Mythical creatures revealed: discover the science behind some legendary creatures.From fire-breathing dragons to magical unicorns, mythical creatures have taken center stage in many of Hollywood's biggest hits. In these fantasy worlds This is a partial list of fictional fantasy worlds, according to the medium they appear in: Novels and short stories
In the 2006 movie Eragon, a dragon named Saphira teams up with Eragon, an orphaned teenage boy. Together, the duo battles the dark forces that are taking over their kingdom. Eragon comes to rely on the magical powers of Saphira, who is the last of the dragon species.
Stories like this one aren't found just on movie screens or in the pages of your favorite books. For centuries, tales about mythical creatures have been imagined by people all around the world.
To get the scoop on what may have sparked belief in these imaginary animals, Science World spoke to Laurel Kendall. Kendall is an anthropologist who studies cultures. She is co-curator of the exhibit Mythic Creatures: Dragons, Unicorns, and Mermaids at the American Museum of Natural History American Museum of Natural History, incorporated in New York City in 1869 to promote the study of natural science and related subjects. Buildings on its present site were opened in 1877. in New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of .
Read on to see what Kendall and her colleagues think may have inspired the myths of these magical-creatures-turned-movie-stars.
ANCIENT LEGEND: More than a thousand years ago in Europe, people believed that giant fire-breathing dragons guarded hidden stashes of gold. "If some of that gold was stolen, the dragon would awaken and unleash fiery destruction on humans," says Kendall.
SCIENTIFIC EXPLANATION: People have long imagined dragons as being enormous, scaly scal·y
1. Covered or partially covered with scales.
2. Shedding scales or flakes; flaking.
skin condition characterized by scales; scalelike. beasts with huge teeth and claws. People believed so strongly in these lizardlike creatures that biologists in Europe once wrote accounts of the behavior and habitat of dragons in much the same way as they described that of lizards and snakes.
What may have advanced the legend of dragons? The imagined creatures look like close relatives of big animals like the Tyrannosaurus Tyrannosaurus (tīrăn'ōsôr`əs, tĭr–) [Gr.,=tyrant lizard], member of a family, Tyrannosauridae, of bipedal carnivorous saurischian dinosaurs characterized by having strong hind limbs, a muscular tail, and short rex. Dinosaurs died out long before people were alive, but the discovery of dinosaur fossils, the mineralized min·er·al·ize
v. min·er·al·ized, min·er·al·iz·ing, min·er·al·iz·es
1. To convert to a mineral substance; petrify.
2. To transform a metal into a mineral by oxidation.
3. remains or impressions of an organism, may have supported the ancient belief. When people dug up these fossils, they may have mistaken them for dragon remains.
ANCIENT LEGEND: European sailors have long told tales of fabled marine creatures with the head and upper body of a woman and the tail of a fish. "One story is that if you spot a mermaid, you'll have a shipwreck shipwreck, complete or partial destruction of a vessel as a result of collision, fire, grounding, storm, explosion, or other mishap. In the ancient world sea travel was hazardous, but in modern times the number of shipwrecks due to nonhostile causes has steadily ," says Kendall.
SCIENTIFIC EXPLANATION: Relatives of manatees, called dugongs, that live in some of the world's oceans may have supported the belief in mermaids. Dugongs are marine mammals marine mammals
mammals inhabiting the sea; generally taken to include the cetaceans (whales, porpoise, dolphin), the sirenians (sea-cows, including manatees and dugong) and the pinnipeds (the carnivores of the group, seals, sealions, walruses). , or warm-blooded animals that can produce milk. Like all mammals, dugongs breathe air to survive. These creatures have paddlelike flippers n. 1. A type of shoe with a paddle-like front extending well beyond the end of the toe, used an aid in swimming (especially underwater). and tails that allow them to gracefully move through the water. They stick to shallow waters where they feed on sea grasses. Sailors may have caught a glimpse of dugongs when the animals surfaced to breathe. The sailors may have thought the dugong s dugong: see sirenian.
Large marine mammal (Dugong dugon, the sole living member of the family Dugongidae) that lives in shallow coastal waters from the Red Sea and eastern Africa to the Philippines, New Guinea, and northern Australia. head and dolphin-like tail were the body of a mermaid.
CREATURE: UNICORN unicorn (y`nĭkôrn), fabulous equine beast with a long horn jutting from the middle of its forehead.
ANCIENT LEGEND: Myths about a magical horse with one horn are sprinkled throughout history. In many regions of the world, including Europe and East Asia East Asia
A region of Asia coextensive with the Far East.
East Asian adj. & n. , people believed that the horns of unicorns had magical powers, says Kendall. It was thought that the horn could cure illnesses and prevent aging. In the 16th century, people also believed that the horn could be used to detect if an enemy had poisoned one's food.
