Greeks: The Fossil Hunters

Greek Gods and Goddesses

Greek Mythology - the source of epic tales of Zeus, the King of Kings, or Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty and love. Greek Mythology gave rise to unfathomable creatures, such as the Centaur, half man half horse, or Pegasus, the flying horse. The question is, how - or where exactly, did the Greeks find their inspirations for these?

The Griffin

Impact of Greek Mythology

The Griffin, a half eagle half lion, is no doubt at all the most well known mythological creature that has transcended into contemporary culture. It is seen in the Harry Potter series (We are hoping that we have fans in UGC111!), displayed as the frontal piece of Albus Dumbledore’s Office Entrance.

It also inspired one of the most remarkable creatures, Buckbeak, the Hippogriff, half eagle half horse, of the Harry Potter series. There are strikingly similar traits between both creatures (Griffin and Hippogriff), characterized as wise creatures who commanded deep respect.

The First Fossil Hunters

So what exactly does pop culture references to Harry Potter tell us about the Greeks?

Ancient Greeks might have been the first few fossil hunters.

Evidence strongly suggested that the Greeks have excavated fossils and put them on display for the public (like modern day history museums). The Greeks were living in a mostly pre-scientific world, where they did not possess the skill for interpretation of the fossils using scientific reasoning. However, such fossils might have been one of the primary sources of inspirations of myths - their way of creating folklores to reason and explain the finding of the bones. Adrienne Mayor proved it, for perhaps Greek myths might not be necessarily mythical at all.

In Adrienne Mayor’s book, The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times, she talks about how the Greeks and the Romans were very much aware of the other inhabitants of the Earth. They frequently came across the fossilized bones of other animals and developed their own school of thought - expressing them through mythical stories. These most probably gave rise to all the mythological creatures - such as the Giants.


As we mentioned, the Greeks were possibly one of the first few archeologists on planet Earth. During their excavations, one of the fossils they discovered in their ancient civilization inspired the “One-Eyed” giant called the Cyclopes of the Greek myths. The Cyclopes were known not to have any governance and they lack social skills nor fear for the gods. They possessed a very powerful and violent character and were usually stirred by emotions. Scholars suggested that the Greeks might have found the fossil on the island of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea. This was home to enormous and fossilized skulls of ancient elephants which might explain the misunderstanding of the large central hole where the trunk was attached to as the massive single eye socket for the Cyclopes.

Ancient elephant skull

Woolly Rhinoceros

A second example of Greek’s legends of the strange and giant creatures is the woolly rhinoceros that might have inspired more Greek fabled creatures. The Greeks learned of the fossilized thigh bone of a giant mammal that has been roaming Europe and Asia over two thousand years ago which is also known as the Nichoria Bone. If you do want to spectate this extraordinary find, we would highly advise you to fly to Oxford, United Kingdom. It was decided that it’s final resting place will be at the Ashmolean Museum, where it is displayed in the Greek and Roman Antiquities Gallery.

Woolly Rhinoceros

These are just a tiny glimpse of what the Greeks had to offer with their imaginations. There are plenty of other creatures that were, “discovered” in fossils. So, what do you think about the Greeks now? Are they intelligent and logical, or maybe, just exceptionally creative and imaginative people? Actually, does it even matter now? We for one, are thankful, for their minds as they created such fantastic mythical creatures which have now become a basis for many fictional stories and movies. Regardless of how concrete the creatures were. It is evident that the Greeks were able to leave a part of their culture that had an undeniably impressionable to the world, even until today (which is many, many, many years later). Just judging by this, aren’t you a tiny bit jealous of the Greeks for being able come up with (or tell us, depending on what you choose to believe) these marvelous mythical creatures? Even if you are not, I sure am.