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Extinct Animal Bones Inspired Greek Myths



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Could the Minotaur, Medusa and other creatures of Greek mythology have their roots in old bones?—specifically, the bones of prehistoric beasts?

Adrienne Mayor, a Stanford University researcher of Classics and History of Science believes many of the myths may be traced back to the Nichoria bone and others like it.

The fossilized bone—one of early Greece's coveted treasures—is a large splinter from the femur of a Pliocene elephant. The giant, extinct creature grazed the southern region of what later became Greece as far back as one million years in the past.

"It was presumed lost until 1998. Following my inquiries, the fossil was found stored in a cellar at the University of Minnesota. It then spent last decade in various U.S. labs," Mayor explained during an interview with Discovery News.

She believes the ancient Greeks found the bone and it may have helped to inspire some of the mythological creatures that surfaced during Greece's early culture.

The bone was rediscovered during the early 1970s and then it disappeared. Lost for many years, her inquiries about it triggered a renewed search that ended upon it's discovery in a University of Minnesota storage cellar during 1998.  

Mayor has traced the discovery of the bone in antiquity to its modern day discovery by Greek archaeologists. Her book, "The First Fossil Hunters" first published in 2000 and recently revised, reveals the intriguing correlation between the sites of the prehistoric fossils and the regions where the early Greek myths about animal-human fusions and gigantic creatures originally sprang up.

"Most likely,' Mayor explained, "the ancient Greeks found the bone in the lignite deposits of the Megalopolis basin, known in antiquity as the 'Battleground of the Giants.' There, the dense concentration of large fossil bones inspired the belief that entire armies of giants were blasted by Zeus's thunderbolts."

A paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York examined the fossil specimen for Mayor and determined it to be the part of the large femur of a woolly rhinoceros that lived from two million to 10,000 years in the past.

The area the bone came from is from one of the ancient Greek regions where the classical mythology arose.

So, a prehistoric bone from a creature tens of thousands or millions of years old may have been the inspiration for the mighty Minotaur of Crete and the chthonic monster, the Gorgon Medusa.

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  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://www.stanford.edu/dept/HPST/Mayor.html
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://news.discovery.com/archaeology/fossil-ancient-greeks-mammal-110331.html