Article

Ancient Fossil Discoveries and Interpretations

Adrienne Mayor

in The Oxford Handbook of Animals in Classical Thought and Life

Published in print August 2014 | ISBN: 9780199589425
Published online May 2014 | | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199589425.013.032

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Classics and Ancient History

Ancient Fossil Discoveries and Interpretations

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This chapter examines the discoveries and interpretations of fossil discoveries in ancient times. It analyses nearly one hundred accounts from more than thirty ancient authors, from Herodotus in the fifth century BC to Augustine in the fifth century AD. The evidence indicates that ancient Greeks and Romans collected, measured, compared, and displayed extraordinary fossil remains in temples as relics of the glorious past. The literary evidence also suggests that observations of large vertebrate fossils certainly influenced certain myths and popular beliefs in ancient times. This chapter also argues that ancient Graeco-Roman accounts of encounters with marine, plant, animal, and trace fossils that were expressed in mythological language were remarkably perceptive for a pre-scientific culture.

Keywords: fossil discoveries; fossil interpretations; Herodotus; Augustine; ancient Greeks; ancient Romans; myths; popular beliefs; pre-scientific culture

Article.  4639 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Marriage and the Family

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