11 Famous Legends That Actually Have Rational Explanations
We are sure that some people still believe that unicorns are real. It’s nice to think that they do exist, and we just haven’t found them yet. However, even a myth about this creature can be explained in a pretty trivial and not-so-scary way.
If you start feeling that Bright Side is too skeptical and that we don’t believe in magic, then read the entire article — there is a true miracle at the end!
11. The Great Flood
Scientists think that the Great Flood myth is based on the memories of a huge flood that happened in Mesopotamia. At the beginning of the previous century, when archaeologists were excavating the Tomb of Ur, they found a layer of clay that split 2 cultures. Only a catastrophic flooding of the Rivers Tigris and Euphrates could lead to such a phenomenon.
According to other data, an unbelievably large flood happened on the coast of the Black Sea 10,000 to 15,000 years ago. This version was confirmed when scientists found seashells in the West Siberia territory. The closest sea is the Black Sea. This flood must have been so strong that in the place where Bosphorus is today, there was an enormous waterfall that had 40 cubic kilometers of water a day (this is 200 times more than the volume of water going through Niagara Falls). A flow this strong could continue for at least 300 days.
This version seems a little crazy. However, if it’s true, there is no way we can say that ancient people exaggerated things!
In Ireland, they still tell stories about people of great height who can create an island just by taking a handful of sand and throwing it into the water. Márta Korbonits, Professor of Endocrinology, thought that these ancient stories might have some historical grounds. It’s unbelievable, but scientists have found what they were looking for. As it turned out, many Irish people have mutations in the AIP gene. These mutations are the reason for acromegaly and gigantism. For example, in Great Britain, such mutations are rare (about 1 in 2,000 people), and in Mid Ulster the mutations are very frequent (1 in 150).
One of the most famous Irish giants was Charles Byrne (1761-1783). He was more than 7.5 feet tall.
According to legends, giants were extremely strong, but they actually weren’t. People suffering from gigantism and acromegaly often have cardiovascular diseases, vision problems, and joint pains. Without proper treatment, most giants die before the age of 30.
There are a few possible origins of the legends about werewolves. Firstly, people’s lives have always been connected with forests. There are archaeological remains and cave paintings of a combination of people and animals from very ancient times. People wanted to be stronger, so they chose a spirit animal and wore its skin. Drug potions worked based on these beliefs too. Warriors took them before battles and imagined that they were unbeatable wolves.
Secondly, the belief in the existence of werewolves was supported by the genetic condition hypertrichosis, which is an abnormal amount of hair growth over the body and face. It was called the “werewolf syndrome.” Only in 1963 did Dr. Lee Illis give this disease a medical name. There is also a psychological disorder. Lycanthropy is a delusion that the affected person can transform into a non-human animal. And people believed that this disorder became stronger in different lunar phases.
By the way, according to some sources, the wolf from Little Red Riding Hood was a werewolf. And he didn’t eat the grandma; he made the girl eat her.
Porphyria is a rare genetic disorder: only 1 in 200,000 people have it. If one of the parents has porphyria, then their child has a 25% chance of having it.
This disease causes a pigment imbalance, and hemoglobin starts to decay because of ultraviolet rays. People who have this disease suffer from sunlight very much, so the only time they can leave their homes is at night.
In severe cases (we don’t recommend clicking the link if you have a weak stomach), people’s tendons get deformed, which leads to crooked fingers. The skin around the lips and gums gets dry, and incisors become more prominent and turn a shade of red. So, in other words, people look a lot like vampires. And garlic makes them feel even worse. In the Middle Ages, people who had porphyria were burned by the Inquisition.
The theory about the connection between the bones of dinosaurs and dragons started in Mongolia. There, the word “dragon” is found with different geographical names. This is because, in some regions of the Gobi Desert, anyone can find the bones of dinosaurs. They are found on Earth’s surface. There are still a lot of them there, so many that there are illegal excavations all the time. An important fact: there are no such myths in Africa because there is no access to the remains of dinosaurs.
But why do we imagine dragons to be like reptiles with claws and scales? This is explained by how we notice things. The skeletons look a lot like the bones of modern lizards, snakes, and crocodiles. If you make these animals a few times bigger, they will look like dragons. By the way, lizards and snakes sometimes have 2 heads instead of one, just like some imaginary dragons.
The image of centaurs was already known in the second millennium BC. Presumably, it appeared in Greece as a fantasy of educated people who didn’t know anything about horseriding. After they saw the horsemen of some northern nomadic tribes, such as the Scythians, the Tauri, or the Kassites, they probably imagined something like centaurs. The nomads lived on the road, they were great archers, and they could travel very quickly. The exaggerated fear of a farmer who saw a person traveling so quickly on a horse probably turned into a story of a half man/half horse.
