Dinosaur Isle

Dinosaur Isle

Dinosaur Isle

Dinosaur Isle

Dinosaur Isle is Britain's first purpose built dinosaur museum and visitor attraction; based in Sandown on the Isle of Wight. The Island's diverse geology contains a wealth of fossils that tell us much about the past and gives clues to the effects of possible future environmental changes. Starting around 126 million years ago the rocks record the best exposures of dinosaur material in Europe. Progressively younger rocks record a variety of animals that were living on the land, in the rivers, and those that flew above lakes and lived in the seas. Plants are also well recorded on the Island. These remains show that for much of the time we were once a lot warmer and further from the sea. The youngest fossils are those from the more recent cold climates of the Ice-Ages. The museum features numerous replica fossils and life-sized models of Iguanodon, Polacanthus, Eotyrannus and Neovenator - the last is animatronic. The Neovenator was discovered and named by the museum's curator Steve Hutt.


The Isle of Wight is internationally famous for its dinosaur remains. Fossils and dinosaur trackways have been found here for a considerable period of time; although it is only since early Victorian scientists and amateur collectors started to analyze and discuss them that it was truly known what they were. Many different types of dinosaurs have been identified already, and more mysterious remains are yet to be determined. Over 120 million years ago the environment on the Isle of Wight was just right to support a rich biodiversity, from the smallest bacteria and insects, living in ferns, cycads and large conifers, to the giant dinosaurs and soaring pterosaurs. At the top of the food-chain were the large meat-eating dinosaurs like Neovenator and Baryonyx.


Iguanodon (pronounced 'Ig-wan-oh-don') was one of the first dinosaurs to be discovered. The name is derived from 'Iguana' - a type of modern reptile, and 'don' meaning tooth. Iguanodon is the name of a small group of dinosaurs within the much larger group called Iguanodontids; they were large herbivores, with a long tail for balance, and hind legs that were longer than their fore limbs. There were three large hooved toes on each foot, and four fingers and a thumb spike on each hand. The mouth had a battery of chewing teeth, and a boney beak in place of front teeth. Since its initial discovery in the early nineteenth century, and more detailed reconstructions after complete skeletons were found in a Belgian mine in 1878, we have been forced to re-evaluate its posture, shape and movement; and to look again at how it fits in with other members of the Iguanodontids. Fossil remains from the group show they existed from the late Jurassic through to the late Cretaceous. Here on the Isle of Wight it was once thought there were two basic species of Iguanodon; a larger form called Iguanodon bernissartensis, and a more graceful species called Iguanodon atherfieldensis. The first was named after the Belgian town where complete skeletons were found (Bernissart) and the latter from Atherfield on the south west coast of the Isle of Wight. However more recently palaeontologist Gregory Paul has moved our smaller variety to a new genera, leaving us with only one Iguanodon but a new genera of Iguanodontid called Mantellisaurus atherfieldensis (named after Gideon Mantell) in its place. It was initially very difficult to identify, name and group these animals from the fragmentary information that was first available in the Victorian era. As a result a number of species names have now been discarded.


The bones of Iguanodontid dinosaurs are amongst the most common to be found today on the Island. They may have been picked up as curiosities by local people, who worked along the coastline, for many centuries. Iguanodon was the first dinosaur to be named on the Isle of Wight. William Smith had found isolated Iguanodon bones in a quarry at Cuckfield in Sussex during 1809, and now it is believed that Dean William Buckland had also discovered Iguanodon remains on the Island prior to 1822. In the early 1800's Gideon Mantell had also acquired some Iguanodon teeth from Cuckfield (although there is some debate about how they came to him). William Conybeare advised using the name 'Iguanodon' after their similarity to modern Iguana teeth, and so Mantell published this in 1825. This made Iguanodon the second dinosaur to be named (after Megalosaurus). Gideon Mantell's reconstruction of Iguanodon in a tree.In 1834 a significant amount of Iguanodontid material was found in a quarry near Maidstone in Kent, and this was purchased for Mantell. His subsequent reconstruction of the partial skeleton showed the creature perched on a tree branch, with its thumb spike on its nose. Today we believe the skeleton to be an example of a gracile form which has been renamed Mantellisaurus atherfieldensis. Thus began a series of attempts to reconstruct the fleshed creature and establish its normal posture. Lithograph by George Baxter showing two Iguanodon (centre and on the hill above).Mantell's original concept of a lightweight tree-climbing creature was changed in 1841 when the eminent scientist Sir Richard Owen explained his idea of Iguanodon as a heavy creature - with a head similar to that of a crocodile attached to a body like a scaly elephant or rhinoceros, all supported on short, heavy legs with big claws. This interpretation was re-inforced in the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace during 1853-4 when sculptor Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins built two large Iguanodon models under Owen's guidance. The thumb spike can still be seen mounted on its nose.


