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The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times
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Adrienne gives an overview of the book:

"When Adrienne Mayor's first book, The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times (Princeton University Press), came out [in 2000], this late-blooming outsider with no advanced degrees caused something of a sensation among high-ranking anthropologists, paleontologists, geologists and others. She used Roman and Greek texts to argue that some fossils were used to support or create myths about strange creatures in the ancient world." Felicia R. Lee, New York Times, June 2004 
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"When Adrienne Mayor's first book, The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times (Princeton University Press), came out [in 2000], this late-blooming outsider with no advanced degrees caused something of a sensation among high-ranking anthropologists, paleontologists, geologists and others. She used Roman and Greek texts to argue that some fossils were used to support or create myths about strange creatures in the ancient world."

Felicia R. Lee, New York Times, June 2004 

Read an excerpt »

From the Introduction: 

The classical Greek landscape evokes many images‑‑heroes and Amazons, gods and goddesses, painted vases and bronze statues, marble columns and temple ruins. The enormous fossil bones of mastodons and mammoths are not likely to appear in anyone's mental picture of classical antiquity. But immense skeletons of creatures from past eons indeed lie buried all around the lands known to the Greeks and Romans. And for the ancient Greeks and Romans themselves, vestiges of giants and monsters of the distant past were important features of their natural and cultural landscape. This book explores the relationship between two simple but surprising facts: the Mediterranean world was once populated by giant creatures, and the ancients were continually confronted by their remarkable petrified remains.

The ancients collected, measured, displayed, and pondered the bones of extinct beasts, and they recorded their discoveries and imaginative interpretations of the fossil remains in numerous writings that survive today. Yet "paleontology" is missing in the standard lists of the great cultural inventions of the Greeks and Romans. How did modern science and history come to lose the significant paleontological discoveries, thoughts, and activities of classical antiquity? That paradox inspired my project, to recover the long‑neglected evidence of human encounters with fossils from the time of Homer to the late Roman empire (ca. 750 BC to AD 500).

adrienne-mayor's picture

The First Fossil Hunters inspired the popular TV documentary Ancient Monster Hunters on the History Channel; the exhibit Myths and Fossils at the Teylers Museum, Netherlands, 2007; and the American Museum of Natural History exhibit Mythic Creatures, which opened in 2007 and will travel internationally until 2017.

About Adrienne

Adrienne Mayor was born in Little Egypt, southern Illinois, and grew up in harshly beautiful South Dakota. The Bookmobile at Laura Ingalls Wilder Elementary School was a godsend! Although a highly distracted college student in the late 60s and 70s, Mayor pursued independent...

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Published Reviews

Jan.23.2008

Adrienne Mayor's third and latest book, "Fossil Legends of the First Americans" a combination of history, archaeology, folklore and old-fashioned detective work, is the first scholarly attempt...

Jan.30.2008

Mighty as Hercules was, he sometimes prevailed only by means other than his own brute strength. When the need arose, the superhero of Greek mythology armed himself with biochemical weaponry,...