'Jolly Old Beast' - a dinosaur song revived after 160 years


On New Year’s Eve 1853 a group of entrepreneurs dined inside the mould of a giant model iguanodon and, it is reported, sang a rousing song in praise of dinosaurs. The chorus runs: 'The jolly old beast/Is not deceased/There’s life in him again! ROAR.'


The model that provided an unlikely dinner venue that December evening was part of a set of concrete dinosaurs – the world’s first full-size dino-sculptures - made for the Crystal Palace at Sydenham.

Some 160 years on, Cambridge University has revived this song in celebration of its own iguanodon (nicknamed Iggy) on display at the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences. The University is running an online series called Cambridge Animal Alphabet to showcase its many connections with animals – in art, architecture, mythology, literature and science. In the series, ‘I is for Iguanodon’ appears on 31 August 2015.

Barney Brown, the University’s head of digital communications, set the dinosaur lyrics to a bluegrass tune which he sings in a gravelly voice. The song can be heard here with a short film showing children visiting Iggy in the Sedgwick Museum. Iggy was given to the Museum by the King of Belgium and is a plaster replica of a skeleton found in a mine in 1878. The original creature lived some 120 million years ago and would have measured 11 metres from nose to tail.

It’s not known when the song was last heard by the public or what the original musical score was. The lyrics appear in WJT Mitchell's The Last Dinosaur Book (1998) and the song is discussed in Science in Wonderland (2015) by Melanie Keene (Homerton College, Cambridge).


For more information contact Alex Buxton, Office of Communications, University of Cambridge, alex.buxton@admin.cam.ac.uk 01223 761673.

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