Unicorn History Pt3

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Unicorn History Pt3

Post  jof on Wed Apr 29, 2009 5:32 pm

Heraldry

In heraldry, a unicorn is depicted as a horse with a goat's cloven hooves and beard, a lion's tail, and a slender, spiral horn on its forehead. Whether because it was an emblem of the Incarnation or of the fearsome animal passions of raw nature, the unicorn was not widely used in early heraldry, but became popular from the 15th century. Though sometimes shown collared, which may perhaps be taken in some cases as an indication that it has been tamed or tempered, it is more usually shown collared with a broken chain attached, showing that it has broken free from its bondage and cannot be taken again.


Unicorn supporter of the arms of Scotland

It is probably best known from the royal coat of arms of Scotland and the United Kingdom: two unicorns support the Scottish arms; a lion and a unicorn support the UK arms. The arms of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries in London has two golden unicorn supporters (although, as emblazoned on its homepage, they have horses', not lions', tails).


Arms of Saint-Lô, France

Origins

Hunts for an actual animal as the basis of the unicorn myth, accepting the conception of writers in Antiquity that it really existed somewhere at the edge of the known earth, have added a further layer of mythologizing about the unicorn. These have taken various forms, interpreted in a scientific, rather than a wonder-filled manner, to accord with modern perceptions of reality.

Alleged evidence

Among numerous finds of prehistoric bones found at Einhornhöhle (Unicorn Cave) in Germany's Harz Mountains, some were selected and reconstructed by the mayor of Magdeburg, Otto Von Guericke, as a unicorn in 1663 (illustration, right). Guericke's so-called unicorn had only two legs, and was constructed from fossil bones of a Woolly rhinoceros and a mammoth, with the horn of a narwhal. The skeleton was examined by Gottfried Leibniz, who had previously doubted the existence of the unicorn, but was convinced by it.[17]

Baron Georges Cuvier maintained that as the unicorn was cloven-hoofed it must therefore have a cloven skull (making the growth of a single horn impossible); to disprove this, Dr. W. Franklin Dove, a University of Maine professor, artificially fused the horn buds of a calf together, creating a one-horned bull.[18]

P. T. Barnum once exhibited a unicorn skeleton, which was exposed as a hoax.[citation needed]

Since the rhinoceros is the only known extant land animal to possess a single horn, it has often been supposed that the unicorn legend originated from encounters between Europeans and rhinoceroses. The Woolly Rhinoceros would have been quite familiar to ice age people, or the legend may have been based on the rhinoceroses of Africa. Europeans and West Asians have visited Sub-Saharan Africa for as long as we have records.


Otto Von Guericke's unicorn skeleton, exhibit near the Zoo, Osnabrück

Unicorn seals of the Indus Valley Civilization

The first objects unearthed from Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro were small stone seals inscribed with elegant depictions of animals, including a unicorn-like figure in upper left, and marked with Indus script writing which still baffles scholars. These seals are dated back to 2500 B. C. Source: North Park University, Chicago, Illinois.(Image : A Harappa Seals.)

This seal is a close-up of the unicorn-like animal found in Mohenjo-daro, measures 29mm (1.14 inches) on each side and is made of heated Steatite. "Steatite is an easily carved soft stone that becomes hard after firing. On the top are four pictographs of an as yet undeciphered Indus script, one of the first writing systems in history." Image source Dept. of Archaeology and Museums, Govt. of Pakistan.(Image : A Harappa Unicorn.)

Elasmotherium or rhinoceros

One suggestion is that the unicorn is based on the extinct animal Elasmotherium, a huge Eurasian rhinoceros native to the steppes, south of the range of the woolly rhinoceros of Ice Age Europe. Elasmotherium looked little like a horse, but it had a large single horn in its forehead. It became extinct about the same time as the rest of the glacial age megafauna[citation needed].

However, according to the Nordisk familjebok (Nordic Familybook) and science writer Willy Ley the animal may have survived long enough to be remembered in the legends of the Evenk people of Russia as a huge black bull with a single horn in the forehead.


The elasmotherium.

In support of this claim, it has been noted that the 13th century traveller Marco Polo claimed to have seen a unicorn in Java, but his description makes it clear to the modern reader that he actually saw a Javan Rhinoceros. Perhaps additional supporting evidence can be found in the fact that a rhinoceros' horn reacts with alkaloids by turning a different color[citation needed]. A majority of the medieval poisons were made from alkaloids[citation needed], which coincides with the myth that unicorn horns change color when a poison is placed within them.

A single-horned goat

The connection that is sometimes made with a single-horned goat derives from the vision of Daniel:

And as I was considering, behold, a he-goat came from the west over the face of the whole earth, and touched not the ground: and the goat had a notable horn between his eyes. Daniel 8:5

In the domestic goat, a rare deformity of the generative tissues can cause the horns to be joined together[citation needed]; such an animal could be another possible inspiration for the legend. Antiquities researcher Timothy Zell also produced artificial unicorns dubbed "the Living Unicorn", remodelling the "horn buds" of goat kids in such a way that their horns grew together into a single one.[19] Zell theorized that this process might have been used in the past to create court curiosities and natural herd leaders, because the goat was able to use this long straight horn effectively as a weapon and a tool. Medieval art often depicts unicorns as small, with cloven hooves and beards, sometimes resembling goats more than horses with horns. This process is possible only with animals that naturally have horns. For a time, a few of these unicorns travelled with the Ringling Brothers Circus.
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