All Stories

What did people think when the first dinosaur fossils were discovered?

Recently, I got to thinking, “I wonder what people made of the first dinosaur fossils—before we knew anything about natural history and the dinosaurs?” When I looked into it, I found out that the first people to discover them were pretty confused. These early discoverers came up with some pretty incredible theories about the fossils they found.

Here be Dragons

Have you ever wondered where dragon myths came from? Well, according to Stanford Scholar, Adrienne Mayor, who studies both folklore and fossils, it’s possible that there could be a correlation between fossils and dragons. The recent discovery of a 66-million-year-old fossil named Dracorex hogwartsia (named after the school in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books) led scholars to consider this possiblity. It's hard to deny that Dracorex bears a striking resemblance to the dragons depicted in ancient China and Medieval Europe.

The Great Horned Serpent

In North America, a skull found in the South Dakota Badlands was identified as “Unkethi,” the mythical horned serpent. The Lakota people called this creature Unhcegila and he was said to have traveled to the Black Hills by way of the icy waters of the Northeast. When he arrived, he was the terror of the hills; he had fire in his eyes and was surrounded by a cloud of smoke. He was blamed for a series of mysterious disappearances and was eventually slain when he swallowed a warrior from the bear clan, who sliced his way out of the beast's throat.

Ancient Giants

In ancient Greece, the discovery of a giant femur bone, that had likely once belonged to a prehistoric woolly rhinoceros, led people to conclude that the bone had belonged to an unlucky Giant who had probably fallen victim to one of Zeus’s notorious thunderbolts. The bone was found in an area known in antiquity as the ‘Battleground of the Giants,’ where it was presumed that an entire population of Giants was decimated by the wrath of Zeus.

Can you imagine what you would have thought about dinosaur bones if you didn’t already know that dinosaurs existed? Do you think you might have imagined Gryphons, Sea Monsters or Dragons? Let us know on Twitter! (We're still holding out for a prehistoric unicorn fossil.)