Ancient artifacts have been found for thousands of years, but it is only over the past 300 years that we have been able to explain what many of them really are. Until then, stories and legends have been used in cultures – past and present – to explain these unusual objects.
As part of my role at the Manchester Museum I give tours based upon different themes, however this is one of my favourites and explains where a few of these theories may have come from.
The one-eyed giants of Greek mythology.
As I researched this subject, I discovered that Europeans did not come into contact with the elephant until around the 4th Century B.C. So when the first people encountered elephant skeletons in Ancient Greece, they might have mistaken the large central hole where the trunk was attached for the enormous single eye socket of a Cyclops.
They may then have gone on to piece the skeleton together in the most familiar format they knew, and jumped to the far-fetched conclusion of a giant one eyed man.
Imagine a group of prehistoric hunters, whose trail has brought them to a remote cave in northern Europe. They discover a cave and in it they find the empty skull of a huge, unrecognisable beast sitting on top of a pile of bones. It is easy to see how the myth of cave-dwelling monsters who fed on other large creatures might have come about; giving rise to stories of dragons for centuries to come.
This mysterious beast would have been a woolly rhinoceros that roamed Ice Age Europe before it became extinct around 10,000 years ago.
Like many animals, the rhino would have used caves to take refuge from the elements – unaware that its bones would lay there for thousands of years for someone to discover.
The Loch Ness Monster
The legend of the Loch Ness Monster, which is said to live in a lake in Scotland, is quite recent only emerging in 1933 and first came about when this photograph was published.
After finding the fossil remains of the plesiosaur over the last 150 years, many people were quick to jump to conclusions on what this beast could have been.
Many suggested the photograph was not taken at Loch Ness, and was the trunk of an elephant sticking out of the water.
People have searched for the monster with underwater cameras and sonar for decades, however much alleged evidence has been exposed as being fake.
Some people now believe the Loch Ness legend could be based upon sightings of a long-necked seal; similar in size and features, and found in the Loch during certain times of the year.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this post; if you are interested in visiting the museum, please take a look at our tour schedule in the new year.