The Market Hall Museum's Lego Ichthyosaur

Lego® ichthyosaur at the Market Hall Museum, Warwick. 2017.
Image courtesy of Jon Radley

The Jurassic rocks of southern and eastern Warwickshire have yielded many fossils over the last two hundred years, including the skeletons of ichthyosaurs – dolphin-like ‘fish-lizards’ made famous by Mary Anning’s discoveries at Lyme Regis in Dorset.

With the Market Hall Museum redevelopment, there was an opportunity to refresh the existing displays and themes. One of our main aims at the Market Hall Museum is to make our collections and displays as accessible and appealing to all, as is practically possible.  One of our main challenges rests with engaging our younger audiences.

A custom-made model

About three years ago, a colleague had shown me a photograph of a Lego® ichthyosaur, constructed for a museum on Dorset’s Jurassic Coast. A little bit of digging around confirmed that it had been constructed as a display piece by BrightBricks, a Lego® construction company based in Hampshire.  Models such as this are custom-made and costly to produce, meaning that external funding really had to be acquired, to make such a model a viable proposition for the Market Hall Museum. To this end, I applied to the Geologists’ Association’s Curry Fund, a body with a long track record of funding geologically-themed displays and installations in museums.

Once the award had been made, we commissioned a Lego® ichthyosaur model from BrightBricks, and it was delivered in the Spring of 2016, as we worked on the new museum. Like the earlier Dorset model, ours is over a metre in length and is made up of about 4,000 bricks. To put this in context, this is roughly the same amount as the Tower Bridge model, one of the largest and most complex that Lego® has ever produced.

Anatomically faithful

In our model the bricks have been lightly glued, to avoid damage. The model is anatomically faithful to reconstructions of ‘real’ ichthyosaurs, allowing us to demonstrate aspects of ichthyosaur biology and ecology to our younger audiences. It features ‘countershaded’ bricks, mimicking the colour patterns of modern marine predators such as killer whales and sharks, which have very similar lifestyles to those inferred by palaeobiologists for the extinct ichthyosaurs. Its proximity to a nearby case containing locally collected ichthyosaur fossils provides additional context for this remarkable model.

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