Wednesday, August 31, 2011

DINOSAURS: From Cultural to Pop Culture - ~800 BC: The Cyclops


~800 BC
The Cyclops

Roman Polyphemus sculpture (List of Figures)
The next stop along our travels through time is not a dinosaur stop but an important one none-the-less. I placed it at ~800 BC because that is the estimated date that Homer wrote the Odyssey. In the Odyssey, Odysseus is making his way back home and along the way lands on the Island of the Cyclops, where he meets Polyphemus (pictured right). Homer then goes on to describe the cyclops, which is usually what we would assume a cyclops to look like; typically very large and have one eye located in the center of their forehead. This is not the first historical encounter with a cyclops in Greek history, but this is just the first substantial reference to one that has survived to the modern day. 

Young male African Elephant Skull replica at
Utah's Hogle Zoo. Picture by Jim Lehane.
Looking at the geology of Greece, they are not known for large dinosaur deposits but what they do have is large amounts of Pleistocene deposits. The Pleistocene deposits are rich in that are rich in prehistoric elephant fossils. In particular, the ancient, dwarf elephants. The skulls of the dwarf elephants are on average, twice the size of a human skull and posses a large hole in the center of the "forehead". Modern humans now know this is for the nasal passage of the trunk, but the ancient Greeks, who have had no contact with elephants before, likely assumed that it to be a lone eye socket (pictured left). This was all interpreted by a paleobiologists by the name of Othenio Abel in 1914, and it makes sense ( The ancient Greeks discovered the overly-large "human-like" skulls with the singular eye socket and assumed they belonged to a race of massive, one-eyed giants.


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