The Real Reason People Used To Believe Griffins Existed

People are still people, no matter how far back you go, and that's got its comfort, as well as its alarm. There are tales of selflessness and sacrifice and generosity going back as far as the oral tradition stretches, no matter the culture. And there are probably stories that pair up nicely with Sid, the mean kid in Toy Story who created chimeras out of his (and his sister's) toys. A little of this, a little of that, and voilà, look what I made! I put a bird head on a lion body! Ain't that cool? ("Has anybody seen my eagle?" "No, Dad....")

The griffin — also gryphon (says Mythology), also grypes (says Theoi) — traditionally is a blend of an eagle's front crafted onto the body of a lion. In some incarnations, says Ancient Origins, the beastie would have the head and wings and talons of the bird, with the lion section making up the rest of the more or less boring bit. However it comes about, with whatever variations on a theme, you have to know that at some campfire long, long ago, somebody said, "Wouldn't it be cool if...."

Depictions of griffins date back thousands of years

They show up regularly in the mythology of Ancient Greece — Herodotus mentions them, writing around the middle 400s BCE — but they also crop up in the art of Ancient Persia and Ancient Egypt from around 6,000 years ago. Encyclopedia Britannica refers to griffins as "a favourite decorative motif."

While they show up in different places, in slightly different configurations, griffins are most often associated with gold. (And be honest: You would be, too.) Supposedly they guarded gold deposits in Asia, around the Gobi Desert and elsewhere. And here we find a little griffin backstory: that's a part of the world where archaeologists have found numerous fossils of protoceratops, which had — as you've probably already guessed — a hooked beak. The fossils aren't even that deep, and might have appeared from time to time with relatively little disturbance of the soil. A little of this, a little of that, and voilà — "Look at all the gold I found! Not only that, but let me tell you about the fearsome beasts I had to defeat to get it! Somebody go get Sid — he'll want to hear this...."