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The truth about Griffins…

19 September 2011 by Lisa

Here’s another blog in our run-up to the opening of the ‘Age of the Dinosaur’ exhibition at World Museum. This week our curator and dino-expert Geoff Tresise tells us about a mysterious dinosaur surrounded by myths!


Protoceratops

In 1929, an American Museum sent an expedition to the Gobi Desert of Mongolia.  They found the desert floor strewn with dinosaur bones along with nests of their eggs – the first ever found. 

They also solved an age-old mystery. In the 6th century B.C., traders from central Asia came to Greece selling gold.  Gold, they claimed, was plentiful in their homeland but was dangerous to collect.  It was guarded by griffins, fierce animals with the bodies of lions and the heads of giant eagles.  Griffins were said to lay eggs and nest on the ground.  For the next thousand years griffins, shown with eagle’s wings as well as eagle’s heads, were popular subjects in Greek and Roman art.

The American expedition of 1929 found the most common Mongolian dinosaur was Protoceratops, which had a beaked and crested skull resembling a giant eagle.  It was easy to understand how the living animal could be imagined to be half eagle, half lion.  The nests of dinosaur eggs supported the myth although hoards of gold were sadly lacking.

We’re lucky that in the ‘Age of Dinosaur’  exhibition we’ll have on show a Protoceratops guarding, not gold, but its nest of eggs threatened by a hungry Velociraptor! I’ll be blogging about Velociraptors soon, so watch this space.

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