The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times

The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times

by Adrienne Mayor
     
 

"In this wonderful book, Adrienne Mayor successfully convinces us that some of our most treasured mythical creatures really were based on the skeletons of extinct animals. It is the best account ever concerning the real meaning of mythical creatures. And Mayor has succeeded in setting the history of paleontology on its ear: the art of skeletal restoration was

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Overview

"In this wonderful book, Adrienne Mayor successfully convinces us that some of our most treasured mythical creatures really were based on the skeletons of extinct animals. It is the best account ever concerning the real meaning of mythical creatures. And Mayor has succeeded in setting the history of paleontology on its ear: the art of skeletal restoration was not invented in the western world."—Jack Horner, Museum of the Rockies, author of Dinosaur Lives

"Adrienne Mayor's sometimes provocative and always fascinating blend of history, mythology, and science offers a uniquely enriched dimension to the quest for fossils."—Michael Novacek, American Museum of Natural History

"The Greeks were not the only peoples of antiquity to exploit the past in the interests of devising myth and history, but they were among the most ingenious about it, and recorded their views. Adrienne Mayor has uncovered a barely noticed source for many of the myths of the Old World, and for the first time has assembled in an orderly way the evidence for early man's discovery of and explanations for fossil remains. This is a skillful blend of science, history and imagination which adds a chapter to the history of man's ingenuity, from Central Asia to Greece, to Egypt. Many texts, sites, and pictures will never seem quite the same again, after this very thorough and very lively scholarly excursion into a disregarded source of myth-making."—John Boardman, Oxford University

"A brilliant book, full of new insights into the myths and past of the ancient Greeks. Earthshakingly important."—Robin Lane Fox, author of Alexander the Great

"An enthralling book. . . . A fascinating account of ancient Greek responses to fossils of extinct mammal species."—David Sedley, author of Creationism and Its Critics in Antiquity

"Mayor catches one's attention with her first sentence and doesn't let go until the end . . . In addition to being lively and intelligent, the writing is honest and persuasive. Bringing together classics, archaeology, and paleontology in an original synthesis, Mayor exemplifies in her own research her plea that these fields should profitably confer with one another much more than they do."—William Hansen, Indiana University, Bloomington

