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    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.”

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    abundance Noun

    large amount.

    anatomy Noun

    structure of an organism.

    anthropologist Noun

    person who studies cultures and characteristics of communities and civilizations.

    artifact Noun

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

    Encyclopedic Entry: Artifact
    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.

    crop Noun

    agricultural produce.

    Encyclopedic Entry: crop
    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.

    fossil Noun

    remnant, impression, or trace of an ancient organism.

    Encyclopedic Entry: fossil
    frequent Adjective


    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.

    indigenous Adjective

    characteristic to or of a specific place.

    Encyclopedic Entry: indigenous
    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.