Protoceratops Fossils Did Not Encourage the Griffin Legend

Protoceratops Fossils Did Not Encourage the Griffin Legend


Newly printed analysis means that Protoceratops fossils didn’t encourage the griffin from mythology.  The research printed in “Interdisciplinary Science Opinions” was performed by Dr Mark Witton and Richard Hing, palaeontologists on the College of Portsmouth.  The researchers have challenged the favored assumption that the half-animal, half-bird griffin was impressed by Protoceratops fossil materials discovered by historic nomads.

For hundreds of years, teachers have puzzled over the place the griffin legend originated.  This new research examined the fossil proof and the affect of folklore upon palaeontology.

Protoceratops fossils probably did not inspire the griffin legend.

A portray of the mythological griffin. A chimaera which consisted off the pinnacle and wings of an eagle mixed with the physique of an enormous cat akin to a lion. Protoceratops fossils could be seen within the foreground. A brand new research means that there is no such thing as a compelling proof to hyperlink dinosaur fossils with the legendary griffin. Image credit score: Mark P. Witton.

Protoceratops Fossils Did Not Give Rise to the Griffin Legend

The hyperlink between the fossils of the ceratopsian and griffin mythology was proposed round thirty years in the past.  The hyperlink is believed to have been popularised in papers and books written by the folklorist Adrienne Mayor.  For instance, a cryptozoology paper entitled “Paleocryptozoology: a name for collaboration between classicists and cryptozoologists” was printed in 1989.  The speculation that Protoceratops fossils led to the concept of the mythological half-bird, half-beast creature was mentioned once more within the e book “The First Fossil Hunters”.  The concepts that dinosaur fossils discovered by individuals in Asia gave rise to the concept of a griffin turned established and was talked about in quite a few books, documentaries and even museum reveals.

Protoceratops skeleton on display.

A skeleton of a Protoceratops on show. Image credit score: Every part Dinosaur.

Image credit score: Every part Dinosaur

Two species of Protoceratops are at the moment recognised (P. andrewsi and P. hellenikorhinus).  Fossils have been present in Mongolia and China.  It had been advised that Protoceratops fossil bones have been discovered by nomads prospecting for gold in Central Asia. These tales travelled southwest on commerce routes inspiring the legendary griffin.

The primary depictions of what’s considered a griffin could be present in Egyptian and Center Jap artwork across the 4th millennium BC. Depictions of the griffin turned standard in historic Greece in the course of the eighth century BC.

The Protoceratops Genus

Protoceratops was a small herbivorous dinosaur, measuring round two to 2 and a half metres in size. It had a beak, a big cranium and a broad head protect. Its fossils are comparatively frequent in some elements of the Gobi Desert.  As a result of relative abundance of fossil materials together with eggs, embryos, juveniles and mature adults, it is likely one of the most extensively studied of all of the Dinosauria.

Like griffins, grownup Protoceratops have been quadrupedal, and the pinnacle protect might be interpreted as wings.  Nonetheless, within the first detailed research of its variety, the researchers discovered that the supposed hyperlink between Protoceratops and the griffin didn’t stand as much as shut scrutiny.  As an illustration, the concept Protoceratops stays have been discovered by nomads prospecting for gold is considered unlikely.

Protoceratops fossil materials is discovered lots of of kilometres away from historic gold websites.  Within the hundred years because the first Protoceratops fossils have been discovered by western scientists, no gold has been reported from these areas.  It additionally appears uncertain that the nomads would have seen a lot of the Protoceratops skeletons, even when that they had stumbled upon them.

Dr Mark Witton defined:

“There may be an assumption that dinosaur skeletons are found half-exposed, mendacity round nearly just like the stays of recently-deceased animals.  However usually talking, only a fraction of an eroding dinosaur skeleton might be seen to the bare eye, unnoticed to all apart from sharp-eyed fossil hunters.  That’s nearly definitely how historic peoples wandering round Mongolia encountered Protoceratops. In the event that they wished to see extra, as they’d have to in the event that they have been forming myths about these animals, they’d should extract the fossil from the encircling rock.”

