Here be monsters - and they may not be so far fetched

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The Independent Online
The Unicorn's eye fell upon Alice ... "What is this? he said at last.

"This is a child," Haigha said eagerly ... "We only found it today. It's as large as life and twice as natural."

"I always thought they were fabulous monsters," said the Unicorn.

Alice began: "Do you know, I always thought Unicorns were fabulous monsters too ..."

"Well, now that we have seen each other," said the Unicorn. "If you'll believe in me, I'll believe in you. Is that a bargain?"

"If you like," said Alice.

From 'Through the Looking Glass' by Lewis Carroll.

SOMEWHERE deep in the unexplored jungles of South-east Asia, the Yeti could still be lurking.

Skulls belonging to a giant ape that was at least 7ft tall have been found there, and many scientists believe they may have been the precursor of the Yeti.

An exhibition at London's Natural History Museum has brought together the mythological tales of fantastic creatures such as the Cyclops, the Yeti and the dragon, and the scientific evidence in an effort to unravel fact from fiction.

Stories of giant, hairy human-like creatures living in remote mountain ranges and forests have persisted throughout history and, using fossilised skulls, scientists at the museum have created a10ft tall Yeti which chews on bamboo and roars menacingly at the humans below.

Professor Chris Stringer, director of palaeontology at the museum, believes the Yeti may well exist, but not in the Himalayas. "Explorers have returned with tales of giant footprints but we know that they can be distorted when they thaw and re-freeze so that is not compelling evidence," he said.

"However, we know that gigantopithecus, a 7ft tall gorilla-like animal, lived on bamboo shoots in the forests of South-east Asia and it could be closely related to the Yeti.

"There is no hard evidence to prove or disprove the theory and there are enormous areas of South-east Asia that have not been explored so we cannot rule it out completely."

The exhibition also explores the myth of the Cyclops which, according to Greek legend, were a race of fearsome giants living in caves.

Gnawing on a bloody goat's leg, the re-creation of this monster casts a terrifying glare around the gallery with its single giant eye.

But scientists now believe that fossil bones of dwarf elephants, which used to live on the Mediterranean islands, may have given rise to the myth. The huge nasal socket in the skull, which was in fact the base of the elephant's trunk, resembles an eye hole and the remains of the tusks look like giant teeth.

Dr Angela Milner, a leading expert on dinosaurs, said: "The ancient Greeks would never have seen elephants so it was a natural association to assume that the skull belonged to a giant one-eyed man.

"We have found scientific explanations for most of the monsters that exist in legend and in many cases there is a logical explanation."

The unicorn has long been popular in legend with tales of the healing power of its horn but scientists believe the myth could have arisen from the discovery of a rhinoceros skull.

Popular in both Oriental and Christian mythology, the dragon could have been born out of exaggerated tales of giant lizards seen by travellers. Later discoveries of dinosaur skulls fuelled the myth.

But sadly for believers in the Loch Ness monster, the news is not good. Recent explorations of the loch did indeed discover new species - but nothing bigger than a microscopic worm.

t "Myths and Monsters" opens on Sunday 5 April and runs until 13 September at the Natural History Museum. Admission: pounds 6 adults, pounds 3 children.