Ancient Greek myths and legends are filled with monsters, giants, and other supernatural creatures. 
 
Anthropologists and historians think ancient Greek storytellers may have found inspiration for such fantastic beasts in the world around them—they may have been the “first fossil hunters.” Ancient Greeks collected fossilized bones and other artifacts, took note of where and how the artifacts were found, and even displayed the fossils at public sites such as temples.
 
Dr. Mott T. Greene, an historian of science, writes that “If [the ancient Greeks] told stories about these fossils that differ from our own, they examined the fossils with the same techniques we employ today: comparative anatomy, skeletal reconstruction, paleogeography and museum display.”
 
Some ancient Greeks even recognized geomythology for what it was—a way of explaining the natural world. The philosopher Palaephatus, for example, examined a myth surrounding the Greek hero Cadmus. The goddess Athena instructed Cadmus to plant dragon’s teeth in a field to yield a crop of warriors. Palaephatus, writing in the 300s BCE, suggested the tale was a reasonable misunderstanding of the frequent discovery of fossilized mammoth molars in Greek agricultural fields.
 
Read through this photo gallery for more monsters—and their possible real-life inspirations.
 
Instructional Ideas
You can use this study guide with Common Core State Standards CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.7 and CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.5 to better understand how ancient storytellers used visual information to advance social analyses offered by mythology.
 
Greek Monsters

SEA MONSTERS: Many ancient Greek sea monsters sometimes took the name “Cetus”, from which we drive our word “cetacean.”

abundance
Noun

large amount.

anatomy
Noun

structure of an organism.

anthropologist
Noun

person who studies cultures and characteristics of communities and civilizations.

Noun

material remains of a culture, such as tools, clothing, or food.

aurochs
Noun

large, extinct species of European cattle or oxen.

benevolent
Adjective

kind or charitable. 

bunyip
Noun

mythical creature said to inhabit the lakes and lagoons of Australia.

cattle
Noun

cows and oxen.

centaur
Noun

mythical creature with the head and torso of a man, and the body and legs of a horse.

Noun

agricultural produce.

cyclops
Noun

member of a species of mythical giants with a single eye in the middle of their forheads.

dinosaur
Noun

very large, extinct reptile chiefly from the Mesozoic Era, 251 million to 65 million years ago.

discovery
Noun

something seen, documented, or noticed for the first time.

display
Verb

to show or reveal.

dragon
Noun

mythical creature usually represented as a huge, winged reptile.

employ
Verb

to hire or use.

Noun

remnant, impression, or trace of an ancient organism.

frequent
Adjective

often.

geomythology
Noun

study of references to geological or other natural events in myths and legends.

griffin
Noun

mythical creature with the head and wings of an eagle, and the body of a lion.

hero
Noun

person who acts in an exemplary way and is regarded as a model.

Adjective

characteristic to or of a specific place.

inspiration
Noun

something that influences the development of an idea.

kraken
Noun

mythical sea creature usually represented as an enormous squid.

legend
Noun

traditional or mythical story.

mammoth
Noun

one of many extinct species of large animals related to elephants, with long, curved tusks. The last mammoths became extinct about 5,000 years ago.

marsupial
Noun

mammal that carries its young in a pouch on the mother's body.

molar
Noun

large, flat tooth used for chewing and grinding.

myth
Noun

legend or traditional story.

mythology
Noun

set of stories, traditions, or beliefs associated with a particular group or the history of an event.

paleogeography
Noun

study of Earth's ancient geologic environments.

phenomena
Plural Noun

(singular: phenomenon) any observable occurrence or feature.

philosopher
Noun

person who studies knowledge and the way people use it.

public
Adjective

available to an entire community, not limited to paying members.

Scandinavia
Noun

region and name for some countries in Northern Europe: Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark.

seal
Noun

formal or official stamp, emblem, or other mark.

supernatural
Adjective

having to do with powers not explained by science or nature.

technique
Noun

method of doing something.

temple
Noun

building used for worship.

tentacle
Noun

a long, narrow, flexible body part extending from the bodies of some animals.

trade
Noun

buying, selling, or exchanging of goods and services.

tusk
Noun

very long tooth found in animals like elephants and walruses.

ungulate
Noun

mammal with hooves, usually divided into even-toed ungulates (cattle, camels, deer) and odd-toed ungulates (horses, zebras, rhinoceroses).

unicorn
Noun

mythical creature represented as a horse (usually white) with a single horn on its forehead.

yield
Verb

to produce or result in.