Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Lions and Tigers and.....Satyrs? Oh my!

There is an interesting story in USA Today which, if true, would definitely qualify as "Weird Archaeology." There was a recent discovery of a preserved human body in an Iranian salt mine. The dry conditions in such locations help preserve soft tissue and hair, and there have been other such discoveries in recent years. The dessication creates shriveled-up faces and snub noses on the bodies. This observation has led Adrienne Mayor of Stanford University to suggest that the discovery of such bodies lay behind the ancient Greek stories of satyrs -- humanoid creatures that are generally depicted with goats' legs, pot bellies, prominent phalluses, snub noses and prominent beards. Mayor is known for her hypotheses that discoveries of fossilized animals lie behind many ancient myths of giants and monsters -- for example, a mastodon's skull, with its prominent nasal opening, could have been the inspiration for the cyclops.

One piece of suggestive evidence is an account of a visit of the Emperor Constantine to Antioch in the early 4th century A.D., where, it is recounted, he was shown the remains of a 'satyr' which had been preserved in salt. Could he have been looking at a body like those from the Iranian salt mines? It's a tempting idea, although not something we could ever definitively establish.

1 comment:

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