In many cultures, creatures like sea serpents, griffins, and dragons were more than legends; their existence seemed a provable fact. An exhibit at Boston’s Museum of Science explains the real scientific discoveries that inspired the myths.

The exhibit “Mythic Creatures: Dragons, Unicorns & Mermaids” was created by the American Museum of Natural History and is currently on display at the Museum of Science in Boston. The exhibit looks at mythical creatures from all over the world, from Greek legends of cyclopean giants to modern sightings of Bigfoot. It also compares similar regional myths, such as contrasting European images of the unicorn with similar Asian legends.


But the cornerstone of the exhibit examines the real inspirations behind these mythical creatures, displaying various models, animals, and remains. For example, the aeropyornis, a giant, now-extinct bird likely inspired the legends of the roc. Fossilized remains of the protoceratops found in the Gobi desert resemble descriptions of the griffin, alleged denizens of that region. Legend claimed that the skull once mounted in an Austrian town hall belonged to a slain dragon, but was, in fact, the head of a woolly rhinoceros. It might risk shattering your childhood dreams, but it’s also a fascinating object lesson in how “proof” of a creature’s existence has been misinterpreted as well a look at the genuinely remarkable animals that have tread the Earth.

The exhibit will be at the Boston Museum of Science through March 22, 2009.

Mythic Creatures: Dragons, Unicorns & Mermaids [American Museum of Natural History via Biology in Science Fiction]