Dinosaurs in the Congo? Abominable snowmen in the mountains? Ever since people began telling stories, there have been tales of fantastic animals. While many are just tall tales about mythical beasts that never existed, some might just have a grain of truth in them— they may be ancient stories from a time when long-lost prehistoric animals still lived.
Robert Plot thought this fossil was the knee-end of a giant human’s thigh bone.The first dinosaur was not correctly identified until the 1800s—until then, people had no idea what fossils were. A famous description and picture of what was later identified as a dinosaur bone was published in 1677 by the English naturalist Robert Plot. He claimed it was part of the thigh bone of a human giant.
HALF HUMAN, HALF APE
From Sasquatch (Bigfoot) in North America to the Yeti in the Himalayas and Orang Pendek in Sumatra, tales of mysterious ape-men are common around the world. Some scientists believe the origin of these old stories might lie in the distant past, when humans spread from Africa to other parts of the world and came across our living “hominin” relatives, including Neanderthals and Homo erectus.
CAVEMAN VERSUS DINOSAUR
In old movies such as 1966’s One Million Years B.C., cavemen are shown battling with dinosaurs. This is impossible—dinosaurs vanished at least 63 million years before cavemen existed. And dinosaurs didn’t stand with their tails on the ground, as old movies, toys, books, and pictures often show them.
Ammonite fossils are the source of many legends. According to English folklore, they are serpents that have been turned to stone—hence their old name, “snakestones.” Sometimes the head of a serpent was carved on an ammonite fossil.
THE ELEPHANT BIRD
The gigantic eggs of elephant birds can still be found in Madagascar. Sinbad the Sailor was a fictional Arab sailor whose adventures took him to magical lands. In one story he is carried away in the claws of a gigantic bird. This tale may have been inspired by the elephant bird of Madagascar, a giant flightless bird that lived until the 1600s and was probably known to Arab sailors.
A LIVING DINOSAUR?
The mokèlé-mbèmbé is a legendary creature likened to a sauropod dinosaur and said to live in the Congo River basin. In some ways it is similar to the Loch Ness monster (search the article about Loch Ness monster).
A HORNED HORSE?
Some people think the legend of the unicorn might be based on ancient folk tales about the extinct rhino Elasmotherium (search the article named “Rhinoceroses”), which had an enormous single horn.