Myth and Science

National Geographic has an article entitled “Dino-Era Fossils Inspired Monster Myths, Says Author.”

Adrienne Mayor is an author and independent scholar in Princeton, New Jersey. She says the “Water Monsters of the Badlands” legend was inspired in part by these fossils, which the Lakota undoubtedly encountered in their travels.

“It would have been logical and very rational to imagine these great sky and water creatures might have been enemies, and the reason they’re all dead is they had battled,” Mayor said.

Mayor tells the legend of this battle—and the science behind it—in her book, Fossil Legends of the First Americans, which was published in May.

The book builds on her theory that the fossils influenced, contributed to, and inspired many of the greatest myths and legends ever told.

“Granted, not all legends are based on fossils, but I’m pretty convinced some are,” said Peter Dodson, a vertebrate paleontologist and professor of veterinary anatomy at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Dodson encouraged Mayor to develop her theory.

Mayor describes herself as a folklorist who studies the earliest inklings of scientific inquiry. She focuses on legends and myths largely because the scientific knowledge embedded in them is often overlooked by the academic community.

I have thought this was true for a long time, but not because I’m a folklorist or anything. Of course, I also think these monsters lived into relatively modern times. I think there were “dragons” of some sort when George was around, for example.

It’s an interesting article. Go read it all.