There are many stories and folktales that we grow up listening to, but how real are they? The truth is that these myths or legends were based on real events. When these events were passed down through generations, the details shifted and it eventually faded into a legend. Here are 10 such myths or legends that turned out to be true.
1. The Hoàn Kiếm turtle actually existed.
The Hoàn Kiếm Turtle was a legendary creature living in Hoàn Kiếm lake in Vietnam. It was said to have appeared in front of the emperor to give him a sword and also reappeared to take it back once the war was won. No one knew of its existence until a fisherman caught it and beat it to death with a crowbar.
The legend of the Hoàn Kiếm turtle began with Lê Lợi, the king of the Lê Dynasty. According to the legend, it was said that Lê Lợi received a sword named “Heaven’s Will” from the Golden Turtle God to defeat the Chinese. Once they won the war, the legend says that the Golden Turtle God reappeared and prompted Lê Lợi to return “Heaven’s Will.”
The turtle was just a legendary creature, and no one knew of its existence until 1967 when a fisherman caught it and beat it with a crowbar instead of safely capturing it. It eventually died from the injuries it suffered. The turtle weighed up to 200 kg, and the last known Hoàn Kiếm turtle died in 2016. The legendary creature is now extinct. (source)
2. Gorillas were once considered a mythical animal.
Gorillas were once considered mythical animals that only existed in stories for a long time until they were identified by scientists in 1847.
I know it’s hard to believe, but gorillas were considered just a myth for a long time. In earlier days, when people came across these animals, they described them as giant, “human-like,” hairy monsters.
The world “gorilla” came from an explorer from 500 BCE who first came upon these beasts and called it “gorillae”. But it is unknown if the explorer actually came upon what we call gorillas these days or another type of ape.
Gorillas remained obscure for centuries and only existed in stories. Only in 1847, when physician Thomas Savage and naturalist Jeffries Wyman obtained several gorilla bones and skulls, did the people begin to believe in their existence and understand them better. (1, 2)
3. The existence of the black swan was once considered a myth.
The “black swan” was originally just a phrase used to describe something that was impossible to exist or an affront to nature. That was until they sailed into the swan lake in Western Australia in 1697.
The phrase “black swan” was derived from a Latin sentence “rara avis in terris nigroque simillima cygno” which means “a rare bird in the lands and very much like a black swan.” The phrase was coined when black swans were not known to exist, and it was commonly used as a statement of impossibility and a rare occurrence. It stems from the belief that all swans must be white since historical records only mention white swans.
The belief remained until Dutch explorers came upon the black swans in Western Australia in 1697. What was believed to be impossible was right in front of their eyes and thus, black swans being just a myth proven incorrect. The phrase then stood to disprove anything that is perceived as impossible to exist or affront to nature. (source)
4. There was a local legend of the King of Kanauj and his wife and their attendants dying on their pilgrimage because of a hailstorm.
The local legend of the King of Kanauj, his wife, and their attendants dying on their pilgrimage because of a hailstorm was proven true when mountaineers found a lake filled with bones.
There was a local legend of the King of Kanauj, Raja Jashaval, his pregnant wife, their servants, a dance troupe, and others going on a pilgrimage to the Nanda Devi Shrine where they were ravaged by a severe hailstorm which killed them all.
The legend also said that the hailstorm was caused by the wrath of goddess Nanda Devi because of their celebratory manner.
No one thought much of this legend until some mountaineers came upon Roopkund Lake that was filled with skeletons, confirming that what was thought to be a legend was indeed true. Researchers also discovered head injuries that could have occurred from small round objects which concluded that the victims were indeed caught in a hailstorm as described in the legends.
But the recent carbon-dating technology states that not all the skeletons present in the lake are because of that one particular catastrophic event and that it was accumulated through many years. The lake is now popularly known as “Skeleton Lake.” (1, 2)
5. The tale of massive eagles stealing babies in Maori was considered just a legend.
In Maori legends, there is a tale of a massive eagle that preyed on children, and science proved that it could be the truth.
According to a Maori legend, Te Hokioi, was a giant black-and-white bird, with a red crest and huge beak that preyed on children. The Maoris were native New Zealanders who told the stories of this massive bird swooping down and carrying away little children. This tale was passed down for generations and was usually thought of as an ancient legend.
But in recent years, researchers have found evidence for the existence of the massive bird that is spoken about in the legend. The bird is believed to be the Haast’s eagle that has been extinct for over 500 years. The CT scans of the eagle’s skeleton prove that it was an incredibly strong predator bird with talons that could pierce a human pelvis.
The eagle is believed to swoop down from mountain perches to snatch its prey. Since it primarily hunted moa, which were 12 feet tall, it is believed to be capable of killing children as well. Thus science proved that the Maori legend of Te Hokioi is true. (1, 2, 3)