Thursday, August 28, 2008

Dragons, Unicorns and Mermaids, Oh My!

Another vacation day in Chicago. I went to the Field Museum to see their exhibit on Mythic Creatures. This exhibit was SO COOL.

Covering the well-known creatures like dragons and unicorns to lesser known and cultural-specific creatures, the exhibit showed their origins, told their stories, and gave me a sense of where they belonged in history.

This is called a Bunyip. It is an Australian man-eating swamp monster that has since been softened into a well-known children's book creature.

Unicorns, for hundreds of years were thought to be actual animals and what I found fascinating was reading Marco Polo's description around 1300 of a unicorn he finally encountered. Having only heard descriptions, he was dismayed to find them to be stocky, lumbering, thick skinned and hairy and not at all the gentle animal that would lay its head in a maiden's lap! Natural historians believe he must have encountered a Sumatran Rhinoceros. The horns believed to belong to unicorns were often the tusks of male narwhals (Arctic whales).

Part of the exhibit was looking at fossils and seeing how easily one could imagine some of the more fantastic creatures when seeing some of the bones of less-fantastic (though just as hard to imagine) creatures laid out on display.

The picture of a Griffin, whose body frame corresponds quite nicely to fossil remains of the Protoceratops.

Below Left - the Rhinoceros skull thought by many years to have been the skull of the dragon that terrorized the town of Klagenfurt, Austria. A statue replica can still be seen in the town center.

Below Right - the skull of a dwarf elephant. The sinus cavity that leads to the trunk in the center of the skull was thought to have been where the Cyclops's eye was.

In addition to seeing many artistic depictions of mythical creatures, the exhibit had Greek coins depicting griffins from between 495 and 350 BC, Greek coins depicting a Pegasus from between 650 and 510 BC and Coins from all over Europe with pictures of dragons on them from between 600 and 1995 AD!

Seeing and reading about how all these creatures came to be believed in or used in story telling was fascinating. The only two things that disturbed me at all were the Giant Squids (there are Colossal Squids too!) and the Aepyornis, a half-ton bird that lived in Madagascar. One doesn't need to use any imagination to be enthralled by the pretty implausible constitutions of these monsters!

For a pretty complete tour of the exhibit, if you can't make it downtown before it leaves on Tuesday, click here.


Monte said...

That sounds so cool! I wish I could have seen it. Thanks for the pictures!

Bethanie said...

oh my gosh--how crazy to be able to go to an actual exhibit about mythical creatures!! I wanna see it SO MUCH. I really like the griffin, and I'm sad that the unicorn that Marco Polo saw was probably really a rhinoceros, though. But I liked the pink statue.