card
282

cyclops

OLogy Series
anthropology
card
282

cyclops

OLogy Series
anthropology

Throughout history, many cultures have told of mythic creatures of enormous size. The cyclopes are some of the most famous. These one-eyed giants were said to live on the island of Sicily, where the ancient Greeks found strange skulls with a large center hole. In fact, these skulls belonged to extinct elephants that once roamed the island. The hole was not a massive eye socket, but the place where the trunk attached.

The most famous cyclopes appeared in the Odyssey, an epic Greek poem written 2,700 years ago by the poet:

Homer

Plato

Shakespeare

Are you right?

Correct!

In Homer's Odyssey, the cyclopes are ugly, strong, and stubborn brutes. One cyclops, Polyphemus, captures the hero, Odysseus and his crew. But in the end, Odysseus outwits the cyclops and escapes.

The word "cyclopean" comes from the ancient Greek cyclopes. A cyclopean stone wall is:

well-constructed

built with huge stones

both of these

Are you right?

Correct!

A cyclopean wall is built with large stones that fit closely together, with no mortar holding them together. It was once said that only cyclopes had the skill and the strength to build such walls!

Cyclopes were just one type of humanlike giants described by ancient Greeks. The main evidence for these giants were leg bones of:

extinct mammals

extinct dinosaurs

extinct amphibians

Are you right?

Correct!

The bones came from massive, extinct animals like mammoths and woolly rhinoceroses that had lived in Greece. The bones were enormous, but surprisingly humanlike, so the ancient Greeks believed they were the remains of giants.

Laurel Kendall, anthropologist

The ancient Greeks found ways to describe their natural world. Their best explanation for a skull with a single, large gaping hole was a cyclops.

In ancient Greek mythology, cyclopes were skilled blacksmiths who worked under the volcano Mount Etna.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fact

According to the myths, they were blacksmiths to the gods. These skilled craftsman made Poseidon's trident and the thunderbolts for Zeus, the ruler of the gods.

Today, scientists no longer mistake animal bones for human bones.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fiction

Even scientists can be fooled! One study found that 15% of the "human" bones recorded in the FBI files were really animal bones.

Physical features: enormous, humanlike creature with a single eye in the middle of the forehead
Place of origin: Sicily, Italy
Significance: A creature from Greek mythology; some were blacksmiths to the gods; others, in Homer’s Odyssey, were stubborn brutes.

Image credits: Sean Murtha; Laurel Kendall: courtesy of AMNH.