Palaeoart – Reconstructing the Past

Giant ground sloth

Megatherium americanum

George Johann Scharf (1788–1860)

Watercolour on paper


  • This exhibition has now closed

  • Free for everyone

Palaeoart is the term used to describe artwork that attempts to reconstruct prehistoric animals and their habitats using fossil material and the latest scientific knowledge.

This display brings together a wide range of palaeoart, from nearly 200 years ago to the present day.

Artists and scientists depicted long-lost creatures together for the first time in the early nineteenth century – around the same time as scientists began seriously studying prehistoric life. As our knowledge and understanding has grown, artists have been able to make increasingly realistic depictions of the fascinating creatures that once existed.

Today, palaeoartists often work with digital media, though they still collaborate with scientists to create accurate depictions. Using new evidence and ideas, they continue to help us understand how extinct creatures once lived, moved and behaved. 

See the largest painting in the collection

It's hard to miss the huge painting of a long-extinct giant ground sloth (Megatherium americanum). It was painted in 1842 by George Scharf. He was one of the artists who provided scientific illustrations for Richard Owen, the founder of the Museum.

See other reconstructions of Megatherium by artists including Maurice Wilson and Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins as well as a new digital reconstruction by contemporary artist Mark Witton. 


A large print guide is available for this exhibition.