Hot news re. Crystal Palace marine reptiles, crt. Jeremy Young of @cpdinosaurs! Today, all 3 CP Plesiosaurus models site look pretty similar, aside from differences in neck length & body size. This is weird because one model is of P. macrocephalus - a big-headed taxon. Thread...
1853 illustrations of the P. macrocephalus model show that the original head of was much bigger - of appropriate size for this species. (This illustration is accurate in all testable details, so I assume it's a reliable record of the original model).
So something must have happened to see the original head replaced with a smaller one. A 1959 Pathé film has the answer: the sculpture was decapitated in WWII. Jeremy clocked the significance of this narration - I hadn't thought much about it until today.
As shown in the film, the replacement head is pretty small - not the same, long-faced version seen in the 1853 illustration. It was likely modelled on those of the neighbouring smaller-headed plesiosaurs, robbing the macrocephalus model of a characteristic feature.
The reasons for copying the other plesiosaur species, rather than replicating the original macrocephalus head, isn't clear at the moment. But there are avenues of investigation left to explore, so this may be clarified in future.
This is interesting because, other than the Pathé footage, this replacement isn't on record at all, to my knowledge. And the model has been repaired so much that any trace of the join isn't outwardly obvious - it looks like it's been left, unmodified, for 170 years.
This said, this isn't the only example we know of where CP Dinosaur body parts have been inauthentically replaced. Neither the Megatheirum hands nor the sitting Palaeotherium head are accurate to images of their original forms.
We have to appreciate, therefore, that we're not seeing the CP Dinosaurs exactly as they originally were. Generations of poorly-documented damage and conservation have modified them, and we're having to sleuth out where, when and why this happened.
For folks interested in historic palaeoart, this is quite a big deal. It's the equivalent of someone damaging everyone's favourite Charles Knight mural and then replacing Triceratops with Centrosaurus or Tyrannosaurus with Allosaurus.
Or, less hypothetically, perhaps akin to the famous botched conservation efforts of historic paintings that make the news. Even if executed with the best intentions, bad conservation can irreparably harm priceless, irreplaceable objects. https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2020/jun/22/experts-call-for-regulation-after-latest-botched-art-restoration-in-spain