Were These Monsters Inspired by Fossils? (w/ Monstrum!)

Were These Monsters Inspired by Fossils? (w/ Monstrum!)

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around the Year 1335 a mysterious skull was recovered from a local quarry near the town of Klagenfurt Austria and it looked downright monstrous for one thing it was way larger than a human skull and it had big teeth along snout and some major-league nasal openings this odd skull went on display in Coggan firts Town Hall where it remained for hundreds of years and then in the late 16th century the skull was immortalized artist Erlich Vogelsang used this specimen as reference for a colossal
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sculpture of a dragon the stone beast was completed in 1590 and is estimated to weigh 6 metric tonnes but the cranium that had captured the artists imagination didn't come from a fire-breathing reptile it came from a rhino a woolly rhino to be precise that's right in 1840 a paleontologist confirmed that the fossilized skull belonged to an Ice Age mammal named CeeLo dontoh antiquity autists also known as the woolly rhinoceros which we've talked about before a big herbivore with a thick furry coat the
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woolly rhino lived around Eurasia as recently as 12,000 years ago and even though vocal saying got the anatomical details wrong his sculpture is historically significant because it's an early attempt at reconstructing the appearance of a long extinct animal a kind of visual storytelling today we've called that paleo art people have been discovering the traces and remains of prehistoric creatures for thousands of years and they've also probably been telling stories about fantastic beasts since language became a thing so is it possible that the monsters that populate
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our myths and legends were influenced by the fossil record today we're tackling that question with a little help from dr. Emily zarqa at our fellow PBS digital series monstrum don't worry there's nothing to be afraid of it's just science in monsters now we should point out that the dragon statue that was inspired by the Rhino skull is pretty rare not only are historians confident that it was based on a specific fossil but scientists still have access to that fossil usually we lack that kind of evidence stories
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and works of art tend to have complicated origins and multiple sources of inspiration so more often than not when we try to figure out how fossils might have influenced mythical monsters all we can do is speculate but that didn't stop francis Buckland whose father William described the dinosaur Megalosaurus in 1824 a bipedal predator Megalosaurus stalked England about a hundred and sixty-five million years ago today scientists think it measured about 6 meters long but back in the Victorian era some naturalist thought it was more
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than twice that in links and in 1858 Frances Buckland asked the question may not the idea of the Dragons curious stories of which are chronicled in various parts of England over their origin in some way or other to the veritable existence of these large lizards in former ages today we know that dinosaurs weren't really lizards but Buckland's Point is still worth considering could their bones have been the inspiration for dragons in other parts of the world to our friend and colleague dr. Emily Zarqa a professor at
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Arizona State University and the host of monstrum is here to weigh in take it away dr. Zee dragons are an integral part of mythology and philosophy in Asia and look quite different from Western legends the benevolent shape-shifting dragons of China have the physical features of nine different creatures and look very different from the winged fire-breathing dragons of Northern Europe wakfu of the Han Dynasty wrote that each element of the Dragons appearance came from the camel cow stag snake clam tiger eagle
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carp and the demon some scholars theorize that each of these are meant to represent the totems of several main tribes of ancient China that's integrated into one the dragon appeared in China at least six thousand years ago and continues to play an important role in religion mythology literature and culture clouds are said to be made from their breath they can fly through the air and turn in visible for the Chinese dragons symbolize divine power controlling the rain rivers sea and all other bodies of
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water they're part of a fundamental Chinese philosophical concept of balance yin and yang dragons represent yang the masculine force dragons are also a part of its Imperial history during the Han to Shang Dynasty period the Great and Powerful dragon became associated with emperors as a way to show they were divinely chosen myths from other parts of eastern Asia also associate dragons with water and imperial power in Japan dragons were believed to control rainfall although in these myths the dragons were crueler and more likely to
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act in anger than their Chinese counterparts the dragon king of vietnamese mythology was said to be the ruler of the waters gifting his subjects with fresh water while he dwelled in the salty oceans but why are Dragon myths so prevalent in East Asia fossils probably have something to do with it thanks dr. Z and you're right some paleontologists think fossilized bones could have influenced Asia's dragon tales 1/4 century texts dating back to China's Jin dynasty mentioned that lots of dragon bones had been found in what's now the
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Szechuan province many sediments in this area date back to the middle and late Jurassic period and those beds are teeming with fossils including a variety of dinosaurs meat-eating theropods spiky tailed Stegosaurus and colossal sauropods with clubs on the ends of their tails have all been found there given all this paleontologist dongs you mean once suggested that the alleged dragon bones discovered back in the 4th century were probably dinosaur remains and speaking of dinos let's talk about Protoceratops a hornless sheep sized
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relative of Triceratops this critter lived in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia some 75 million years ago in the Late Cretaceous period and it was really common some dinosaurs are only known from 1 or 2 specimens but we found literally hundreds of Protoceratops skulls and skeletons representing every stage of the animal's life and dinosaur eggs are also really common in the Gobi some of the first fossilized dinosaur eggs known to modern science were found there in the 1920s we're still finding them today sometimes in clusters which suggests
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that dinosaurs nested colonial II but fossil hunters aren't the only prospectors with an interest in the Gobi nomads started hunting for gold in the western part of this desert almost 3000 years ago the ancient Greeks began trading with these people at some point in the seventh century BCE and when cultures interact they swap monster stories in this case Greek travelers were entertained with tales of a winged creature that fiercely guarded gold mines the Griffin dr. Z what can you tell us about those
