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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous fables formed from facts
Two millennia of condemnation of "pagan" mythology have obscured the value ancient legends contributed to knowledge. Being members of this world instead of longing for the next, our ancient ancestors were keen observers of Nature. Among their interests were "mythical monsters". The Griffin - a combination of lion and eagle; the Minotaur - a man with a bull's head; or the...
Published on 19 May 2005 by Stephen A. Haines

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3.0 out of 5 stars Good premise, tires a bit around the edges
The author is undoubtedly right about many of the things in the book, but it tires a little with all the appeals to incredulity. Just because something looks obvious or right to us, it does not make it so. This is a pity as this rhetorical flaw gets in the way of an otherwise very well structured and interesting argument.

The collection of classical authors at...
Published on 23 Mar 2009 by S. Zacharias


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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous fables formed from facts, 19 May 2005
By 
Stephen A. Haines (Ottawa, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times (Paperback)
Two millennia of condemnation of "pagan" mythology have obscured the value ancient legends contributed to knowledge. Being members of this world instead of longing for the next, our ancient ancestors were keen observers of Nature. Among their interests were "mythical monsters". The Griffin - a combination of lion and eagle; the Minotaur - a man with a bull's head; or the Cyclops - a man with but one eye. These familiar characters emerged from ancient Mediterranean societies and transmitted down to our own time. Lost in the transmission was the notion that there might be a factual basis for such creatures. Adrienne Mayor wants to clarify the origins of mythological creatures. In this excellent study, she challenges fixed thinking about myths' origins.
The Mediterranean is a dynamic place. Continental plates collide, pushing up mountains, diverting rivers and causing sea basins to flood or become dry. The constantly changing conditions reveal long buried fossil sites. Mayor builds a vivid picture of how the ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Romans might encounter these strange artefacts and attempt to make sense of them. What would these bizarre skulls, teeth or thigh bones mean to them? They were aware of anatomy and didn't mistake a leg bone for a vertebrae. Their reconstructions of the artefacts were reasonably accurate. They "knew" the fossils represented once-living creatures. Not having mastered the scientific discipline of today, they "interpreted" the exposed fossils in human terms - stories of mighty people, heroic deeds and lost worlds. Mayor argues that fossils led the ancients to understand life wasn't fixed. Creatures and humans alike had once lived in ancient times, then died out. Extinction was a real possibility - it had already happened.
Combining photographs and expressive line drawings to supplement her text, Mayor offers vivid evidence of the source for many mythical creatures. When bone assemblages of several species jumbled together were found, it was only logical to assume a single creature was once built around them. Hence, we are told of bull-headed men, or lions with an eagle's beak. We can see how the image of a bizarre creature emerging from a cave is actually a dinosaur fossil protruding from an eroding cliff. The view on a vase painting depicts this scene with superb clarity. With no idea of the Earth's true age, it was easy to make these judgements. Mythology is built from human experience, so it was fitting to give these creatures human characteristics.
Mayor's challenge to both classical scholars and paleontology permeates the book. The long history of dismissal of legendary creatures and the myths surrounding them blinds both scholars and the public alike, she contends. She suggests scientists and classicists enlarge their views of the information and evidence and reconsider how we perceive the past. As an example, Aristotle was long attributed as advocating fixity of species; a notion seized on by Christian scholars. Mayor demonstrates this is a limited reading of the philosopher. More such revelations might come to light if open-minded researchers seek further. Some documents have shown how the ancients measured and assessed fossil. They were clearly aware that fossils demonstrated that contemporary life and past life were similar but not identical. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Brilliant Book, 23 Jan 2011
This review is from: The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times (Paperback)
Mayor's book clearly lays out all the facts - fosils existed and were found by the ancient Greeks and Romans, and these fosils of dinosaurs and strange creature then were written into Greek society as the fabulous creatures of myths. It's a point I made in The Elgin Marbles, and many others have made in passing, and it's wonderful to see it expanded and all the evidence presented in such a clear but lively manner. Mayer strikes a blow for Evolution, showing us that the dinosaurs existed long before the Greeks - no matter what Creationists say! A fascinating study for anyone interested in archaeology, ancient history or dinosaurs.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Good premise, tires a bit around the edges, 23 Mar 2009
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S. Zacharias "5telios" (Athens, Greece) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times (Paperback)
The author is undoubtedly right about many of the things in the book, but it tires a little with all the appeals to incredulity. Just because something looks obvious or right to us, it does not make it so. This is a pity as this rhetorical flaw gets in the way of an otherwise very well structured and interesting argument.

The collection of classical authors at the back is both good work and useful.

The book, while interesting, did not have me turning the pages as I had anticipated as it was neither archaeological nor paleontological but lost in a limbo straddling the two. diagrams and images could have been a little better also.

Otherwise, a good story, which every excavator should at least know about to avoid losing more information as good stuff is thrown out with the rubbish on digs.
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1 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars the first fossil hunters, 1 Jun 2004
This review is from: The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times (Paperback)
A very interesting read. I would recommend this book to other interested persons.
I knocked a star off as whilst the book covers impact of early beliefs about mythical creatures on the interpretation of fossil remains it does not include recent research on how the brain can experience such creatures even in modern times.
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The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times
The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times by Adrienne Mayor (Paperback - 6 Aug 2001)
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