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Creatures, Myths & Legends

Study casts doubt on idea that griffins were inspired by dinosaur fossils

By T.K. Randall
June 25, 2024 · Comment icon 1 comment
How did the idea of griffins first come about ? Image Credit: Pixabay / V_M
These half-bird, half-lion creatures of myth and folklore were long thought to have been inspired by Protoceratops.
With the beak and head of a resplendent eagle and the fur-covered, four-legged body of a lion, the griffin (or gryphon) is a creature that has appeared in legend and folklore for thousands of years.

As with many similar mythological creatures, it was long thought that its origins lay with the discovery of dinosaur fossils which, at the time, would have appeared to be the bones of some fantastical creature - leading to tales and legends that would be passed down over the centuries.

Griffins in particular were thought to have been inspired by the discovery of Protoceratops fossils unearthed in Mongolia and northern China by prospectors searching for gold.

It is certainly possible to see the resemblance - Protoceratops had four legs like a lion, a beak-like mouth and large frill-like extensions on their skulls that would have seemed a bit like those of a bird.

But was this really the origin of the griffin of legend ?
According to palaeontologists Dr Mark Witton and Richard Hing of the University of Portsmouth, there has never been any evidence of gold deposits near Protoceratops fossil sites and it is highly unlikely that anyone from that era would have even recognized the fossils as the bones of a creature.

"There is an assumption that dinosaur skeletons are discovered half-exposed, lying around almost like the remains of recently-deceased animals," said Witton.

"But, generally speaking, just a fraction of an eroding dinosaur skeleton will be visible to the naked eye, unnoticed to all except for sharp-eyed fossil hunters."

In truth, the researchers argue, dinosaur fossils likely had nothing to do with the origins of griffins.

"Everything about griffin origins is consistent with their traditional interpretation as imaginary beasts, just as their appearance is entirely explained by them being chimeras of big cats and raptorial birds," said Witton.

"Invoking a role for dinosaurs in griffin lore, especially species from distant lands like Protoceratops, not only introduces unnecessary complexity and inconsistencies to their origins, but also relies on interpretations and proposals that don't withstand scrutiny."

Source: Independent | Comments (1)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by Tatetopa 24 days ago
Our representation of Griffins have been around longer than people have recognized dinosaur fossils. Holding this theory up to disprove seems trivial.

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