R'elephant Curios


Mar 13, 2003
Hi Phil

You asked about a medieval elephant, well I didn't find him but a mate of mine did of a site in Chetser in northern England. Turns out from radio-carbon date done that the elephant was alive in the 13th century, but the bone he found was not discarded until Elizabethan times, about 250 years later... It was probably brought to Britain as a bone curio travelling along a trade route or brough to England by a trader sometime in the centuries between the death of the animal and the late 1500's. Way cool I think. There is I know a manuscript with a portrait of an elephant that was kept at the Tower of London in the reign of King John (1199-1216). Unlike the flights of fancy with which medieval artists sometimes embelished animals this painting was very lifelike and must have been done from life.

Makes you wonder what other curiosities were/are hanging around out there. If someone found a squid or octo beak what would they think? After all the horn of the narwhal was probably the source for the unicorn myth. Could a large beak have been passed off as the beak of the giant 'roc' bird??
Thanks for that Geoff. That really is quite a bizarre and out-of-place find; even if it was probably imported.

That's a pity, I would rather like to have believed there was a lost colony of elephants roaming around in Wales, descendants of Claudius's from AD43 to the 16th century. Oh well. :cyclops:

Love the Roc idea by the way. No.
I remember reading a rather dubious theory that implied our ancestors believed in cyclopses because they stumbled across elephant skulls. The large hole in the centre of the skull where the trunk was attached was supposed to have been interpreted as a single huge eye socket. :?

I don't believe it either...
Well, Amniote, I have always been somewhat sceptical about this too. However, I've just stumbled upon this interesting snippet:

Fossil elephant skull from Crete

It seems that a fossil skull of the prehistoric elephant Deinotherium has been unearthed in Crete. Perhaps the discovery of these bones in the era when the ancient Greek mythologies were evolving may have been an influence afterall.
Ye of little faith. If fossils unearthed in the limestone used to build cathedrals inspired their gargoyle ornamentation, then surely an exotic pachyderm skull could have inspired a cyclops.

Now, if i could just figure out what that "swimming elephant" figure in Pictish iconography is all about, I'd be a happy Clem.

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