The first criticisms that this heavy posture may not be correct were voiced by American palaeontologist Joseph Leidy in 1858 when working on a similar creature called Hadrosaurus. He believed the front limbs were too short to support an animal walking on all fours; as was the case with the limb bones from Iguanodon. Ten years later in 1868 Hawkins had been invited to New York to recreate the Great Exhibition display in Central Park. His reconstruction of the dinosaur was still firmly based on the older posture; and drawings of his lab show a fleshed dinosaur model sitting in a pose similar to that of a deer he had placed nearby. This practice of basing reconstructions on modern animals was to continue some years later. The breakthough came in 1878 when a large number of near-complete, and articulated Iguanodon skeletons were found by miners excavating near Bernissart in southern Belgium. One of the first problems could now could now be resolved. The unusual spike found in the scattered bones of the English dinosaurs, and mistakenly placed on their noses was found to be part of the hand. The remains from the mine were originally laid on their sides, and many of the bones were in a poor state. Thus began the next attempt to stand the skeletons up and see what they would have looked like when the animals were alive.Shortly after, the palaeontologist Louis Dollo began his work on determining the form. The specimens from Belgium were good enough to formally describe a new species, and Iguanodon bernissartenis was named by Boulenger in 1881 ('bernissartensis' means 'from Bernissart'). By 1883 Louis Dollo had discarded a number of provisional postures (some based on large birds). With a mounted kangaroo skeleton for reference he recreated a skeleton for the Institut Royal des Sciences Naturelles de Belgique in Brussels. In 1895 Alice Woodward drew a fleshed Iguanodon based on Dollo's mounted skeleton. This pose remained in vogue for decades, inspiring the postures of Tyrannosaurus rex, Allosaurus and 'Godzilla' in various B-movies of the 20th Century. Later research was to show that the fossil bones in the tail had been broken to allow the reconstructed skeleton to sit up. In reality the animal's tail would not have been able to flex in this manner and it is now obvious that the reconstructed skeleton created by Dollo was made to fit the idea of a kangaroo rather than following the anatomical evidence preserved in the articulated remains from the mine.


During 1917 Reginald Hooley discovered a partial skeleton of an Iguanodon at Atherfield on the Isle of Wight. His subsequent research enabled him to determine that this skeleton was different from the other more robust forms found on the Island and in Belgium (it is lighter and smaller - more 'gracile'). He named it Iguanodon atherfieldensis in 1925 (in this case 'atherfieldensis' means 'from Atherfield'). Many of the heavy lower limb bones are displayed at Dinosaur Isle in this partial reconstruction. A number of new bones continued to be found over the following decades, including much of a large Iguanodon bernissartensis they call 'Pink Iggy'; found in 1976 by Steve Hutt. The fossil bones have a pink colouration due to the minerals in the rocks they were excavated from. Research in the last few decades, supported by the use of computer graphics, biodynamics and a greater understanding of the articualtion of the joint surfaces has enabled us to determine that these large dinosaurs walked with their spines almost horizontally and their tails held out behind them for balance. Thus the posture has changed again. Debate continues as to whether they were able to walk on all fours; the evidence on the Island supports walking on their hind legs for much of the time because most of the preserved footcasts are tridactyl from the hind feet. In 2006 Gregory Paul suggested that the smaller of the two Iguanodons was different enough to justify giving it a new genus name. This was backed up the following year by his more detailed explanation placing it in context with a number of other Iguanodontids.


Neovenator salerii (pronounced ‘knee-oh-vena-tour’ ‘sall-air-ee-eye’) is a large bodied theropod dinosaur. The genus name Neovenator comes from ‘New hunter’, and the species name from that of the Salero family who owned the land from which the first important dinosaur remains were found. Since it was first found it has given its name to a new group of dinosaurs called the Neovenatoridae. This group itself forms part of the Carcharodontosauridae which are closely related to the North American dinosaur Allosaurus. Neovenator walked on its long hind legs. The first specimen was found with shoulder blades (scapulae) but was missing the remainder of its arms. Reconstructions have been based on those of Allosaurus. There were three clawed toes on each foot and it is likely that there would have been three digits on each hand. The long body was held in balance by a long tail. The type specimen measured about 7.5 metres long and would have stood about 2.5 metres tall. The mouth was full of blade-like serrated teeth, and above the eyes were horned extensions of the skull. Fossils have so far only been found in Early Cretaceous rocks of the Wessex Formation, during the Barremian Stage around 125 million years ago. Neovenator remains have been found predominantly on the south-west coast of the Isle of Wight.