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Editorial Reviews

Booklist
Mayor [combines] the skills of the literary scholar with those of a dinosaur hunter . . . [A]lthough readers will learn a good deal here about the remains of mammoths and protoceratops, they will learn much more about human imagination, that fertile source of science, of legend and of fraud.
Natural History
Refreshing. . . . Mayor presents her case with an engaging zeal. . . . By the end of the book, you will find yourself filled with enthusiasm for following Mayor's lead in breaking down interdisciplinary boundaries and thus enriching your understanding of the human experience.
— Kate A. Robson Brown
Newsday
Mayor the storyteller relishes the opportunity to provide fascinating insights, but she shines most in her ability to stitch together a rich and varied body of oral history grounded in natural history. . . . Mayor clearly thrives at the intersection of science and folklore.
— Bryn Nelson
American Scientist
The First Fossil Hunters brings together mythology, art geology and paleontology in a convincing matter. . . . In times long past, others had the same fascination we do today with the sight, feel and sense of something once living and now extinct.
— Tim Tokaryk
Times Literary Supplement
Mayor tells a fascinating story of ancient encounters with fossils, setting modern palaeontology beside ancient art and literature . . .
— Helen King
Times Higher Education Supplement
In many ways, this book resembles a detective story. When the author gets on the track of something, she follows it wherever it leads. . . . The First Fossil Hunters will be a revelation to anyone interested in ancient history. For me, it is one of the best books of recent years.
— Walter Friedrich
London Review of Books
Mayor has done an admirable job of tracking down . . . a paleontological bonanza centuries before the first dinosaur remains were recognised by modern science.
— Richard Fortey
Science
A historical and scientific detective story of first rank. . . . Her results are as striking as they are entertaining. . . . The book will engage specialists with its serious purpose and extensive documentation and will please all readers with its profusion of maps, photographs, and drawings.
— Mott T. Greene
NationalJournal.com
While the book is aimed at academics and presumes knowledge of contemporary debates on the power of the presidency, it is not too abstruse for the current-events minded reader. . . . And if you're a journalist or author researching the office of the presidency, it's essential.
— Lauren Mandell
Rock and Gem
After 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.
— Steve Voynick
Geological Magazine
In her introduction Adrienne Mayor takes palaeontologists and historians of palaeontology to task. At best there has been accidental ignorance and at worst wilful avoidance and misrepresentation of how much the Greeks and Romans knew about fossils . . . Mayor proceeds to make her case with detailed 'chapter and verse' from the ancients. It is indeed impressive and generally very convincing
— Douglas Palmer
American Journal of Archaeology
This book is a pleasure to read. . . . The insight into human behavior is enough to attract anthropologists and laypeople to read this fascinating account of paleontology in ancient times.
— Deborah Ruscillo
Isis
Adrienne Mayor's thought-provoking book will mark a watershed in the approach to griffins and giants. . . For both its innovative method and its results, this well-balanced and vividly written book belongs on the bookshelf of every historian of natural sciences.
— Liliane Bodson
Archaeology
Marshaling the array of evidence available from scholarly and popular works, and contributing her own research, Mayor shows that far from ignoring fossils, many Native American groups took great notice of them and developed elaborate myths to explain their origin. . . . Though Mayor is careful not to homogenize native myths, she does note that virtually all of them exhibit a sense of "deep time," as geologists call it: an awareness that the world has existed for far longer than humans have walked it.
— Eric A. Powell
The New York Times
Adrienne Mayor has . . . done some digging deep into the past and found literary and artistic clues—and not a few huge fossils—that seem to explain the inspiration for many of the giants, monsters, and other strange creatures in the mythology of antiquity.
— John Noble Wilford
Steve Voynick
After 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
Bryn Nelson
Merging the fields of paleontology, archaeology and classical literature, Mayor's research has uncovered striking correlations between modern fossil finds and many of the myths and folklore that sprang up in early Western civilization. Bolstered by evidence linking contemporary dig sites to the origins of monsters and heroes in ancient texts, Mayor theorizes that these myths contain at their core a surprisingly sophisticated attempt to explain the sudden appearance of bones of immense proportions.
Newsday
Kirkus Reviews
Scientific paleontology began in the 19th century, but the ever-curious Greeks were well aware of fossils. Here's a clear account of what they knew about them—and what they made of the strange bones they found. Mayor, an unaffiliated folklorist, begins with an examination of the griffin—a creature half-lion and half-bird, to which no particular mythological tales attach. Mayor argues that the creature is based on travelers' tales of the fossils of Protoceratops—a small, beaked dinosaur abundant in the Gobi Desert, exactly the region in which the ancients reported griffins to be found. More common in the Mediterranean region are the fossils of prehistoric mammals—in particular, mammoths, mastodons, and large rhinoceros-like creatures. These the Greeks interpreted as the bones of the Titans and Giants whom their gods and legendary heroes defeated in combat. Mayor explains the giant bones of ancient heroes displayed in Greek temples as those of prehistoric mammals. The prevalent ancient belief in the degeneration of the human race since heroic times was reinforced by the size of the bones unearthed. The Romans were also collectors of ancient bones, although they tended to look at them as curiosities rather than objects of veneration: Augustus and other emperors had bone collections. While such philosophers as Aristotle and Pliny ignored what we would consider irrefutable evidence of large ancient animals as anomalies inconsistent with their notion of unchanging nature, Herodotus, Pausanias, and others did describe them. Mayor connects these ancient accounts with areas in which fossils have been discovered in more recent times. While Mayor sometimes belabors herpoints,on the whole this is clear, readable, and convincing. A surprising account of material overlooked or misunderstood by both historians of science and interpreters of Greek myth. (83 b&w illustrations)

