Origins of Mythical Creatures

Humans have been discovering fossils for much longer than we’ve been studying them and realizing that they are from now-extinct species. Here are a few of the ways that people have identified fossils in the past, creating stories of mythical creatures such as unicorns and griffins.

Kraken Taking a Ship
Kraken

1. There is a lot of mystery surrounding the Bermuda Triangle, including the believed cries of demons warning sailors away. However, it’s now theorized that the demons which were being heard were actually the cries of Bermuda petrels. I went looking for an example of their calls that would help me understand why people used to be afraid, but I found something better instead. Watch a cute Bermuda petrel video here!
2. The Kraken was inspired by a giant squid. These deep sea-dwelling creatures can grow up to over 40 feet long and are sighted rarely, allowing a mythology to grow up around them.
3. The Bunyip is an Australian folk creature that is shaped like a crocodile and has the face of a dog and is huge. This fearsome myth was probably inspired by the Giant Wombat. There was a brief time in which humans and Giant Wombats lived side by side and stories could have been passed down about these large animals.

 

Gigantopithecus Model
Gigantopithecus

4. The unicorn is probably inspired by Elasmotherium, the wooly rhinoceros. To read more about Elasmotherium, check out our blog post about this prehistoric mammal here!
5. Lare ape-men of folklore such as Bigfoot and the Yeti were probably inspired by Gigantopithecus, the largest ape to have ever lived. Gigantopithecus stood over 10 feet tall and lived in Asian forests, and could have looked similar to orangutans.
6. The flamingo could have inspired the myth of the phoenix. The story first was told in ancient Egypt and was described as a heron-like bird but with flaming red feathers. Well, pink is just another shade of red.

 

Griffin Drawing
Griffin

 

7. The griffin was likely inspired by Protoceratops, a small dinosaur with four legs and a beak. It is theorized that when the ancient Greeks traded with Mongolians, some Protoceratops fossils also were exchanged, as these fossils would have been relatively easy to find in Asia.
8. The Loch Ness Monster could have been inspired by the plesiosaurus, a water-dwelling reptile that went extinct during the Jurassic Period. The extinct creature does bear a striking resemblance to Nessie and some people believe that she is a plesiosaurus who has managed to survive extinction.
9. The Roc, an Arabic creature that carried off humans and large animals, could have been inspired by the extinct elephant bird. The elephant bird stood ten feet tall and, while it couldn’t fly, it’s easy to see how finding a skeleton of a bird taller than a man would inspire stories about one who could fly.

 

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