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Steve VoynickAfter reading Mayor's The First Fossil Hunters, one thing is certain. You'll never look at classical mythology - or at the history of paleontology - the same way again.
— Rock & Gem
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Griffins, Centaurs, Cyclopes, and Giants—these fabulous creatures of classical mythology continue to live in the modern imagination through the vivid accounts that have come down to us from the ancient Greeks and Romans. But what if these beings were more than merely fictions? What if monstrous creatures once roamed the earth in the very places where their legends first arose? This is the arresting and original thesis that Adrienne Mayor explores in The First Fossil Hunters. Through careful research and meticulous documentation, she convincingly shows that many of the giants and monsters of myth did have a basis in fact—in the enormous bones of long-extinct species that were once abundant in the lands of the Greeks and Romans.
As Mayor shows, the Greeks and Romans were well aware that a different breed of creatures once inhabited their lands. They frequently encountered the fossilized bones of these primeval beings, and they developed sophisticated concepts to explain the fossil evidence, concepts that were expressed in mythological stories. The legend of the gold-guarding griffin, for example, sprang from tales first told by Scythian gold-miners, who, passing through the Gobi Desert at the foot of the Altai Mountains, encountered the skeletons of Protoceratops and other dinosaurs that littered the ground.
Like their modern counterparts, the ancient fossil hunters collected and measured impressive petrified remains and displayed them in temples and museums; they attempted to reconstruct the appearance of these prehistoric creatures and to explain their extinction. Long thought to be fantasy, the remarkably detailed and perceptive Greek and Roman accounts of giant bone finds were actually based on solid paleontological facts. By reading these neglected narratives for the first time in the light of modern scientific discoveries, Adrienne Mayor illuminates a lost world of ancient paleontology. As Peter Dodson writes in his Foreword, "Paleontologists, classicists, and historians as well as natural history buffs will read this book with the greatest of delight—surprises abound."
List of Illustrations ix Foreword: Stones, Bones, and Exotic Creatures of the Past by Peter Dodson xiii Acknowledgments xix Geological Time Scale 2
Historical Time Line 11
CHAPTER 1. The Gold-Guarding Griffin: A Paleontological Legend 15
CHAPTER 2. Earthquakes and Elephants: Prehistoric Remains in Mediterranean Lands 54
CHAPTER 3. Ancient Discoveries of Giant Bones 104
CHAPTER 4. Artistic and Archaeological Evidence for Fossil Discoveries 157
CHAPTER 5. Mythology, Natural Philosophy, and Fossils 192
CHAPTER 6. Centaur Bones: Paleontological Fictions 228
APPENDIX 1. Large Vertebrate Fossil Species in the Ancient World 255
APPENDIX 2. Ancient Testimonia 260
Works Cited 333
Posted February 21, 2008
This is one of the best nonfiction books I've ever read. It suggests that many imaginative monsters had a real-life origin - fossils of dinosaurs that were discovered by ancient peoples. A wonderful read. I could not put it down. An amazing subject and a superb author.
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