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Medieval illustrations of what Europeans thought elephants looked like

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 05, 2018

Medieval Elephants

For his Elephas Anthropogenus project, Uli Westphal collected European illustrations of elephants dating from the fall of Rome to the end of the Renaissance, a period of time when very few people actually knew what an elephant looked like.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, elephants virtually disappeared from Western Europe. Since there was no real knowledge of how this animal actually looked, illustrators had to rely on oral and written transmissions to morphologically reconstruct the elephant, thus reinventing an actual existing creature. This tree diagram traces the evolution of the elephant depiction throughout the middle ages up to the age of enlightenment.

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