Griffin bones emerge out of the rock

Aelian, a natural philosopher in the 3rd century AD, gives a wonderfully naturalistic description of the Griffin in his encyclopedia of animals, De Natura Animalium: ‘Men commonly report that it is winged and that the feathers along its back are black, and those on its front are red, while the actual wings are neither but are white. And Ctesias records that its neck is variegated with feathers of a dark blue; that it has a beak like an eagle’s, and a head too, just as artists portray it in pictures and sculpture. Its eyes, he says, are like fire. It builds its lair among the mountains, and although it is not possible to capture a full-grown animal, they do take the young ones.‘ [ref] Aelian, On the Characteristics of Animals, translated A. F. Scholfield Loeb Classical Library [/ref] Close to a millennium later, Adrienne Mayor in her book, The First Fossil Hunters [ref] Adrienne Mayor, The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times (Princeton University Press 2000) revised 2011 with new introduction. [/ref] presents an intriguing theory that it was actually people coming across the fossilized bones of protoceratops in the mountains of central Asia, that gave rise… Continue reading

Coconut Shells and Griffin Eggs

When it comes to wealth, very little has changed over the centuries. Jewellery, works of art and exquisite furniture have filled collections from early times to the current day. In modern times, a list of the items in a collection might be assembled  for insurance purposes. In the past, sometimes a list was required just to know everything that a King had acquired and where it was kept, such as the 1379-80 inventory of King Charles V of France’s collection.[ref] Interpreting Objects and Collections Susan M. Pearce – Psychology Press, 1994 [/ref] Inventories of Noble families collections in the past occasionally reveal strange objects. One thing that was deemed valuable was a drinking cup crafted from the coconut shell. These days you can buy a coconut at the local supermarket, but during the middle ages, to reach Europe, a coconut would have to travel thousands of miles via the trans-Asian silk roads, making it an extremely scarce commodity. [ref] [/ref] Even by the 16th century when the Portuguese were importing coconuts via sea, they were still a rare and expensive object. The shells were fashioned into goblets and decorated with jewels and metalwork. But an even rarer object was… Continue reading