The Fossil Record of Mythical Beasts?

Posted on July 31, 2017 by Liesl Ulrich-Verderber

Imagine the world without any knowledge of planet’s ancient past or the idea that extinct species once roamed the world. Now, imagine you came across the fossilized remains of a dinosaur or other ancient creature, what would you make of them?

Image: Medieval Image of a Griffin, Protoceratops Skull, and ancient Greek Pottery of a Griffin
Source: Sabastian Munster, Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez, Tsaag Valren // Wikimedia

Up until the beginning of the 1800’s, the idea that species could go extinct was unheard of. The French naturalist and zoologist Georges Cuvier first proposed the idea of extinction in 1796, and the idea really didn’t catch on. Indeed during that time, it was widely believed in western science that, following the biblical creation myth, God had created a perfect world, and thus the idea that species could go extinct or evolve impossible. So, what how did people explain away their fossil discoveries?

Since ancient times, across the world, people had been making fossil discoveries, and the ways that they interpreted varied widely from tokens of good luck to the origin stories of ancient mythology’s most fantastical beasts.


To introduce us to just a few of these marvelous fossil myths, we turn to one of our favorite YouTube Channels, The Brains Scoop.

When you think about it, interpreting the fossils of dinosaurs as evidence of dragons or griffins really does make a lot of sense.

While these fossil myths may seem strange now, with the knowledge at hand when they emerged, they made logical sense. It makes me wonder, what completely “logical” conclusions have we come to with out all the evidence?

What will we look back on as a ridiculous notion in the next 100 or 500 years?

It’s good to be reminded that we don’t always have all the information, and that as our knowledge evolves, so too must our beliefs and opinions. Our pace of discovery about ourselves, our planet, and our universe allows us to make new depths of knowledge commonplace. And in order to make those discoveries have a meaningful impact on the wider world, it is up to us to remain life long learners and to see our viewpoint on the world not as set in stone, but as ever evolving.

Stay beautiful & keep laughing!


Explore more of the fossilized past!

We love talking about paleontology on Ever Widening Circles (EWC) so if you want to learn about more discoveries from the ancient past, check out our Paleontology Archive!

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