10 Ancient Mysterious Creatures
We are a race of explorers, and in recent times we have come to understand the natural world like never before. But our planet still has secrets, and there is wildlife out there we simply do not know. These cryptid creatures have yet to be fully explained by science, but humanity has known of them for hundreds or even thousands of years. Here are 10 ancient mysterious creatures.
10. The Kraken
The Kraken is a sea-monster so gigantic it attacks ships, grabbing sailors from the decks to be swallowed in its moist maw, and dragging vessels to the depths of the ocean. Its name comes from the Norwegian word for a twisted animal, and the oldest descriptions of the kraken appear in viking sagas. The first detailed account of it came from the bishop of Bergen in 1752. Like most sightings over the centuries, he claimed it was a large cephalopod, which may explain its name.
The first thing ancient sailors saw would have been the kraken’s thick tentacles twisting their way out of the water. Traditionally, the kraken lives off the coasts of Norway and Greenland. Today, scientists believe the monster may really be the giant squid, which until recently was thought to be a myth. Giant squid can grow up to 13 metres long and have been seen all over the oceans. However, the giant squid’s abilities don’t quite match with all the stories of the kraken’s destructive might.
Tales of mermaids come from all over the world. Another marine beast, they are typically seen as beautiful women with fish tails. The oldest stories come from 1,000 B.C. in Assyria. Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder reported mermaids washing up on the shores of Gaul, and an 11th century church in England depicts a mermaid in a very familiar way. Christopher Columbus saw mermaids swimming off the coast of Spain in 1493, and the pirate Blackbeard recorded seeing mermaids several times.
In all accounts, mermaids live in the sea but can exist on land. There are many stories of them falling in love with humans, in China, in Europe and in the MIddle East. In Africa and Southeast Asia, they are mischievous, even deadly creatures. As a result, they are often confused with the Sirens of Ancient Greece, who caused shipwrecks by luring sailors with their enchanting song. Today, scientists believe the mermaid was inspired by sightings of the dugong. But the dugong does not have scales, like most mermaids are reported as having, and does not livein many areas where encounters have occurred.
8. The Mongolian Death Worm
Mongolian nomads have told of the death worm for a very long time. It is up to 1.5 metres long, with a bright-red skin that lends it its local name: the intestine worm. It isa very dangerous creature to toy with. Razor sharp spikes protrude from both ends of its body, and its venom turns its victims a disgusting shade of yellow. It is most commonly seen after a period of heavy rainfall, and feeds of rodents. Its bright red pigment comes from its birth process. It lays its eggs in the stomach of camels, and when the eggs hatch the young worms take on the colour of their bloody surroundings.
There have been many expeditions across the Gobi desert in search of the death worm. Since the environment is unfriendly to worms, cryptozoologists suggest it might be a species of worm lizard. But all known worm lizards are only one tenth the purported size of the Mongolian Death Worm, so it must be an exceptionally large species. So far, no-one has managed to catch one to study it.
7. The Dragon
There are dragons in the Bible. There are pictures of dragons from the neolithic era. But what's most remarkable about dragons isn't just how ancient they are, but how widespread. Almost every culture has its dragon and it is always depicted as an airborne, serpentine monster. There are some differences, of course. In India and Britain, dragons have wings and are typically dangerous forces of nature. In the Alps, numerous sightings of a wingless, serpentine predator not dissimilar to the Chinese dragon. But in China, dragons are seen as benevolent creatures, bringing good fortune.
Archaeologists and folklorists try to explain dragons as myths that developed from dinosaur bones or encounters with crocodiles, alligators and komodo dragons. But these animals live in specific places and don't have the same attributes as legendary dragons. More intriguingly, there are still sightings of dragons in the remote parts of the world. A flying lizard is fairly distinctive, hard to confuse with another beast - so perhaps dragons are not so mythical, after all?
6. The Jersey Devil
The Jersey Devil has been seen over 2,000 times since it was born in 1735. Though its mother was human, the Devil has reptilian skin, cloven hooves, horns, wings and a goat’s head. Along with thousands of witnesses who say they’ve seen the Devil, it has also left footprints in trees, in fields and on rooftops. The story goes that it murdered its own mother, but no-one who has seen the Devil has been seriously harmed by it.
There have been many hoaxes. From faked photographs to kangaroos with stuck-on wings, many people have claimed to have captured the Jersey Devil for real or on film. Historian Brian Regal thinks the whole monster is a fictional creation, made up to stir anti-British sentiment in the 18th century. Whether or not he is right, has yet to be proven. Then, of course there are the many, many witnesses to events that can’t be disproven. Is it simply a case of ongoing mass hysteria? With more encounters happening as time goes by, it is increasingly hard to tell.