From the Publisher

"Mayor [combines] the skills of the literary scholar with those of a dinosaur hunter . . . [A]lthough readers will learn a good deal here about the remains of mammoths and protoceratops, they will learn much more about human imagination, that fertile source of science, of legend and of fraud."--Booklist

"A surprising account of material overlooked or misunderstood by both historians of science and interpreters of Greek myth . . . [T]his is clear, readable, and convincing."--Kirkus Reviews

"Mayor presents her case with an engaging zeal, describing her sleuthing efforts at length . . . By the end of the book, you will find yourself filled with enthusiasm for following Mayor's lead in breaking down interdisciplinary boundaries and thus enriching your understanding of the human experience."--Kate A. Robson Brown, Natural History

"Adrienne Mayor has . . . done some digging deep into the past and found literary and artistic clues--and not a few huge fossils--that seem to explain the inspiration for many of the giants, monsters, and other strange creatures in the mythology of antiquity."--John Noble Wilford, The New York Times

"Merging the fields of paleontology, archaeology and classical literature, Mayor's research has uncovered striking correlations between modern fossil finds and many of the myths and folklore that sprang up in early Western civilization."--Bryn Nelson, Newsday

"The First Fossil Hunters brings together mythology, art, geology, and paleontology in a convincing manner. . . . Mayor's chronicles do more that entertain; as she contends, they also show that people of Greek and Roman times had a broad understanding of fossils as organic remains of extinct organisms."--Tim Tokary, American Scientist

"Mayor tells a fascinating story of ancient encounters with fossils, setting modern palaeontology beside ancient art and literature."--Helen King, Times Literary Supplement

"In many ways, this book resembles a detective story. When the author gets on the track of something, she follows it wherever it leads. . . . The First Fossil Hunters will be a revelation to anyone interested in ancient history. For me, it is one of the best books of recent years."--Walter Friedrich, Times Higher Education Supplement

"[Mayor] has done an admirable job . . . [she] easily persuades us that these early writers indeed recorded a palaeontological bonanza centuries before the first dinosaur remains were recognised by modern science."--Richard Fortey, London Review of Books

"Mayor has done an admirable job of tracking down . . . a paleontological bonanza centuries before the first dinosaur remains were recognised by modern science."--Richard Fortey, London Review of Books

"A historical and scientific detective story of first rank. . . . Her results are as striking as they are entertaining. . . . The book will engage specialists with its serious purpose and extensive documentation and will please all readers with its profusion of maps, photographs, and drawings."--Mott T. Greene, Science

"Refreshing. . . . Mayor presents her case with an engaging zeal. . . . By the end of the book, you will find yourself filled with enthusiasm for following Mayor's lead in breaking down interdisciplinary boundaries and thus enriching your understanding of the human experience."--Kate A. Robson Brown, Natural History

"The First Fossil Hunters brings together mythology, art geology and paleontology in a convincing matter. . . . In times long past, others had the same fascination we do today with the sight, feel and sense of something once living and now extinct."--Tim Tokaryk, American Scientist

"While the book is aimed at academics and presumes knowledge of contemporary debates on the power of the presidency, it is not too abstruse for the current-events minded reader. . . . And if you're a journalist or author researching the office of the presidency, it's essential."--Lauren Mandell, NationalJournal.com

"After 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."--Steve Voynick, Rock and Gem

"In her introduction Adrienne Mayor takes palaeontologists and historians of palaeontology to task. At best there has been accidental ignorance and at worst wilful avoidance and misrepresentation of how much the Greeks and Romans knew about fossils . . . Mayor proceeds to make her case with detailed 'chapter and verse' from the ancients. It is indeed impressive and generally very convincing"--Douglas Palmer, Geological Magazine

