Photo credit: Downeym
The griffin is a common figure in Ancient Greek myth and art, said to possess the body of a lion, but the head and wings of an eagle. While it’s possible this creature is the result of early storytellers simply combining existing animals, folklorist Adrienne Mayor has a different theory.
She believes that ancient excavators in the Gobi desert actually uncovered the fossilized bones of the protoceratops — and seeing the beaked face and four-legged body, the legend of the griffin was born. Through trade with the Greeks, this story slowly spread across the ancient world.
Photo credit: Baltazar Vischi
It’s not hard to come to a similar conclusion when you consider dragon myths. When ancient people encountered dinosaur fossils, they came to the natural conclusion: that these were evidence of giant, reptilian monsters. Dragon myths may also have been fueled by descriptions of exotic giant lizards and large snakes. If stories of rhinos could make it to Ancient Greece, why not tales of Komodo dragons, Nile crocodiles, or now-extinct giant lizards?
One anthropologist, Dr. David E. Jones, thinks the explanation is more mundane. He argues that humans and other primates have an instinctive fear of snakes — because even baby chimps who have never been exposed to snakes before are terrified of them. Rather than dragons being based on any particular species or on recovered fossils, he believes they’re entirely the product of humanity’s collective nightmares.
Photo credit: Bridget Coila
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