In 2000, historian Adrienne Mayor published a book that changed the way people think about humanity’s relationship to fossils. In The First Fossil Hunters: Dinosaurs, Mammoths, and Myth in Greek and Roman Times, Mayor described how the fossils of dinosaurs and other extinct creatures influenced the creation of mythical creatures in classical antiquity. She has likewise written a book about Fossil Legends of the First Americans in North America.
Mayor was kind enough to send my kids and I a copy of a new book that looks at her decades of research and difficulties having her work accepted by academia: The Griffin and the Dinosaur: How Adrienne Mayor Discovered a Fascinating Link Between Myth and Science (Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2014, 48 pp). Geared toward younger readers (upper elementary to middle school), author Marc Aronson (with Mayor) describes her travels and research to show how people in ancient times took seriously the bones they discovered in the ground. Protoceratops skeletons become the griffin, and the skulls of mammoths become the head of Cyclops. After my son (age 9) read the book, he commented how he thought it was interesting that people in another time looked at fossils differently than we do today. He said that how people think about nature is always changing. “Wasn’t what paleontologists think dinosaurs looked like when you were a kid different from today?” he asked. Indeed.
This is a great book mixing science, history, and myth into a mystery that readers will love to follow along. The book features color photographs and nice paintings from Chris Muller throughout. I highly recommend The Griffin and the Dinosaur for parents to check out or buy for their curious kids. Better yet, request your local library purchase a copy if they don’t already have one in their catalog.
Thank you, Adrienne!