops illustration

The same components are found in modern dinosaur names as well, combining sometimes two or three components to make a longer name. This name can also tell a paleontologist details about which family group a specimen is from.

Ceratops is a group of dinosaurs meaning horn face. Paleontologists can then add another element to describe dinosaurs within this group: Triceratops means Three Horn Face (because it has three horns). The name of a dinosaur can also tell you were it was discovered, like Utahceratops which means Utah Horn Face (a horned dinosaur discovered in Utah, USA).

  • Tarbosaurus Bataar, Tarbosaurus Bataar, a name with Greek and Mongolian elements
    Tarbosaurus Bataar, a name with Greek and Mongolian elements

Tarbosaurus Bataar, a name with Greek and Mongolian elements

Sometimes dinoasur names switch languages which can be another way of describing the dinosaur and where it was discovered. A vast Tarbosaurus Bataar skeleton is on display in our new exhibition Dinosaurs: Monster Families, but the name of this specimen is slightly complex.

Tarbosaurus means Alarming or Startling Lizard (Ancient Greek) but Bataar is Mongolian for Hero or Warrior. So the full name of our terrifying skeleton is: Alarming Hero Lizard, not only is that a pretty cool name, but the use of Mongolian refers to the species' find location.

With such an array of excellent names to have, we guessed you would want to have a dinosaur name as well, so have made a Dinosaur Name Finder based on the specimens in our displays and exhibition.

Be sure to tweet us your results and we can tell you a dino fact!

Dinosaurs: Monster Families open this weekend, you can pre book tickets online and avoid the queue.

Crocodile Conservation

Charlotte, our Conservation Officer, tells us about her work on a crocodile skull in preparation for its installation in Dinosaurs: Monster Families.

The skull and jaw (lower mandible) were incredibly dirty and were covered in an extremely thick layer of soot and dust. I removed the loose dust with a museum vacuum and soft brush and then gave the bones a further clean with alcohol on cotton wool swabs to remove the thicker layer of dirt.


Charlotte's cleaning a very dirty #crocodile #skull #conservator #conservation #dirt #museum #naturalhistory #london #swabswabswab #teeth

A video posted by Horniman Museum and Gardens (@hornimanmuseumgardens) on

You can see from the photos that the recesses in the skull that the teeth sit in are generally wider and deeper than the actual teeth causing the teeth to be loose in the skull. Originally, the teeth would have been held in place by periodontal ligaments but this tissue was removed during its preparation as a skeletal specimen.

Our curator wanted the skull to be displayed in a “life-like” open jaw pose and that meant I would need to secure the teeth back into the skull to prevent them from falling out.

  • Half cleaned crocodile head, Half cleaned crocodile head
    Half cleaned crocodile head

To do this I used Japanese tissue paper which is a type of tissue made from the inner bark of the paper mulberry tree. Conservators use this tissue for all sorts of repairs and fills. In this case I created twists of tissue which I inserted between the teeth and bone. This filled the “void” space and created a contact area between the teeth and bone.

I soaked the tissue with a solvent based adhesive and once the adhesive dried the teeth were firmly secured in place.

  • Secured crocodile tooth, Secured crocodile tooth
    Secured crocodile tooth

The adhesive I used is reversible and that means that I can reactivate the adhesive and easily remove the Japanese tissue if a curator wants to analyse individual teeth in the future.

Now the skull and jaw can be displayed the correct way up without the loss of any teeth.

  •  Crocodile head, clean and on its mount, 
Crocodile head, clean and on its mount
    Crocodile head, clean and on its mount

You can see our cleaned crocodile alongside dinosaur remains, eggs  and more in our new exhibition Dinosaurs: Monster Families that opens Saturday 13 February.

Horniman Dinosaurs

With our new exhibition Dinosaurs: Monster Families opening in a few weeks, we're taking a look at the dinosaurs already on display here.
What actually is a dinosaur?

We all probably have a pretty good image of what a dinosaur should be: big, scales, teeth, tendency to not adhere to theme park regulations.

Unfortunately, it's not that simple. Dinosaurs could be small, much smaller than a human, through to the titan sauropods that are measured in buses. Also, some dinosaurs had feathers and beaks.

In general, a dinosaur lives during the Mesozoic era (started about 250 million years ago) and they must have either lizard or bird like hips and live on land.

That means creatures like Pteordactyl, although from a similar time are actually pterosaurs, not technically a dinosaur.

Also, it is a misconception that dinosaurs are the 'terrible lizards' that their name means. Our new exhibition shows a new side to their family lives, how they hatched their eggs and raised their young. You still wouldn't cross a Tarbosaurus though...

The exhibition will welcome a whole host of new dinosaurs to the Horniman, so we had a look at the dinosaur models in our Natural History Gallery.


A family favourite, this herbivore lived about 150 million years ago in the Jurassic period. The spikey tail could have been used as a defense against attacking carnivores, and the spines along the back may have acted as defensive armour, or helped a stegosaurus manage it's body temperature.

Despite looking pretty formidable, stegosurus had a very small brain to body ratio meaning whilst it may have been good in a fight, it probably couldn't complete a sudoku.


Another defense heavy dino, but is far more recent than stegosaurus, being about 75 million years old. Scolosaurus remains are found across North America where it would have frolicked in a lush environment, with soil kept fertile by occasional volcanic activity.


A Cretaceous dinosaur, triceratops lived about 68 million years ago. Triceratops has a distinctive neck frill and three horns making it quite a recognizable specimen. These may have been used as defences but the discovery of blood vessels in the frill suggest they may have been able to flush them with blood and make vivid courtship displays.


Scelidosaurus is one of the earliest complete dinosaur finds, and fossils have been found in the UK down in Dorset. Perhaps our small model doesn't do this dinosaur justice, they would have grown to about 4 metres long with a series of plate like armour running along it's body.

This is just a brief glimpse at the dinosaurs in our collection. Dinosaurs: Monster Families runs from 13 February until 30 October 2016 with a new family of dinosaurs for you to meet, as well as a discovery pit and the chance to touch a real dinosaur leg bone.

Tickets are on sale online now, with members enjoying free and unlimited visits to the exhibition.

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