Mythological Creatures Explained by Science

1. The Kraken was a giant squid

The legend of the Kraken is one of a huge sea monster with big tentacles that can crack ships in half, and has cropped up in Greek and Norse mythology. This fits the profile of the giant squid, albeit exaggerated.

Although no one has ever seen a giant squid alive in its natural habitat until now, humans have been clued into its existence for centuries, perhaps even longer. Giant squid carcasses will occasionally wash ashore, and there have been sightings of giant squid at the ocean’s surface. The ancient Greeks may have first described the creature in the fourth century B.C. In the first century B.C., Pliny the Elder wrote of an enormous squid in his Natural History. The animal he described had 30-foot-long arms, weighed 700 pounds and had a head “as big as a cask.”…

2. Griffins came from dinosaur bones

Griffins are a mythological creature with a lion’s body, and an eagle’s head and wings. It is thought to have originated from gold minors in the Gobi desert who dug up Protoceratops bones, a predecessor to the triceratops.

Protoceratops was a creature six or seven feet long, with four legs, claws, and a scary beak that looked like a huge lobster claw. Mayor speculates that ancient people may have dug up skeletons of the Protoceratops, a probable theory considering that American tourists who visited the Gobi Desert in 1992 uncovered a complete, standing dinosaur skeleton trapped in the sand. It would only take a small imaginative step for ancient prospectors, making similar finds, to think that living griffins existed and guarded their nests like protective mother birds in the same standing position.…

3. The Roc was a now extinct bird

The Roc is a giant bird from legend, that was said to dine on elephants, and was first recorded by a Westerner by Marco Polo. This bird was likely an exaggeration of Aepyornis maximus, or the Elephant Bird, which is now extinct.

The Elephant Bird (Aepyornis maximus) inhabited the island of Madagascar, off the eastern coast of Africa. Madagascar was settled around 2000 years ago by African and Indonesian peoples. Legends of the giant roc (rukh) in Arab folklore were probably based on the elephant bird. During the 9th century, Saracen and Indian traders visited Madagascar and other parts of the African coast and would have encountered these birds. In 1298, while imprisoned in Genoa, Marco Polo wrote his memoirs, covering 26 years of travel. In chapter 33, “Concerning the Island of Madagascar” he wrote that the Great Khan had sent him to investigate curious reports of giant birds.…

4. Werewolves were serial killers

The legend of the Werewolf dates back to 1 A.D., and there are many theories on how the myth sprung up, such as an explanation of rabies, and someone to blame for dead livestock. However, a string of “werewolf” trials in medieval Europe, which all convicted cannibalistic serial killers, points at the myth being used to make sense out of disturbing human characteristics.

In 1521, a Pierre Burgot and Michel Verdun were executed as werewolves. Historical records indicate that they were a serial killer team. In 1573, again in France, another “werewolf” was executed. His name was Gilles Garnier, otherwise known as the “Werewolf of Dole.” He was a confessed serial killer.…

5. Dragons were our collective fear of snakes

Dragon’s are an almost universal myth. It is so common, in fact, that respected scientists of the day still contented they must have been real, as late as the 17th century. So what could have created this universal myth? Maybe, it’s just our collective biological fears of snakes.

In ‘‘An Instinct for Dragons’’ (Routledge, 2000), Dr. David E. Jones, a professor of anthropology at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, posits a biological explanation that jibes with the Jungian notion of unconscious collective fears. He argues that the dragon image, fermented in the primal soup of man’s first nightmares, is a composite of the carnivores who fed on human ancestors when they were tree-dwelling monkeys: the pythons, the big cats and the raptors.…

6. Mermaids were straight up manatees

What we know

Ah mermaids, the half fish, half women whom, according to Disney, are little. Most of us know mermaids from a Jamaican crab extolling the virtues of being underwater via song, or maybe by the original happiness annihilating tale by Hans Christian Anderson.

However, all fiction aside, mermaids were described as fact by sailors for centuries.

What could possibly make different sailors across the years report the same creature? If you guess manatees, or read the title and then knew it was manatees, you are correct.

What they were

…in a world saturated with mermaid mythology, people sometimes think they see them in real life. When Christopher Columbus set out to sea in 1492, he had a mermaid sighting of his own; little did he know that this encounter was actually the first written record of manatees in North America.…

Have you ever seen a manatee? Have you ever seen woman? Assuming the answer was ‘yes’ to both, we think you’ll readily agree that confusing one for the other is a bit of a stretch.

Yet, sailing the seven seas, for sometimes years at a time, without seeing land for months, and with only the company of other, grizzled seamen, is a lonely business for your genitals. Even if you were into men, you’d also have to be into scurvy, missing limbs, and getting pooped on by rats to get your freak on in an old time-y sailing ship, we surmise.

Combine all that with a little rum, and that giant, gray, distinctly non-human creature flaunting her stuff in the waves starts to look downright sexy.

Or maybe the myth started when a sailor decided his sexual history would sound more impressive if he’d done it with a ‘mermaid’ rather than a ‘sea cow’.