The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman by Adrienne Mayor

By Adrienne Mayor

Griffins, Centaurs, Cyclopes, and Giants--these great creatures of classical mythology proceed to dwell within the sleek mind's eye throughout the brilliant bills that experience come right down to us from the traditional Greeks and Romans. yet what if those beings have been greater than simply fictions? What if huge creatures as soon as roamed the earth within the very locations the place their legends first arose? this can be the arresting and unique thesis that Adrienne Mayor explores in The First Fossil Hunters. via cautious study and meticulous documentation, she convincingly indicates that a few of the giants and monsters of fable did have a foundation in fact--in the big bones of long-extinct species that have been as soon as ample within the lands of the Greeks and Romans.

As Mayor exhibits, the Greeks and Romans have been good acutely aware diversified breed of creatures as soon as inhabited their lands. they regularly encountered the fossilized bones of those primeval beings, they usually built subtle suggestions to give an explanation for the fossil facts, recommendations that have been expressed in mythological tales. The legend of the gold-guarding griffin, for instance, sprang from stories first informed via Scythian gold-miners, who, passing throughout the Gobi barren region on the foot of the Altai Mountains, encountered the skeletons of Protoceratops and different dinosaurs that littered the ground.

Like their glossy opposite numbers, the traditional fossil hunters accumulated and measured outstanding petrified continues to be and displayed them in temples and museums; they tried to reconstruct the looks of those prehistoric creatures and to provide an explanation for their extinction. lengthy considered fable, the remarkably targeted and perceptive Greek and Roman money owed of huge bone reveals have been really in response to reliable paleontological evidence. by means of analyzing those ignored narratives for the 1st time within the gentle of recent clinical discoveries, Adrienne Mayor illuminates a misplaced global of historic paleontology. As Peter Dodson writes in his Foreword, "Paleontologists, classicists, and historians in addition to common heritage buffs will learn this e-book with the best of delight--surprises abound."

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And the new details were consistent with the original framework of quadruped bird. Something real must have continued to confirm the most remarkable features about griffins: They had four legs but also a beak; they were found in deserts near gold. What kind of physical evidence might have verified their existence for so many people over so many centuries? I studied two other legendary creatures that had been inspired by observations of the fossils of extinct mammals. 8. Dragon statue at Klagenfiirt, Austria, sculpted by Ulrich Vogelsang in 1590.

T h e body of the hatchet-faced Protoceratops is about 6 to 8 feet (about 2 m) long, roughly the size of a lion, and has four limbs, but the head has a nasty-looking beak, large eye sockets, and a thin, bony frill at the back of the skull (figs. 10, 1 . 1 1 ) . 5 m) Psittacosaurus ("parrot-beaked") has very prominent jugals, or cheek projections. In these deserts, the exquisitely preserved skeletons are frequently fully articulated, with the beaked skulls still attached. "Tiny surface features—grooves and pits that mark the routes of blood vessels and nerves"—are still evident.

C . 1 T r a d e r o u t e s b e w e e n t h e M e d i t e r r a n e a n a n d A s i a . 4. C. tomb at Pazyryk, northern slopes of the Altai Mountains. Drawing by author. headed griffins can be seen in Mycenaean art of the Greek Bronze Age (ca. 1 2 0 0 B . C . ) . As a student o f ancient folklore, I regretted that there was no way to know what kind of stories, if any, corresponded to those images. B u t with Aristeas and the Greek and Roman writers who followed him, I could relate the snippets of folk knowledge about the griffins of Issedonia to the artistic images of the same era.

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