In the Congo, there is a creature so ferocious it is called the “elephant killer” - the emela-ntouka. About the size of an elephant but the shape of a rhino, it is distinguished by its single horn and thick tail. The local Bantu tribes have reported many sightings of it, but it is too dangerous to capture. Despite its aggression, it is a herbivore, living in the waters and jungles of the Congo.
In the 1930s and 50s, explorers identified its similarities to a group of dinosaurs collectively called ceratopsia. If the emela-ntouka is a reptile, then it might just be a living dinosaur. But it wouldn’t be the only one in the Congo. There have also been many sightings of the mokele-mbebe, which bears a strong resemblance to a sauropod, both in physical appearance and its behavioural patterns. It is striking that reports of these dinosaur-like animals go far back in history, since no locals new about dinosaurs before westerners colonised Africa. Unfortunately, there is still no hard proof these monsters dwell in the thick forests of the Congo.
Take a trip to the lakes of Ireland, and you may see the hound of the deep - the dobhar-chú. It’s the size of a large crocodile, and looks like a hybrid of a hound and an otter. This amphibian moves at great speed, often attacking wayward travellers in pairs. If the victim manages to wound the first dobhar-chú, it will give off an eerie, high-pitched whistle: and the second hound will attack, killing and eating the unlucky victim.
The first recorded incident with a dobhar-chú was in 1684, and they have continued until as recently as the early noughties. Most sightings have occurred around Sraheens Lough on Achill Island in County Mayo, but it is believed to migrate around the lakes. The most famous encounter with a dobhar-chú was in 1722, when a woman called Gráinne Connolly went to a lake to bathe and wash her clothes. While she was at the water’s edge, she was attacked by the dobhar-chú. It savagely mutilated her and killed her. Her husband killed it in return - only to be chased for miles by its mate. The headstone of her grave depicts her killer, the dobhar-chú.
North America’s most famous cryptid likes to keep to itself. It is seen in sparsely populated, forested regions, as shown by this map of over 3,000 bigfoot sightings. Sightings of bigfoot, or sasquatch, increased massively over the latter half of the twentieth century. Some of them can be put down to famous hoaxes or movies, but there are just as many potentially legitimate sightings - tantalisingly supported by the evidence that gave it its name: large, humanoid footprints. These typically measure 18 centimetres wide and 40 centimetres long.
The first stories of bigfoot go back hundreds of years, from many separate tribes of Native Americans. They told of a 6-foot tall, hairy wildman who lurked in woods. European settlers spread these stories, and eventually realised that many sightings all over the country could be of the same species of animal. Just whether bigfoot is dangerous depends on whom you ask. Some reports describe it as violent, others as a man-eater, and others as a shy, ape-like creature. Yet, besides big footprints, there is very little hard proof that bigfoot exists. Scientists dismiss it as a myth. Nevertheless, every year dozens of people see something in the trees, in the same portion of the country - and can all those footprints be fake?
2. Black Shuck
A ghostly creature roams the countryside of east England. The many who have seen it, say it is a large dog with shaggy hair, known as Black Shuck. The figure of a black dog is a common feature in English folklore. It is often viewed as an omen of death. But there is something about the geographical specificity of Black Shuck that makes him different. The earliest recorded sighting of Shuck was 900 years ago. Then in 1577, he burst through the doors of a church, ran through the congregation up the nave, and killed a man and a boy.
The steeple collapsed and as he went out, Shuck left scorch marks on the north door, which can still be seen today. Shuck’s appearances continued well into the twentieth century, when in 1945 it pursued a man on a bicycle going twenty miles an hour, before vanishing without a trace. In 2014 the skeleton of a large male canine was found in the grounds of Leiston Abbey. When the bones were examined with carbon dating, the results were intriguingly inconclusive. The remains dated from either “1650-1690, 1730-1810 or post 1920”. Could these be the bones of Black Shuck?
1. The Loch Ness Monster
The first report of Scotland’s most famous wildlife comes from the 6th century A.D., when Irish missionary Saint Columba passed Loch Ness and confronted a giant monster that had just killed a local man. Since then, sightings of Nessie have continued down the centuries. The loch itself is certainly big enough to hide a large creature - 37 kilometres long and 230 metres deep. It is also sufficiently isolated to allow an animal to grow and live separately from the rest of its species. Because of this, many investigators have studied descriptions of the Loch Ness monster and concluded it might be a survivor of a long lost era. Specifically, they think Nessie may be a descendent of the plesiosaur, which lived 65 million years ago.
However, scientists have offered alternate explanations as to what Nessie really is. Apart from the proven hoaxes, they argue that sightings of the monster are really witnesses either mistaking waves for a monster, or simply seeing what they want to see. Several recent sonar scans of the loch have found nothing. This may disprove the last century’s worth of sightings, but not all the historical instances. If Nessie is no longer alive, its remains may lie scattered at the bottom. So, unless we drain all 7.5 cubed kilometres of water, we will never really know.
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