THE following passages, gleaned from ancient Greek and Latin sources, present evidence of encounters with prehistoric fossils in antiquity: they refer to the remains of giants and monsters, large skeletons, footprints in stone, and petrified shells, marine organisms, and plants. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list of all classical literary allusions to fossils, but this collection from thirty-two authors (arranged alphabetically) gives a good idea of the wide-ranging chronology and geography of the ancient interest in remarkable remains that we recognize as fossils. Translations adapted from standard translations in Loeb volumes, unless otherwise noted.
On Animals 16.39. “Historians of Chios assert that near Mount Pelinnaeus in a wooded glen there was a dragon of gigantic size who made the Chians shudder. No farmer or shepherd dared approach the monster’s lair. But a miraculous event allowed the discovery of how large it really was. During a violent lightning storm a forest fire destroyed the entire region of the wooded slopes…. After the fire, all the Chians came to see and discovered the bones of gigantic size and a terrifying skull. From these the villagers were able to imagine how large and terrible the brute was when alive.”