Dr Witton added:

“That’s no small job, even with fashionable instruments, glues, protecting wrapping and preparatory methods. It appears extra possible that Protoceratops stays, by and huge, went unnoticed — if the gold prospectors have been even there to see them.”

Protoceratops skeleton compared to griffin art.

A Protoceratops skeleton in comparison with historic griffin artwork. The griffins are all very clearly based mostly on large cats, from their musculature and lengthy, versatile tails to the manes (indicated by coiled “hair” on the neck), and birds, and differ from Protoceratops in just about all measures of proportion and type. Picture compiled from illustrations in Witton and Hing (2024); Protoceratops skeleton by and Mark P. Witton.

No Unambiguous Reference to Protoceratops Fossils in Historic Literature

Moreover, the geographic unfold of griffin artwork by way of historical past doesn’t align with the situation of griffin folklore and legend starting with unusual bones present in Mongolia and China.  There isn’t a proof to point that concepts about fossils from Asia unfold into Africa, the Center East or Europe. As well as, there are additionally no unambiguous references to Protoceratops fossils in historic literature.

To learn an article concerning the seemingly habitat of Protoceratops: Protoceratops was a Robust Dinosaur.

The researchers argue that Protoceratops is barely griffin-like in being a four-limbed animal with a beak. There are not any particulars in griffin artwork suggesting that dinosaur fossils have been referenced.  There may be proof to recommend that extant cats and birds have been referenced.

Dr Witton said:

“Every part about griffin origins is according to their conventional interpretation as imaginary beasts, simply as their look is solely defined by them being chimaeras of massive cats and raptorial birds. Invoking a task for dinosaurs in griffin lore, particularly species from distant lands like Protoceratops, not solely introduces pointless complexity and inconsistencies to their origins, but in addition depends on interpretations and proposals that don’t face up to scrutiny.”

Fossils are Culturally Vital

The scientists are eager to stress that there’s robust proof to recommend that fossils have been culturally essential all through human historical past.  There are innumerable situations of fossils inspiring folklore all over the world.  These situations are referred to as “geomyths”.  For instance, the guards from belemnites have been as soon as considered the stays of lightning bolts.

Some belemnite guard fossils, the coin shows scale.

Belemnite guard fossils from the “Jurassic Coast”. These frequent fossils have been as soon as thought to signify the stays of lightning bolts.  Image credit score: Every part Dinosaur.

Image credit score: Every part Dinosaur

Co-author of the research Richard Hing commented:

“You will need to distinguish between fossil folklore with a factual foundation, that’s, connections between fossils and delusion evidenced by archaeological discoveries or compelling references in literature and paintings — and speculated connections based mostly on instinct.”

Richard Hing went onto add:

“There may be nothing inherently unsuitable with the concept historic peoples discovered dinosaur bones and included them into their mythology, however we have to root such proposals in realities of historical past, geography and palaeontology. In any other case, they’re simply hypothesis.”

Dr Witton summarised the research.  He defined that not all mythological creatures demand an evidence from the fossil report.  Dinosaurs are thought to have given rise to dragon myths.  Fossil elephants might have led to the parable of the one-eyed cyclops.  Protoceratops fossils resulting in the imagining of a griffin, these are all standard geomyths.  Nonetheless, there’s little or no proof to assist these hyperlinks, and what there’s, is speculative.

These tales are promoted as they appear intuitively believable.  Nonetheless, by doing so we ignore the rising data of fossil geomyths grounded the truth is and proof.  Geomyths with proof deserve extra consideration.

Every part Dinosaur acknowledges the help of the College of Portsmouth within the compilation of this text.

The research is printed in Interdisciplinary Science Opinions.

Go to the award-winning Every part Dinosaur web site: Dinosaur Toys and Fashions.

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