Eotyrannus lengi (pronounced 'Ee-oh-tie-ran-us') is one of the most recent Isle of Wight dinosaur discoveries. It is believed to be from a group of dinosaurs called tyrannosauroids, that later included Tyrannosaurus rex which first appeared over 50 million years later. There is only one incomplete skeleton, the holotype, IWCMS 1997.550. The bones from this fossilised creature are quite fragile, and they are entombed in a very hard matrix of grey and brown iron-rich rock. What marks Eotyrannus out as unusual are its long hind legs and hands. Eotyrannus is still being studied, but Dinosaur Isle currently displays parts of the skull and various hand elements, along with a superb life-sized restoration. During 1995 local collector Gavin Leng brought a claw he had found on the beach to Steve Hutt at the old Museum of Isle of Wight Geology at Sandown. Over the next few weeks the site was carefully excavated, and the fossils removed. Due to the nature of the find the site was kept secret. Over the next few years the fossils were carefully researched in conjunction with scientists from the University of Portsmouth, and with help from the Natural History Museum. Finally in 2000 the dinosaur was named as a new genus and species, with the species name taken from Gavin Leng's surname in honour of his being the first to find it. The research announcing the new name was published internationally in January 2001.


The genus name, Hypsilophodon, (pronounced hip-si-lof-o-don) means high-ridged tooth; and the species name, foxi, is after Reverend William Fox, a Victorian fossil collector who found several specimens of Hypsilophodon. The original species name was foxii but the last i is commonly dropped in today’s usage. The Hypsilophodons were terrestrial (living on land), cursorial (running) bipeds (walking on two feet). They may very well be the most famous British dinosaur, after Iguanodon, and are mostly represented by juveniles. They are found in a layer of rock called the Hypsilophodon Bed within the Wessex Formation that is of Early Cretaceous age (Late Barremian), being about 125 to 129 million years old. The locality that they are known from on the Isle of Wight is at Cowleaze Chine, near Barnes High. Hypsilophodons were relatively small dinosaurs, ranging from about 1 to 3 metres in length and were similar to other ornithopods in many ways. They did, however, have some pretty unique features that can be used to distinguish them from other dinosaurs. They had tall, short-snouted skulls that were quite small compared to their bodies and featured very large orbits (the aperture that houses the eye). The quadratojugal bone (between the jugal and quadrate) is quite large, having a large hole in it. They had 5 premaxillary teeth (teeth that are at the front of the upper jaw) which were serrated and constricted at the base of the crown. Their remaining teeth were compressed at the inner (lingual) and outer (labial) sides with expanded crowns and were only covered with enamel on one side, having ridges in the centre and serrations at the edges of these surfaces. The 12 maxillary teeth (the teeth in the upper jaw) had enamel covering the labial surface while the 13 dentary teeth (teeth positioned on the lower jaw) were covered with enamel on the lingual surface and featured a mid-line vertical ridge that formed a spike in the middle of the crown. These surfaces were likely used to shred tough vegetation. Their femurs (thigh bone) have a fourth trochanter (a bony projection) that is positioned closer to the hip than in other ornithopods. They may have also possessed two rows of osteoderms along their backs, however, more recent studies by Richard Butler and Galton suggest that they were instead plates of cartilage that were positioned between the ribs to strengthen the ribcage while running.


The first specimen was found at Cowleaze Chine in 1849 and was initially thought to be a juvenile Iguanodon fossil. The specimen was contained within a mass of stone and consisted of a skeleton that lacked a head. This specimen was broken into two parts and sent to both James Bowerbank and Gideon Mantell to identify. When Richard Owen viewed the skeleton in 1854, he concluded that it was that of a juvenile Iguanodon. Fox found another specimen at the same locality in 1868. This fossil possessed a skull and was a bit different from that of Iguanodon. Fox noticed these differences and thinking it belonged to a new species of Iguanodon, sent the specimen to William Huxley who had the honour of identifying and describing it in 1869. Fox was not actually far from being correct, as Hypsilophodon and Iguanodon are both ornithopod dinosaurs (meaning “bird-foot”). Huxley concluded that both this specimen and the one from 1849, which is now the paratype, belonged to the same species of dinosaur and were not from an Iguanodon. Fox was not very happy with Huxley’s idea and took the fossil away from Huxley, giving it to Owen instead. Owen also disagreed with Huxley and was quoted saying “The conclusions of the author as a generic relationship of the species to which this unique fossil skull belonged, were not, however, satisfactory to its discoverer, and here, consequently placed in my hands.” In 1874. Huxley was correct but Owen decided that the new skeleton belonged to a new type of Iguanodon. This fossil was then deemed the holotype, labelled as NHMUK (Natural History Museum, United Kingdom) R197 and consisting of a well-preserved skull with teeth. Later work was done on a large amount of material by John Hulke in the 1870s, who considered Hypsilophodon to be arboreal (living in trees). Peter Galton then looked at this material, making it the subject of his University of London doctorate at King's College in 1967. He then went on to extensively re-describe it in 1974, suggesting a cursorial (running) lifestyle.


