Come Face To Face With Prehistoric Monsters At Horniman Museum

Permian Monsters ★★★★★

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 15 months ago

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Come Face To Face With Prehistoric Monsters At Horniman Museum Permian Monsters 5
This animatronic Titanophoneus means business.

I'm facing off with an animatronic Titanophoneus — literally 'Titanic murderer'. It's a chunky reptile with blade like teeth and I'm rather glad it died out hundreds of millions of years ago. If it was roaming the streets of London today there's no chance you'd catch me out and about.

It's one of the species recreated for the Permian Monsters exhibition at south London's Horniman Museum. The instinct is to refer to these creatures as dinosaurs but that is incorrect. This show is about the creatures that came before the dinosaurs ruled the Earth — in fact, it's creatures like these that are quite possibly the common ancestor we humans share with the dinos.

There are plenty of fossils and fossilised skeletons too - including this one of Dimetrodon.

It's not just the reptiles that have me thinking I wouldn't have stood a chance of survival — there were armour plated amphibians and giant dragonflies buzzing around the skies. A 2.6 metre long predecessor of a centipede does have an official species name but I'm just calling it 'nope' — it wouldn't crawl over your skin so much as run you over.

In case you're thinking it's safer in the water, that was inhabited by Helicoprion — a shark with a lower jaw that resembles a circular saw blade. Move aside Jaws, this thing is far more deserving of a horror franchise.   

Digital artwork gives us a glimpse of what the world may have looked like back then.

The biggest beast is hidden at the back — Inostrancevia looks like a reptilian version of a sabre-toothed cat and the children who are going to visit this exhibition would've been a mere appetiser for this monstrous predator.

While this is most definitely a family exhibition, this big kid learned a lot about the Permian era. Including the fact that scientists are still unsure what led to the mass die off of circa 90% of all animal species — though they suspect volcanoes may have made the atmosphere toxic enough to kill off most of life.

Inostrancevia and Scutosuarus are two of the biggest models in the show.

Aside from the obvious entertainment of growling animatronic models, children will love the ability to touch recreations of fossils, see computer generated mock ups of what the prehistoric Earth may have looked like, gaze at fossilised skeletons and become budding palaeontologists by using brushes to uncover mock bones in pits.

If I think back to when I was a little dinosaur nerd, my younger self would have absolutely loved this exhibition. 30 years later, I'm still enchanted.

Permian Monsters: Life before the Dinosaurs is on until 3 January, 2021. Tickets are £9 for adults, £5 for children and £18 for a family ticket.  All images are courtesy of Gondwana Studios.

Last Updated 08 July 2020