Swifter than eagles! Stronger than lions!*



Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, 1971; AOL Time Warner

Nope, not the *Hsawaknow but extraordinary beasts instead, arising from where the fantastical and the wondrous collide.


Some animals are so exotic that their initial discovery is difficult to comprehend. Stories of griffins, dragons and more may seem like tall tales to us today, but most mythical beasts actually have a basis in reality. People who unearthed odd bones and stones often relied on religious and cultural stories to explain what they had uncovered.


More than two thousand years ago, gold miners sought their fortunes in the vast Gobi Desert. These miners were Scythians—nomadic people among the earliest to master mounted warfare. Relying on their accounts, Greek writers reported that in the sweltering heat of the desert, the miners battled the mighty griffin—a fierce half-eagle, half-lion hybrid that ferociously guarded extravagant treasures of gold. Because the lion was traditionally considered the king of the beasts and the eagle the king of birds, the griffin was thought to be an especially powerful and majestic creature.



Joannes Jonstonus (1603-1675). Historiae Naturalis; Griffon (Tab. 62); 1657. (590 J73 vol. 2)


Classical folklorist and historian Adrienne Mayor, Ph.D. argues that the many similarities between Protoceratops dinosaur fossils and griffins indicate that the mythic creature likely originated from ancient paleontological observations.

The Greeks and Romans developed sophisticated concepts to explain the fossil evidence, concepts that were expressed in mythological stories.


griffons3Protoceratops. Mick Ellison/American Museum of Natural History



Dragons are among the most popular and enduring of the world’s mythological creatures. These fabulous creatures of classical mythology continue to live in the modern imagination. Dragon tales are known in many cultures, and they populate our books, films, and television shows, shown as playful to fearsome.

A variety of creatures’ remains have been said to belong to dragons. With their enormous size, reptilian shape and threatening teeth and claws, some dragons might easily be taken for cousins of Tyrannosaurus rex. The fossil remains of extinct animals have sometimes been taken for dragon bones—and helped perpetuate old dragon stories.



Falkor, Toothless, Drogon, Smaug


Fossils of lepidodendron (an ancient tree-like plant) have also been exhibited as dragon skins, even as recent as 1851, when pieces found were said to be of the body of a gigantic fossil serpent.

“The idea that impressive fossils played a role in how people of the past imagined monsters and giants has been influential on several surprising fronts. People now realize that in fossiliferous lands, the bizarre bones of extinct creatures could help to explain dragon imagery” writes Dr. Mayor.


griffons6Black Country Museum

… and more!

Join Dr. Adrienne Mayor of Stanford University and HMNS on October 20 for a paleomythology lecture on Mythological Beasts: Dragons, Griffins – and Dinosaurs? and a fun-filled Family Talk October 22 on The Griffin and the Dinosaur. Book signing of The First Fossil Hunters: Dinosaurs, Mammoths, and Myth in Greek and Roman Times and The Griffin and the Dinosaur: How Adrienne Mayor Discovered a Fascinating Link Between Myth and Science will follow both programs. Sponsored by AIA, Houston Society with support by KPMG.

The Mythology of Love [Museum Store]

You know what time it is? Valentine’s Time. And whether you’re a devotee of Cupid or a this-holiday-was-invented-by-Hallmark humbug, our museum store has a range of gifts you’ll love giving – or receiving.

Check out these these heart-warming selections – each was chosen based on an ancient cultural belief or historic tradition associated with the material from which it’s made – meaning your gift will be much more than just jewelry. It will be a story that you’ll both remember forever.*

Check out our full list of Valentine’s Selections – and Get 10% Off!


Amethysts are a guy’s best friend! Greek and English legends attribute many virtues to this stone, thought to aid the warrior in victory and make a man shrewd in business.

The Greek word amethystos translates to “not drunken.” Amethyst was considered to be a strong antidote against drunkenness or lovesickness; wine goblets were often carved of this stone.

Amethysts are also a perfect way to make your woman feel like a queen on Valentine’s! February’s birthstone was associated with royalty by the Europeans – this stone is featured in the British Crown Jewels.

Mythology of Love
Shop local! These gorgeous amethyst earrings are set with
24kt gold vermeil by local designer Via Vandi. Earrings: $280. Members: $252.
See more amethyst selections.


