You may have heard of hundreds of mythical creatures.
From traditions like Ancient Greek mythology, Norse mythology, Viking mythology, and other indigenous cultures.
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These creatures are often unfamiliar or scary creatures of monsters that people sighted many years ago and couldn’t recognize. As the stories spread, these creatures gained names and exaggerated tales.
Have you ever wondered where most of these myths come from and whether any of them may have been real? Chances are, people actually saw these creatures and then told tales to whoever would listen.
There are millions of species of animals on the planet that haven’t been discovered yet and certainly, hadn’t been discovered at the time that these myths emerged. Let’s look at some of the mythical creatures people saw that may have been real animals that are still around today.
The story of Bigfoot has been around for as long as people have been exploring wildlands. As early as the 5th century B.C.E., explorers and people who ventured into the jungles and forests have told the tales of large monsters that looked like humans from afar ravaging their campgrounds. These monsters would leave behind their footprints and earn themselves the name of Bigfoot. The monsters were human-like, but they were huge and strong and could kill you easily. Scientific evidence suggests that people actually saw Bigfoot, but that Bigfoot was a gorilla instead of a mythical creature. The gorilla species was identified in 1847, allowing the myth of Bigfoot to spread far and wide in the years before then.
Although the modern-day interpretation of a unicorn is that of a sleek and strong horse with a long conical horn in the center of its forehead, this was not always the way that unicorns had been described. Pliny the Elder, a Greek figure who was prominent in the 1st century A.D., first described the unicorn as having a stag’s head, the feet of an elephant, and the tail of a boar. It was said to have made a deep and loud sound that was frightening and had a black horn in the middle of its forehead. The unicorn that Pliny the Elder saw may very well have been a real mythical creature, which we later named the rhinoceros.
The Sea Unicorn
The unicorn was actually seen by so many people in different parts of the world and with slightly different descriptions. The English explorer Martin Frobisher led an expedition to Canada in 1577 when he came upon the sea unicorn. What the explorer saw was not a mythical creature but actually a narwhal. In 1648 Tulpius, a Dutch anatomist examined a stranded narwhal on the British Isles. The narwhal does not have a horn so much as it does a large tusk protruding from its canine tooth. This tusk was confused for a unicorn horn, and the myth proceeded from there.
The Kraken is a mythical creature emerging from Scandinavian folklore. It is a giant sea monster that lives on the coasts of Norway and Greenland and is known for terrorizing sailors and destroying their ships. Since the 18th century, the Kraken has been depicted as an octopus-like creature with long tentacles that have suckers and spikes. All of the sailors who saw the Kraken and lived to tell the tale believed they were seeing a real mythical creature, but perhaps what they actually saw was the giant squid. In 1853, the Norwegian naturalist Japetus Steenstrup described the giant squid in part of Europe’s first modern scientific survey of the natural world.
In 1789, Captain John Hunter of the Royal Navy saw a platypus pelt and sent back some sketchings to Britain because he was so amazed and shocked at the creature that he saw. No European scientist believed that such a creature could be real and deemed it to be a mythical creature that Hunter had imagined. The English zoologist George Shaw wrote in 1799 that the platypus “naturally excites the idea of some deceptive preparation by artificial means.” The platypus has the beak of a duck, the body of a beaver, webbed front feet, and was a mammal that laid eggs.
These were just a few examples, but there could have been many mythical creatures that people saw and believed to be some kind of monsters but may have been an undiscovered or extinct species of animal. Some other real mythical creatures include the Chupacabra, the Jackalope, Griffins, and Dragons.
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