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-Stage 4.6.1-


DINOSAURS! From Cultural to Pop Culture

"Prehistoric Times"


"Before the 19th century when dinosaur bones turned 

up they were taken as evidence of dragons, ogres,

or giant victims of Noah's Flood"

(Updike, 2007)


Dino Prehistoric Timeline


~2,000 BC


Our first stop along the ride through history is approximately 2,000 BC, which is when it was assumed the Book of Job from the Old Testament was written. That is where we run across the passage:Torah

15 Behold now behemoth, which I made with thee; he eateth grass as an ox.
16 Lo now, his strength is in his loins, and his force is in the navel of his belly.
17 He moveth his tail like a cedar: the sinews of his stones are wrapped together.
18 His bones are as strong pieces of brass; his bones are like bars of iron.

Job 40:15-18

The main reason this is our first stop and not another one a little further along the timeline is that Creationists seem to have taken up this phrase as proof that dinosaurs were in the Bible and have been around since Creation. If we analyze the passage we do have something that can be described as a dinosaur though. First off "behemoth" is a rather obscure term but since the term dinosaur wasn't coined until 1854 this could be taken as a dinosaur or as any other unknown animal at the time.

Picking apart other parts of the passage we have "he eateth grass as an ox", which can be any herbivore. The next line, "his strength is in his loins, and his force is in the navel of his belly". I'm not really sure how to interpret that one but we will just assume it means he is a pretty big and strong animal, not really any physical description though. Now we get to the line that is the primary proof that it is a dinosaur, "tail like a cedar". Not many, if any, African Elephantanimals today contain a tail that can be described as "like a cedar". RhinoLooking at the next line, "bones are as strong pieces of brass; his bones are like bars of iron", we get the feeling of a large animal (as well as with the second line) with large bones and large limbs. But all modern day large animals with large limbs, all contain tiny little tails (like the elephant and the rhino).

So the Creationists generally take this passage as a reference to dinosaurs since no modern day animal can fit the mold. Dinosaurs do seem to fit it well though. So does this mean dinosaurs really did live with man? I don't think so but I think this is an interesting entry and one that couldn't be forgotten.


~800 BC


Cyclops Statue

Elephant SkullThe next stop along our travels through time is not a dinosaur stop but an important one none-the-less. I placed it at ~800 BC because that is the estimated date that Homer wrote the Odyssey. In the Odyssey, Odysseus is making his way back home and along the way lands on the Island of the Cyclopes, where he meets Polyphemus (pictured right). Homer then goes on to describe the cyclops, which is usually what we would assume a cyclops to look like. They are typically very large and have one eye located in the center of their forehead (at least in most reconstructions). This is not the first historical encounter with a cyclops in Greek history, but this is just the first substantial reference to one that has survived to the modern day. 


Looking at the geology of Greece, they are not known for large dinosaur deposits but what they do have is large amounts of Pleistocene deposits that are rich in fossil elephants. In particular are the ancient, dwarf elephants. The skulls of the dwark elephant are on average, twice the size of a human skull and posses a large hole in the center of the "forehead". Modern humans now know this is for the nasal passage of the trunk, but the ancient Greeks, who have had no contact with elephants, likely assumed that it is a lone eye socket (pictured left). This was all interpreted by a paleobiologists by the name of Othenio Abel in 1914, and it seems to make sense ( The ancient Greeks discovered the overly-large "human-like" skulls with the singular eye socket and assumed they belonged to a race of massive, one-eyed, giants.


~400 BC


GriffinFollowing along through Greek mythology we have the griffin. The griffin is a well known animal which is a combination part bird, part lion. I picked ~400 BC because this is when the famous tale of Prometheus Bound was likely written by Aeschyles. In the story Prometheus is bound to a rock as torture for giving fire to humanity. While he is tied to this rock he is force to endure griffins repeatedly eating out his liver. Then when they are done it is allowed to grow back again, and the whole process starts over. This isn't the first occurrence of griffins in history but it is one of the first and most prominent so I figured this would be a good place to mark it. One of the principle traits of the griffin, other than its ability to fly, is that it is often found guarding a treasure of some variety.



The origin story for the griffin is not as well known as the cyclops but it is a pretty interesting one. Apparently the Greeks were trading with a group of people called the Scythian Nomads. The trade routes of these nomads traveled from Mongolia and down into Greece where they traded gold, among other things. The source location for their gold was likely at the base of some cliffs near the Gobi Desert. The gold would have likely eroded out of the Altai Mountains in Mongolia and settled on the fringes of the desert. Along side the gold deposits they found these bizarre looking skeletons, unlike what they have ever seen before. When coming across such things most people try to relate it to what they know. They recognized the beak, like that of a bird, and the bird like talons but the size and shape of the body didn't make sense. This must be a beast that is a combination of a bird and something else, possibly a lion. The skeleton was that of a Protoceratops. The only question that now remained is what happened to the frill of the dinosaur in the nomads reconstruction? It is likely that if the frill was broken into pieces, the placement of the frill along the back could give evidence for the presence of wings. Once discovering these and creating the griffin myth, the nomads then transported this tale all over Europe during their trades (Mayor, 2000; Ancient Monster Hunters; Wikipedia).




Bible references obtained from the King James Version:

Mayor, Adrienne. 2000. The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ

Updike, John. 2007. Extreme Dinosaurs. National Geographic Magazine. V. 212, N. 6, pp 32-57