Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Dinosaurs & The Greeks

Recently I caught an interesting episode of Ancient Mysteries on the History Channel (I know, I know, something actually related to history on the History Channel!).

The book the show is based on.

According to Adrienne Mayor, an author and classical folklorist, Greek myths may have been inspired by prehistoric fossils. After researching numerous passages from ancient authors, interviewing various paleontologists and analyzing and interpreting ancient art, Mayor concludes that the Ancient Greeks came across prehistoric bones and associated them with strange creatures like the Griffin and Cyclops.

Elephant...or Cyclops?


The show was so interesting that after it ended I ordered Mayor's book The First Fossil Hunters on Amazon to learn more. The verdict? Although it's needlessly repetitious, Mayor's overall conjecture is fascinating and perhaps even plausible.

One of the things I was surprised to learn is that the scientific community doesn't believe the Ancient Greeks were capable of recognizing prehistoric fossils as bones. I can't fanthom why this would be, and luckily Mayor agrees. She argues that they DID recognize the bones of prehistoric animals, and cites various ancient authors to prover her point. For example, Herodotus reports that in order to win a war against their neighbor Tegea, the Spartans were told by the priestess of Delphi to find and bring home the bones of Orestes (a prince of Mycenae and a relation to the Spartan king Menelaus). Eventually the bones were found on the edge of Tegea, where they were encased in a large coffin measuring almost ten feet long. The Spartans took the remains back to Sparta, reburied them in a lavish ceremony, and won the war.

Although it seems strange to us that the Greeks would think bones that big could be human, Mayor explains that the Ancient Greeks believed heroes like Theseus and Orestes to be three times the size of mortal men! Since most of the prehistoric bones found in Greece belong to huge prehistoric mammals like elephants and rhinosoraus, it's not hard to see why the Ancient Greeks believed in giants and bigger-than-life heroes.

Mayor offers more proof that the Greeks understood fossils with the Monster of Troy vase. This otherwise normal looking column-krater has--for inexplicible reasons--the Monster of Troy portrayed as a weird, white, skull-looking... thing. Mayor insists it is a skull, perhaps a fossil poking out from the side of a cliff. She draws attention to the fact that the teeth are drawn like that of prehistoric animal and that mouth looks like an actual jawbone.

What is that???


She also thinks that the Griffin, which has its origin in Scythia may be based on a dinosaur. Mayor traces the story of the Griffin all the way to the Gobi desert, where nomadic tribes roamed about prospecting for gold. These nomadic Scythians reported to the Greeks that they had seen winged creatures with the body of a lion and the beak of an eagle, and that they fiercely protected the gold dust that fell from the mountains. When Mayor did some investigating she learned that around the area are the well preserved bones of Protoceratops, a dinosaur with a beaked skull and a large crest that could be mistaken for wings. Her side-by-side comparison between the remains of a Protoceratops and a picture of a Griffin is pretty interesting.

Terrible Lizard or...

Terrible Griffin?

Although there's no way to prove her theory is correct, it's interesting to think that if they didn't inspire the myths, prehistoric bones at least convinced the ancients that giants and heroes of huge size really existed. At any rate, despite a few editing issues I enjoyed the book. I think I might even use some of the material in my story. :)

7 comments:

Constance said...

meghan - very interesting! I love history like this - as long as it's not bound and determine to make a scientific explanation for everything under the sun, and take some of the mystery out of life. :)

"One of the things I was surprised to learn is that the scientific community doesn't believe the Ancient Greeks were capable of recognizing prehistoric fossils as bones."

I really hate the prevailing scientific 'wisdom' that our ancestors were stupid because they didn't have cell phones... I think Roman engineers were smarter than our modern engineers. They didn't depend on computers to solve their problems.

Carla said...

Interesting theory. It sounds quite plausible. I've come across a similar idea that the North European dragon could have been in part a way of explaining prehistoric fossil bones. Also worth bearing in mind that in the 18th century fossils were thought to be the remains of animals and monsters drowned in Noah's flood. People certainly recognised fossil remains and tried to explain them. Around Whitby in North Yorkshire lots of ammonites wash out of the cliffs, and the local legend is that they are headless snakes banished by St Hilda. St Hilda lived in the seventh century; the legend is later but I don't know how much later. Medieval, I would guess. People have always looked at the world around them and tried to figure out what it means and how it works, it's part of what makes us human. I agree with Constance. People were just as smart three or four or ten thousand years ago as they are now. For heaven's sake, the Greeks worked out that the earth was round and calculated its distance from the sun! They maybe wouldn't recognise fossil bones as being millions of years old (potassium-argon dating does help with that one), or know how the bones came to be turned into stone, but they would be quite capable of recognising bones as bones and making a guess at the sort of animal that they might have come from.

Gabriele C. said...

Roman engineers were better. Their walls still stand (but for the parts decontructed by lazy Mediaeval masons) and that's more than you can say of modern houses. Or bridges - the one in Trier is still in use after 1800 years. :P

jason evans said...

That's a great point. I could see how the ancients got their mythical monster ideas from the real monsters scattered about. They were just off a few years....