Valdosaurus canaliculatus was recognised in 1977 as very fragmentary remains and subsequently placed in the family Dryosauridae. However the skull of this interesting dinosaur is still unknown, so it is difficult to be precise about its relationships within the Ornithopoda. Very recently, researchers have considered dryosaurs as close to the evolutionary tree of the Superfamily Iguanodontoidea. Dinosaur Isle displays a beautifully preserved hindlimb of this rare dinosaur. Superfamily: Dryosauridae; Size: 4 - 5 metres long; Food: Plants. What does the name mean? Valdosaurus (‘forest lizard’) canaliculatus (refers to a canal or channel on the femur).


The sauropods of the Isle of Wight are not well understood at present. Despite this, names such as Chondrosteosaurus, Pelorosaurus, Ornithopsis and Opisthocoelicaudia have been given in the past to very incomplete sauropod remains, often isolated bones. However, in 1992, the most complete skeleton of a Wealden-age sauropod in the world was found, and is now displayed at Dinosaur Isle. Precisely which sauropod it is remains a mystery (although it is most likely to be Eucamerotus or Pelorosaurus), but unfortunately neither of these are known from more than a few bones. Dinosaur Isle also displays one of the largest vertebrae ever found in Wealden-age rocks – this 700 mm long bone once belonged to a brachiosaurid at least 20 metres long! Superfamily: Brachiosauridae; Size: 15 - 20 metres long; Food: Plants; What does the name mean? Eucamerotus (‘well-chambered’ in reference to the large cavities in the vertebrae) Pelorosaurus (‘monstrous lizard’)


Polacanthus foxi is an ankylosaur which is not well known, due to the rarity and incompleteness of its remains. It was protected by thick bony plates embedded in its skin, a shield of fused plates covering its pelvis and numerous large spikes on its back and shoulders. Dinosaur Isle displays bones and pieces of armour, as well as a superb life-sized reconstruction. Superfamily: Polacanthidae; Size: 4 -5 metres long; Food: Plants; What does the name mean? Polacanthus (many spines) foxi (named after Reverend Fox, a Victorian fossil collector who made the first discovery of substantial Polacanthus remains in 1865).


Baryonyx walkeri is a large predator originally found in a quarry in Surrey, but remains have since been found on the Isle of Wight and in Spain and Africa. Baryonyx is probably closely related to Spinosaurus. Dinosaur Isle displays teeth and hand bones. Family: Baryonychidae; Size: 10 metres long; Food: The crocodile-like snout suggests it caught fish! What does the name mean? Baryonyx (‘heavy claw’) walkeri (named after Mr Walker who found the Surrey skeleton in 1983)


The Collections currently consist of about 30,000 geological specimens, mainly fossils. They reflect the breadth of the Island’s geological history, ranging from Early Cretaceous to Early Oligocene and Pleistocene age. Particular strengths include Wealden (Early Cretaceous) dinosaurs, Cretaceous ammonites, Palaeogene molluscs, vertebrates, plants and insects. Most notably, the collection contains partial and near complete dinosaur skeletons, including the type of Neovenator salerii. Other type and figured material includes Cretaceous and Palaeogene molluscs and vertebrates. The collections also contain representative rock and mineral specimens from the Island. Apart from the specimens displayed in Dinosaur Isle, reserve geological collections are stored in the Island Heritage Service central store at Cothey Bottom, Ryde, and are available for study by appointment.


Paving outside the building is flat and there are no steps at the doors. Wheelchair useage by visitors is possible throughout the museum. All internal floors are flat with wide doors linking spaces. There is a lift to the upper floor. A wheelchair is provided for visitors who require one within the building. There are disabled toilets on the ground and upper floors. They aim to make their displays as accessible as possible, however weight and security constraints mean that some displays need to be supported on solid bases which mean they are raised from the ground. There are a number of disabled parking bays near the museum, with a drop-pavement and flat tarmac path to the entrance. The larger car park behind the museum has a gravel surface which may not be suitable for wheelchair users, or those who are unsteady on their feet. Assistance dogs are welcome. Visitors with specific disabilities (or their carers) who require further information to plan their visit can always call them first. Carers may wish to carry out a pre-visit before bringing a large group. Baby changing facilities are available in their ground floor disabled toilet. Group rates are available.


Location : Dinosaur Isle, Culver Parade, Sandown, Isle of Wight PO36 8QA

Transport : Sandown (National Rail via ferry) then bus or 22 minutes. Bus Routes : 8 and 24 stop outside

Opening Times : Daily, November to March 10:00 to 16:00;  April to August 10:00 to 18:00;  September, October 10:00 to 17:00

Tickets : Adults £5.00;  Concessions £4.00;  Children (3 - 15) £4.00

Tel. : 01983 404344