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Fascinating fossil folklore

12 February 2007

Did you know the fossil skull of the Cretaceous dinosaur Protoceratops was once thought to be the head of the mythical Griffin?

Or that the large holes in the fossil skulls of dwarf elephants were mistaken for the socket for the single eye of the mythical Cyclops?

Myths and tales about monsters can sometimes be traced back to the discovery of fossil bones and these tales associated with fossils are explored in the new exhibition, Fossil Folklore , open today at the Walter Rothschild Zoological Museum, Tring.

Fossil Folklore is a family-friendly exhibition with fun interactives, real specimens and an exploration of how fossils are made and used in medicine, myth and magic.

'Fossils are fascinating for people of all ages,' said Alice Dowswell, curator of the exhibition. 'We've all grown up learning about fossils and hearing the stories behind them, and Fossil Folklore gives visitors a chance to discover what fossils really are, as well as what people used to think they were.'

'Scientists have been studying fossils for more than 200 years, but there's still a lot of information missing. The study of fossils is very exciting; future discoveries might tell us about previously unknown creatures that used to exist and change our view of the way the earth evolved.'

Woolly rhinoceros

The centrepiece of the exhibition is a huge woolly rhinoceros skull. Research conducted over the last 30 years by Andy Currant, Ice Age mammal curator at the Natural History Museum, has shown that rhinoceros fossils were previously thought to be dragons.

'The historical spread of dragons is the same as that of Pleistocene fossil rhinos,' said Andy.  'The very fact no one recognised their anatomy until about 1700 when modern rhino remains started to turn up in Europe is significant. Dragons are usually linked to caves - where woolly rhinos are often found - and rhino skulls have been found sitting on bone heaps.'

Fossil Folklore runs from 12 February until 8 July 2007 at our sister Museum in Tring, Hertfordshire.

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