Give the stars: in Roman mythology, diamonds are splinters of stars that the god Eros used as arrow tips. You can put them to a much more romantic use.

Mythology of Love
Handmade by Houston designer Rebecca Lankford, this 14kt gold necklace features
two sweet details: a lovely heart, and 3 multi-color raw Indian diamonds.
Necklace: $430.  Members: $387.
See more diamond selections.


Venus is the Roman goddess of love – and also the brightest natural object in the night sky. Show your significant other how much they brighten your life.

Mythology of Love
Washington glassblowers Glass Eye Studio create this stunning recreation of the galaxy’s
most romantic planet from Handblown and dichroic glass. Paperweight: $135. Members: $121.50
See our other Valentine’s gift ideas.


Butterflies flirt. In their courting dance, each partner moves away in various directions yet always comes back to the other. This behavior has made these insects symbols of love, especially in Japan.

Late Roman artifacts often portrayed Prometheus making humankind while Minerva stood nearby holding aloft a butterfly, which represented the soul.

Show your soul mate how much they mean to you with these naturally collected butterflies – which come from butterfly ranches that support rain forest conservation.

Mythology of Love

“Purple haze” butterfly specimen box by Houston artist Todd McKamy. $145.00. Members: $130.50.
“Ascia buniae” butterfly specimen $25.00. Members: $22.50.
See more butterfly selections.


Pearls are associated with Greek Aphrodite, goddess of love – you can’t get much more romantic than that.

Or maybe you can: according to Arabic mythology, the pearl was created when a moonlight-filled dew drop fell into the sea.

Pearls were also associated with the Moon in Hindu culture, where they were symbols of love and purity. Hindu texts say that Krishna discovered the first pearl, which he presented to his daughter on her wedding day.

Mythology of Love
Handmade in Thailand, this stunning bracelet features freshwater pearl and leather.
From Nakamol Design. Bracelet: $46. Members: $41.40.
See more pearl selections.


Imagine that you’ve been parted from your true love, stuck on a long sea voyage, thinking of nothing but her – and fish – for months. You’re heading home, and you want to bring her something that will express the depth of your long-held affection.  it might look something like this:

Mythology of Love: Sailor's Valentine
Evoke old-style romance with a mirror inspired by traditional Sailor’s Valentines!
“Sailor’s valentine” style mirror: $24. Members: $21.60.
See our other gift selections for Valentine’s Day!


She’s the center of your universe – why not give her something associated with the Sun? Rubies belong to the Sun according to the Jyotish, an ancient Asian Indian classification of gems and astrology. They are also said to grant the bearer great success in love.

Mythology of Love

Rubies, oxidized sterling silver chain, 14kt gold. Handmade by Houston designer Rebecca Lankford.
Earrings: $380. Members: $342.
See more selections in ruby.

Much more is available in store!

Check out our full list of Valentine’s Selections – and Get 10% Off!

100 years – 100 Objects: Aztec Stone Figure

The Houston Museum of Natural Science was founded in 1909 – meaning that the curators of the Houston Museum of Natural Science have been collecting and preserving natural and cultural treasures for a hundred years now. For this yearlong series, our current curators have chosen one hundred exceptional objects from the Museum’s immense storehouse of specimens and artifacts—one for each year of our history. Check back here frequently to learn more about this diverse selection of behind-the-scenes curiosities—we will post the image and description of a new object every few days.

This description is from Dirk, the museum’s curator of anthropology. He’s chosen a selection of objects that represent human cultures throughout time and around the world, that we’ll be sharing here – and at 100.hmns.org – throughout the year.

aztecThis stone figure is a silent witness to one of the best known Pre-Columbian civilizations, the Aztecs. Aztec history chronicles a meteoric rise of a band of hunters and gatherers who, in few centuries, went from a nomadic lifestyle to that of city-dwelling empire builders. While their ascent to power was phenomenal, their demise was cataclysmic. Only three years after meeting the Spanish for the first time, Aztec civilization ceased to exist as an independent political entity.

The statue depicts Chalchiutlicue, a goddess of water (literally her name means “She of the Jade Skirt.”)

Explore thousands of years of Native American history in the John P. McGovern Hall of the Americas, a permanent exhibition at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

You can see more images of this fascinating artifact – as well as the others we’ve posted so far this year – in the 100 Objects section at 100.hmns.org