"This book is a pleasure to read. . . . The insight into human behavior is enough to attract anthropologists and laypeople to read this fascinating account of paleontology in ancient times."--Deborah Ruscillo, American Journal of Archaeology

"Adrienne Mayor's thought-provoking book will mark a watershed in the approach to griffins and giants. . . For both its innovative method and its results, this well-balanced and vividly written book belongs on the bookshelf of every historian of natural sciences."--Liliane Bodson, Isis

"Marshaling the array of evidence available from scholarly and popular works, and contributing her own research, Mayor shows that far from ignoring fossils, many Native American groups took great notice of them and developed elaborate myths to explain their origin. . . . Though Mayor is careful not to homogenize native myths, she does note that virtually all of them exhibit a sense of "deep time," as geologists call it: an awareness that the world has existed for far longer than humans have walked it."--Eric A. Powell, Archaeology

"Mayor the storyteller relishes the opportunity to provide fascinating insights, but she shines most in her ability to stitch together a rich and varied body of oral history grounded in natural history. . . . Mayor clearly thrives at the intersection of science and folklore."--Bryn Nelson, Newsday

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780691089775
Publisher:
Princeton University Press
Publication date:
08/06/2001
Edition description:
REPRINT
Pages:
384
Product dimensions:
6.16(w) x 9.24(h) x 0.93(d)

What People are saying about this

William Hanson
Mayor catches one's attention with her first sentence and doesn't let go until the end…In addition to being lively and intelligent, the writing is honest and persuasive. Bringing together Classics, Archeology, and Paleontology in an original synthesis, Mayor exemplifies in her own research her plea that these fields should profitably confer with one another much more than they do.
—William Hanson, Indiana University, Bloomington
John Boardman
The Greeks were not the only peoples of antiquity to exploit the past in the interests of devising myth and history, but they were among the most ingenious about it, and recorded their views. Adrienne Mayor has uncovered a barely noticed source for many of the myths of the Old World, and for the first time has assembled in an orderly way the evidence for early man's discovery of and explanations for fossil remains. This is a skillful blend of science, history and imagination which adds a chapter to the history of man's ingenuity, from Central Asia to Greece, to Egypt. Many texts, sites, and pictures will never seem quite the same again, after this very thorough and very lively scholarly excursion into a disregarded source of myth-making.
John Boardman, Oxford University
Jack Horner
This is a fantastic book! Adrienne Mayor convinces us that some of our most treasured mythical creatures really were based on the skeletons of extinct animals. It is the best account ever concerning the real meaning of mythical creatures. And mayor has succeeded in setting the history of Paleontology on its ear: the art of skeletal restoration was not invented in the western world.
—Jack Horner, Museum of the Rockies, author of Dinosaur Lives
John Boardman
The Greeks were not the only people's of antiquity to exploit the past in the interests of devising myth and history, but they were among the most ingenious about it, and recorded their views. Adrienne Mayor has uncovered a barely noticed source for many of the myths of the Old World, and for the first time have assembled in an orderly way the evidence for early man's discovery of and explanations for fossil remains. This is a skillful blend of science, history and imagination, which adds a chapter to the mystery of man's ingenuity, from central Asia to Greece, to Egypt. Many texts, sights, and pictures will never seem quite the same again, after this very thorough and very lively scholarly excursion…
—John Boardman, Oxford University
William Hansen
Mayor catches one's attention with her first sentence and doesn't let go until the end . . . In addition to being lively and intelligent, the writing is honest and persuasive. Bringing together classics, archaeology, and paleontology in an original synthesis, Mayor exemplifies in her own research her plea that these fields should profitably confer with one another much more than they do.
William Hansen, Indiana University, Bloomington
Michael Novacek
Adrienne Mayor's sometimes provocative and always fascinating blend of history, mythology, in science offers a uniquely enriched dimension to the quest for fossils.
—Michael Novacek, American Museum of Natural History

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