Anonymous said...

You should look at the evidence elsewhere that humans and dinosaurs coexisted. Pretty overwhelming.

Been doing research after seeing Ben Stein's new movie Expelled about creationism vs. evolution. About the evidence and the quieting of any scientists who bring the problems of evolution to light.

There's all this factual evidence that suggests against evolution and holds to the Bible's timeline, and proves it strictly. Pretty much miraculously because of it's exact predictions, timelines, various authours, archeological evidence. But that would imply that God exists and had a hand in it. Evolution is really not about the truth, it's a fight to disprove the Bible!

I know it sounds insane. But all science was based on the Bible and creation model until evolution became widely adopted not too long ago. There's all this evidence of a great flood all over the world, all these holes in evolution that get swept under the rug. There's even been destruction of evidence and falsifying evidence to hold up evolution, which is really only held up by superficial similarities and assumptions. It all agrees with creation when you go deeper though.

Really got me thinking. Crazy. The implications of the Bible's authenticity, of God, it's just undeniable if you ask what you're not allowed to ask and look past what you're being allowed to see. Dinosaurs are just one part, but evolution would be completely blown out of the water if people and dinosaurs coexisted.

Feel like I'm just discovering the world is round. Always assumed evolution and timelines were true. Seek the truth for yourself! Took a leap for me at first, but after seeing all the evidence and scientists who don't believe in evolution. After seeing all of the contrary evidence and problems with evolution, the cover-ups, marginalizing and mocking of creationists, prolonged teaching of faked evidence, how flimsy it is... I don't think I can ever believe in it again.

Take a look for yourself. One of the big things that hit me was, with the Dinos... there all over the place in cultures, AND the ancient depictions of them living are accurate. Also the incredible inaccuracy of our current dating methods (proven to be off by millions of years at a time on new rock formations because they are all setup for evolutionary models). And it took us years for us to know how to assemble and depict them from the bones in any kind of accurate way. But these ancient people got them looking and acting totally accurate.

Not saying there wasn't natural disasters and events, but there is a lot more hard evidence that adds up there being a huge flood that stands better than the evolution & old earth theory.

It's a leap of faith, I know, after being taught evolution your whole life. But take a look for yourself to see what's true and what's not. The dino stuff is huge. And even now all science agrees that most of the sediment and soil had to fall on them at once for there to be fossils, but they're still teaching that it took millions of years because it doesn't agree with evolution.

There's a anthropology saying about how legends can be made out of historical events, but historical events never originates from legends. The world makes a lot of sense with the Bible being true, and the evidence supports it when you realize that evolution is so flimsy. Even if it sounds impossible, you stand by evolution and creationism sounds like a joke... you can't buy that what we've taught is wrong... it won't hurt to take a sincere and open minded look since it couldn't not ammount to much, right. I found the opposite is true and that evolution is all messed up. If the Bible is indeed true, then we all need to look at it. It's funny how the God of the bible encouraged truth, discouraged divination, witchcraft, superstition. How the so much of the western world's accepted truths originate from the Bible's teachings. I find a lot of things make way more sense since finding this stuff out besides dinosaurs...

I wanna know what the truth is either way, that's all I'm saying. A lot of things didn't make sense to me before about the world that we're taught. Now the Bible just seems alive and confirmed as true all over the place. And the prophecies about Jesus's first and second coming are just all throughout it. Always knew that, but it just makes the whole thing more powerful. Also makes it more clear that were in the time when he's supposed to be coming back. Another thing is where it's prophecized that in the last days men would no longer believe in Noah or the flood or respect that God created the World. That there would be a great deception that would fool nearly everyone about the Bible.

Humour me, please. Interesting if nothing else. Read your Bible and look more into it if you feel curious, it's really incredible how much is confirmed.

http://www.genesispark.com/genpark/ancient/ancient.htm

http://www.bible.ca/tracks/welcome.htm

http://www.mineralwellsindex.com/homepage/images_sizedimage_210094837/xl

http://www.answersingenesis.org/get-answers

mikew said...

I loved Mayor’s book too and I think she establishes that the ancients were as interested in the fossils they found as we are, however I disagree with her conclusion on the griffin. I was planning to use her theory to explore the development of the dragon myth, since the myth is very popular with Indo-Europeans and they emerged in close proximity to the fossil bed of Mongolia and central Asia. What I found though is that the griffin has a clear line of development from very non-dinosaur looking creatures in ancient Mesopotamian myth. If you like, you can read the full article here http://mikew1584.wordpress.com/2012/04/28/griffen/

mikew said...

I loved Mayor’s book too and I think she establishes that the ancients were as interested in the fossils they found as we are, however I disagree with her conclusion on the griffin. I was planning to use her theory to explore the development of the dragon myth, since the myth is very popular with Indo-Europeans and they emerged in close proximity to the fossil bed of Mongolia and central Asia. What I found though is that the griffin has a clear line of development from very non-dinosaur looking creatures in ancient Mesopotamian myth. If you like, you can read the full article here http://mikew1584.wordpress.com/2012/04/28/griffen/