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beasties in classical mythology the Griffin has the body of a line with the head and wings of an eagle Griffins have appeared in decorative arts and heraldry from Europe to Asia going back thousands of years different from other chimera type monsters of myths these creatures have no supposed supernatural powers although they do guard hidden treasure an association that began in ancient Greek legends that might be explained by the existence of gold mines in Asia where the creatures were said to live also unlike other hybrid creatures and
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mythology the Griffin isn't associated with any gods or heroes but were seen as living animals stories to pick them with real animal-like behaviors like grooming and packs nesting on the ground and hunting for animals and humans alike so in 1993 Adrian Mayer a research scholar at Stanford University who studies classics and the history of science proposed that myths about Griffin's may owe a lot to Protoceratops skeletons like the Gryphon Protoceratops was a quadruped n with a large curved beak and
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triangular projections on the size of its face that could have been mistaken for mammal like ears and maybe the abundant dinosaur eggs and nest reinforce the idea that large half bird half mammal creatures were hanging out in the Gobi but not everyone accepts these ideas paleontologist Marc Whitten has argued that Griffins might have nothing to do with Protoceratops or prehistoric eggs perhaps the legends come from ancient encounters with living animals with no influence from the fossil record or maybe they were just creative
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storytellers and the sites where modern scientists find Protoceratops remains don't really match up with gold deposits or trade routes still we know that some ancient peoples did find fossils our buddy the woolly rhino well in 1978 a team of archaeologists announced they discovered a partial leg bone from the species in an unlikely place the Acropolis of nough Coria thousands of years ago the residents of this Bronze Age town in southwestern Greece placed this fossil inside their Citadel sanctuary and some different fossilized
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bones those from ancient elephants from other sites around the Mediterranean Sea might be tied to one of this region's most iconic monsters the one-eyed Cyclops dr. Z what makes the Cyclops so special well Cyclops monsters are distinguished by the same thing that gives them their name one round eye the most famous one comes from the classical texts The Odyssey by Homer when the hero of the book Odysseus encounters an island inhabited by a race of giant people who spend all their time tending sheep
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Odysseus and some other men wind up stuck in a cave with one of these giants Polyphemus who starts eating them obviously the men want to get out of there so they carve a spear heated in the fire and stab the sleeping giant in the eye blinding him another famous Greek poet Hesiod writes in his Theogony of a trio of Smith's these three brothers were the sons of gods and each was born with a single eye in the middle of their foreheads known for their metalworking skills and great strengths they are said to be the ones who gifted
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Zeus his lightning bolt while they each have names they are commonly referred to as Cyclops these Greek myths are likely where the idea of the one-eyed Cyclops comes from but they are definitely not the only ones there are actually stories of one-eyed Giants in the histories of many cultures around the globe which makes sense when you think about the range in which elephant fossils have been found thanks for all the mythology knowledge dr. Zee now about those old elephant bones in 1914 an austrian paleontologist named Afeni o abel
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proposed that Cyclops legends weren't inspired by rhinos or giant people instead he thought they were rooted in dwarf elephant fossils specifically in their skulls elephant and they're extinct can belong to a group called the Probus IDIA and the skulls of these animals have really large nasal openings high up on their foreheads mean the trunk has to go somewhere so Abel suspected that ancient travelers mistook those cavities for giant eye sockets it's a pretty understandable mistake I mean I can kind of see where
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he was coming from and although wild prova Citians have been extinct in Europe for around ten thousand years people would have encountered their fossils later plus with an almost 20 million year evolutionary history in Europe that included giants like Dino theorem in psycho Lofa Don well there might have been a lot of strange fossils to be found oh and then there were the dwarfs like I explained in our episode about shrinking mammoths a miniature version of the extinct elephant Paleo laksa Don lived on the island of Cyprus and other
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pint-sized elephants and mammoths some measuring less than 2 meters tall at the shoulder resided on Crete Sicily and other islands in the Mediterranean so Dorf elephants Club tailed sauropods and shaggy rhinos are just some of the amazing real animals that we know from the fossil record and although Cyclops sees dragons and Griffins are mythological planet Earth has seen much stranger creatures in its 4.5 billion year history but it's not always clear how their fossils were interpreted by ancient people still by speculating
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about the connection between dinosaurs and dragons it reminds us that fossil hunting is as old as humanity itself and digging into the past whether it's through mythology or paleontology can help us see how fossils might have inspired monsters are there other mythical beasts that you think might have had fossil origins let us know the fossil and the myth in the comments and if you liked all the mythology that dr. Z was talking about be sure to check out monstrum another PBS Digital Studios channel monster-sized thanks to this month's
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Yount ologist Patrick Seyfert Jake Hart John Davidson Ian and Steve also we want to let you know that we now have a discord connected with our patreon all our patrons have access to exclusive channels where we can chat about eons paleontology and anything else our whole team is in there and we're really excited to get to know the EU Knights better you can join us by heading over to patreon.com slash eons and selecting any membership level see you there and as always thank you for joining me in the Constantine hasta studio subscribe
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at youtube.com slash Aeons for more creature features [Music]

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