Airdate: Apr 09, 2001
Scientist: Adrienne Mayor
Fossils & Myths: Intro
There is now evidence that creatures in Greek mythology were not entirely mythical.
The tales of the gods and goddesses in Greek mythology are filled with giants and monsters. Well, now there's evidence that the inspiration for these creatures was not entirely mythical. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Scholar Adrienne Mayor says she started tracing the origins of mythological beasts after a visit to the Greek island of Samos, where she saw a display of large bones that had recently been dug up by farmers.
"And it struck me then that ancient farmers must have come across these bones as well, and surely they came up with explanations for them. And I was inspired to dig through the ancient literature to find their explanations, and actually came up with over a hundred descriptions of the discoveries of giant bones. Bones that the Greeks identified as monsters or giants or ancestral heroes from their myths."
Mayor says that the descriptions of certain mythological creatures such as the griffin bear a remarkable resemblance to real earthly animals.
"The griffin was an animal the size of a wolf or a lion, four legs, but it also had a very nasty beak like that of an eagle. This creature lived in the western reaches of the Gobi Desert. And it was encountered by nomadic gold prospectors who told the Greeks about this creature. When I first heard about the griffin, the idea that it had four legs and a beak made me think of a dinosaur. By researching the paleontological finds in the western regions of the Gobi Desert, I discovered that the most abundant fossil there is the dinosaur known as the Protocerotops. It's about the size of a wolf, it has a beak and it is found near gold fields."
Adrienne Mayor is author of The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times. Pulse of the Planet is presented by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.