Prehistoric elephant fossils may have inspired the Greek myth of the giant, one-eyed, man-eating creatures known as Cyclopes. In the Odyssey, the The ancient Greek poet Homer. the hero tells of Odysseus Almost fatal encounter with the cyclops Polyphemus. Stranded with his crew on the island of Sicily, the cunning Odysseus blinds the giant and escapes with the remains of his crew (many of whom had been eaten) under a flock of sheep.
It is possible that visitors to the Mediterranean islands stumbled upon the skulls. of ancient elephants in caves with bones scattered around themevoking stories of giant, one-eyed, man-eating beasts.
“Anyone who goes to a natural history museum and looks at an elephant skull can see that the eye sockets are insignificant, you don’t even notice them,” says Adrienne Mayor, a researcher in the Department of Classics at Stanford University, who He has studied fossils and ancient myths extensively. “What she notices is the gigantic hole in the middle of the skull that looks like a single eye.”
Did mammoth skulls stimulate the Cyclops myth?
That hole is, of course, a nasal cavity. But before the time of Alexander the greatin the middle of the 4th century BC. BCE, the ancient Greeks would have never seen a live elephant and therefore could have easily mistaken it for a large, singular eye socket.
Therefore, the bones of mammoths, mastodons and other extinct elephants could have some role in the development of the legend of the cyclops. In the case of the island of Samos, the megafauna fossils could have been related to the legend of the neadesIt is said that gigantic beasts scream so loudly that they could cause earthquakes.
Although it is very possible that such fossils were related to the creation of ancient myths, there is no evidence to confirm whether the remains of these animals predate the myths themselves; It could also be that these myths already existed and fossil discoveries simply confirmed them. Mayor’s Notes.
“We don’t know what comes first,” he says. “I don’t like to say that fossils inspired or were the source of history, because we simply can’t prove it.”
Did the ancient Greeks and Romans find fossils?
In ancient times, these discoveries of fossils of long-extinct creatures may have confirmed pre-existing ancient beliefs about giants and other mythical creatures, such as the tap. This composite creature, part bird, part lion, or part eagle, is said to have fiercely protected its nest and attacked those seeking to harvest gold in the deserts of Central Asia.
“The ancient Greeks believed that their mythological heroes, such as Achilles, Ajax and Odysseus, were about three times larger than today’s weak men and women,” says Mayor. “When they found a large femur or femur that actually belonged to a prehistoric elephant, it looked like a human shoulder blade or femur, only three times larger.”
In research carried out for his work. Early Fossil Hunters: Dinosaurs, Mammoths, and Myths in Ancient Greek and Roman Times, Mayor compared ancient literary evidence of fossil finds with actual paleontological dig sites and found a strong correlation. Along with examples of large fossil bones found at archaeological sites such as temples, this provided evidence that ancient people “paid attention, attempted to explain, and even collected, measured, and displayed gigantic fossils,” in his opinion.
Did fossils influence the myths of the ancient Greeks and Romans?
“I think there’s no doubt that fossils influenced the way the ancient Greeks and Romans depicted mythological stories about giants, monsters and fabulous creatures,” Mayor says.
He also notes that this practice of interacting with fossils and developing stories from them (such as Polyphemus the one-eyed and his fateful encounter with Odysseus) spreads throughout history to other cultures and indigenous peoples.
“People of ancient times and pre-scientific cultures worked hard to explain and account for these mysterious remains in their lands,” Mayor says. “I think they used a combination of rationality and imagination – in the same way that paleontologists do when they try to bring to life the remains of an unknown creature that they will never see alive – and tried to imagine its appearance, its behavior and its habitat. “
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