However, Pliny the Elder, who lived in the 1st century AD, wrote that he saw a centaur with his own eyes. It was preserved in honey and sent from Egypt as a gift for the Emperor. Centaurs were thought to be the result of genetic experiments of Egyptian priests.
We at Bright Side don’t really believe in this theory, but because scientists managed to make a human-pig, maybe it’s true.
5. The Labyrinth of the Minotaur
According to an ancient Greek legend, under the palace of King Minos was a huge labyrinth. In the labyrinth, there was a terrible monster: the Minotaur. The monster was so bloodthirsty that its roar made Earth shake.
Crete (the island where the monster lived) is famous for its curious seismic activity. The island is situated on 2 plates, and one of them is moving under the other. This geological phenomenon is called subduction. The risk of earthquakes is very high in such areas. The situation in Crete is worsened by the African plate pressing on the Nubian plate (the island is on it), so the island is kind of pushed to the surface. Since the start of the civilization, Crete has survived a few such lifts (some of them were as high as 22 feet). It’s no wonder that ancient people thought that there was a furious monster underground. Every earthquake led to terrible destruction.
In ancient Greek mythology, cyclopes are either godly creatures (the children of Gaia and Uranus) or just people. The most famous example was Polyphemus, the son of Poseidon. Odysseus took the only eye he had. The Arimaspi were also thought to be a tribe of one-eyed people of northern Scythia.
Now for the scientific grounds of these myths. In 1914, Othenio Abel, an Australian paleobiologist, had an idea that ancient people found the skulls of dwarf elephants. This led to the myth about cyclopes because the hole in the center of the skulls (which was actually the nose) could have been mistaken for a giant eye socket. It’s curious that such elephants lived only in Cyprus, Malta, and Crete.
3. Sodom and Gomorrah
We don’t know about you, but we’ve always thought that Sodom and Gomorrah was a very big myth that most likely represented sinful cities. But, as it turns out, it’s a historical fact.
It’s been a decade since the huge excavation of an ancient city started in Tall el-Hammam in Jordan. The archaeologists are sure they’ve found Sodom. The approximate location of the city has always been known because the Bible said that Sodom was near the River Jordan. However, its exact location had always been a mystery.
In 2006, when the excavation started, the scientists found a huge ancient settlement that was surrounded by a big wall. According to the researchers, people lived here between the years 3500 and 1540 BC. There is no other possible name for the city because, otherwise, its name would be recorded in written sources.
The kraken is a legendary mythical sea creature of enormous size, a huge squid known from stories told by sailors. The first detailed description was written by Erik Pontoppidan: he wrote that the kraken was an animal as big as an island. According to him, the creature could grab a huge ship with its tentacles and drag it to the bottom of the sea. But what was much more dangerous was the whirlpool it could cause when it went to the bottom of the sea so quickly. The death of a ship was inevitable: either the monster killed it in an attack, or it killed as it tried to escape. Really creepy!
The origin of this myth is quite simple: huge squids still exist, and they can be as big as 52 meters. They look really impressive with claws/teeth on their tentacles, but they can only be dangerous if they push someone from above. If people today get very scared when they see a creature like this, you can imagine the feelings of sailors of the Middle Ages. For them, a giant squid might have looked like a real monster.
When it comes to unicorns, we start imagining an elegant creature with a rainbow horn on its forehead. It is curious that there is information about unicorns in myths and legends from different countries. The very first pictures of unicorns were found in India, and they are more than 4,000 years old. Later, the myth spread around the continent and reached ancient Rome, where unicorns were thought to be real animals.
The main “candidate” for the role of the origin of unicorns is the Elasmotherium, a rhino that lived in Eurasia during the Ice Age. Elasmotheriums looked a little bit like a horse with a very long horn in the forehead. They became extinct together with other animals of that age. However, according to the materials of Nordisk familjebok and the arguments of researcher Willy Ley, some of these animals could have continued to exist for quite a long time after, and this is why we have legends about them.
Bonus: The Path of Moses
Most likely everyone heard this story from the Bible about the sea that parted for Moses. But very few people know that this phenomenon can be observed not far from Jindo Island in North Korea. Here, the water between the islands parts for an entire hour to open a long wide road! Scientists think that this miracle is not a miracle at all but happens due to the difference of times of ebbs and flows.
Of course, there are many thousands of tourists there: you can walk there and look at all the sea animals. Another surprising thing is that the Path of Moses leads from the continent to the island.
Which legend impressed you the most? Tell us in the comments!
Preview photo credit Summit Entertainment