How to spot a unicorn horn (and other mythical beasts)
Before science uncovered what fossils really are, our ancestors thought these creatures in stone were proof of mythical beasts.
The Lapworth Museum of Geology, two minutes’ walk from Old Joe, showcases a fantastic range of fossils that were once thought to be from unicorns, sea dragons, gnomes and much more.
With free entry to everybody, the Lapworth’s regular family fun days uncover the real animals behind the magical stories, and offer kids of all ages the chance to learn more about fossils.
What they were believed to be: Medieval people believed that unicorn horns could purify water, treat illnesses and cure people who had been poisoned. They put huge efforts into finding unicorn horns.
What they really are: Mammoth tusks, narwhal horns, rhino horns or cow horns.
What they were believed to be: Early scientists might not have fully believed in dragons, but before the discovery of dinosaurs and marine reptiles, they had no other possible explanation.
What they really are: Ichthyosaurs, meaning fish lizard, ranged from 1 metres to 16 metres long. An ichthyosaur has even been found close to Birmingham near Stratford-Upon-Avon.
What they were believed to be: In Scandinavia these long thin fossils were thought to be candles that gnomes lit to protect children from trolls. Elsewhere, they were also known as Devil’s Fingers or thunderbolts.
What they really are: The only part of a Belemnite, an extinct squid-like creature, which turns into a hard fossil. Traces in stones show that they also had 10 arms, filled with hooks, with which to stab and hold their prey.
What they were believed to be: A 7th century English legend tells how St Hilda turned snakes into stone to clear space for a convent. Collectors restored the ‘missing’ snake heads by carving them into the fossil.
What they really are: Ammonites; named after an even older belief that they were the coiled horns of a ram, a creature associated with the Greek god Ammon.
Want to win a set of dinosaur goodies from the Lapworth Museum of Geology? Answer one simple question...
What curled fossils were once believed to be petrified snakes?