SCIENTIFIC EXPLANATION: Scientists don't know Don't know (DK, DKed)
"Don't know the trade." A Street expression used whenever one party lacks knowledge of a trade or receives conflicting instructions from the other party. the origin of the myth of the unicorn. But tusks of a marine animal, called the narwhal narwhal (när`wəl), a small arctic whale, Monodon monoceros. The males of this species, and an occasional female, bear a single, tightly spiraled tusk that measures up to 9 ft (2.7 m) in length. , may have advanced the legends. Narwhals are Arctic whales that live in the icy channels of northern Canada and northwestern Greenland. Male narwhals grow a long, spiraled tooth that juts from its upper jaw. This tusk can grow up to 2.7 meters (9 feet) in length--more than half the length of its body. Centuries ago, sailors often encountered these animals and brought their pearly white tusks to markets in Europe. Buyers purchased the tusks at high prices, with the belief that they were the horns of once-living unicorns.
CREATURES: HIPPOGRIFF hippogriff
offspring of griffin and mare. [Ital. Lit.: Orlando Furioso]
See : Monsters AND GRIFFIN
ANCIENT LEGEND: In Asia, ancient travelers told myths of giant birds having the body of a horse or a lion. They called these animals hippogriffs and griffins, respectively. The travelers spoke of giant griffins that guarded fabulous sources of gold, says Kendall.
SCIENTIFIC EXPLANATION: Some scientists think the legend of griffins may have been inspired by fossil discoveries in Mongolia. About 80 million years ago during the Cretaceous period, a plant-eating dinosaur called Protoceratops protoceratops
Any member of a genus of quadrupedal dinosaurs found as fossils in Gobi deposits of the Cretaceous period (144–65 million years ago). The hind limbs were more strongly developed than the forelimbs; the back was arched. (pro-toe-SAIR-uh-tops) lumbered across parts of Asia. Weighing in at 180 kilograms (400 pounds), the four-legged dinosaur had an enormous head and a parrot-like beak. When people dug up fossils of this creature, they may have mistaken it for a monstrous animal that was half bird.
Can you guess what animal is shown in the photo below?
Find the answer at: http://ology.amnh.org/ mystery_photo/mythic
Learn more about cultures of the world, past and present, in the American Museum of Natural History's world-renowned culture halls. The Museum's anthropology collection contains more than 500,000 objects--from prehistoric stone tools excavated in Mongolia to baskets crafted in Senegal in the 21st century.
To learn more, ask your teacher, or visit www.amnh.org.
For more information on The legends of mythical creatures, be sure to Check out: www.scholastic.com/ scienceexplorations.com
Jump-start your lesson with these pre-reading questions:
* In the Middle Ages, narwhal tusks were widely thought to be unicorn horns with magical properties. Because of this belief, the tusks were very valuable. Elizabeth I, Queen of England Noun 1. Queen of England - the sovereign ruler of England
female monarch, queen regnant, queen - a female sovereign ruler in the 1500s, is said to have owned a tusk valued at an equivalent price of a castle. What magical properties were unicorns believed to possess?
* In the past, Chinese scholars classified the dragon as one of the 369 animal species with scales. And biologists in Europe wrote scholarly papers describing the behavior of dragons. What might people living long ago have encountered that advanced the legend of dragons?
* Nessie, the Loch Ness monster Loch Ness monster
“Nessie”; sea serpent said to inhabit Loch Ness. [Scot. Folklore: Wallechinsky, 443]
See : Monsters
Loch Ness monster
supposed sea serpent dwelling in lake. [Scot. Hist. , is another legendary creature. What stories have you heard about Nessie? One theory suggests that circus elephants swimming in Loch Ness may have bolstered beliefs in the sea monster. Research this theory, and then discuss your findings. Here is one possible research source:
LANGUAGE ARTS: Write a short story in which a mythical creature is a central character. Use descriptive words to help readers visualize the creature and the setting of your story. Include an illustration of the mythical creature.
* Eragon/Eldest (Inheritance, books 1 and 2) [Box Set], by Christopher Paolini, Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2005. Author Christopher Paolini began writing Eragon at age 15. The first two books of the trilogy wound up on The New York Times best-seller list. Book three is still in the works.
* The Chronicles of Narnia Boxed Set, by C.S. Lewis, HarperTrophy, 1994. Seven volumes make up this complete series by C.S. Lewis. The author first imagined the snowy, secret world at the back of the wardrobe more than 60 years ago. He created the tale as a bedtime story for four children who were staying at his house outside London, England, during World War II to escape air raids on the city.
* Visit this site from NOAA NOAA
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Noun 1. NOAA - an agency in the Department of Commerce that maps the oceans and conserves their living resources; predicts changes to the earth's environment; to learn about scientists who are tracking the movements of narwhals, the whale that may have reinforced legends of unicorns: