Cryptozoology: The First Documented Case?

From Scott Corrales
UFO DIgest Latin America Correspondent

By Javier Resines

Any discipline worth its salt has a more or less well defined point of departure, based upon a specific event or the presence of a given researcher or any other reason. This situation can be hard to pin down at times, as can be the case with cryptozoology, where there is no definite date that marks the start of this science. The first photo of Nessie, perhaps? Or the publication of the first book by Heuvelmans? Each individual probably has a starting point in his or her own head.

It is not our intention to kick off a debate on the subject, which we find absurd. What we want to show is that if there has indeed been a starting point with regard to the study of unknown animals, it occurred in an earlier age. A cryptozoological prehistory, so to speak, in which spectacular cases involving strange animals occurred, even if there were no researchers to disseminate the phenomenon explicitly.

And apropos of this, we have perhaps come across what may be the first documented cryptozoological case in the history of Spain. Our reporter of the age is none other than Roman author and scientist Gaius Plinius Cecilius Secundus (23-79 B.C.E.) better known as Pliny the Elder. His vast work Historia Naturalis, which collects all of the knowledge of his age with regard to zoology, botany and other sciences in 37 volumes, mentions the case of a “polyp” that killed off all the fish in the wells of Carteia, a city adjacent to modern San Roque, in Cadiz, where the salted meat and fish works of the time were housed.

  Pliny mentions an item found by another Roman naturalist from the previous century – Trebius Niger in the third volume of his Natural History, in which he writes:

[…] for he affirmed, that at Carteia there was one of these Polypi, which used commonly to go forth of the sea, and enter into some of their open cesterns and vaults among their ponds and stewes; wherein they kept great sea-fishes, and otherwhiles would rob them of their salt-fish, and so go his waies againe: which hee practised so long, that in the end he gat himselfe the anger and displeasure of the masters and keepers of the said ponds and cesterns, with his continuall and immeasurable filching: wherupon they staked up the place and empalled it round about, to stop all passage thither. But this thiefe gave not over his accustomed haunt for all that, but made meanes by a certaine tree to clamber over and get to the fore-said salt-fish; and never could he be taken in the manner nor discovered, but that the dogges by their quicke sent found him out and bayed at him: for as he returned one night toward the sea, they assailed and set upon him on all sides, and thereiwth raised the foresaid keepers, who were affrighted at this so sodaine an alarme, but more at the straunge sight which they saw. For first and foremost this Polype fish was of an unmeasurable and incredible bignesse: and besides, he was besmeared and beraied all over with the brine and pickle of the foresaid salt-fish, which made him both hideous to see to, and also to stinke withall most strongly. Who would ever have looked for a Polype there, or taken knowledge of him by such markes as these? Surely they thought no other, but that they had to deal and encounter with some monster: for with his terrible blowing and breathing that he kept, he drove away the dogs, and otherwhiles with the ends of his long stringed winding feet, he would lash and whip them; sometimes with his stronger claws like arms he rapped and knocked them well and surely, as it were with clubs. In summer, he made such good shift for himself, that hardly and with much adoe they could kill him, albeit he received many a wound by trout-spears which they launched at him. Well, in the end his head was brought and shewed to Lucullus for a wonder, and as bigge it was a good round hogshead or barrell that would take and contain 15 Amphores: and his beards (for so Trebius teamed his claws and long-stringed feet) carried such a thickness and bulk with them, that hardly a man could fathom one of them about with both his arms, such knockers they were, knobbed and knotted like clubs, and withall 30 foot long. The concavities within them, and hollow vessels like great basons, would hold four or five gallons apiece; and his teeth were answerable in proportion to the bigness of his bod(y)ie. The rest was saved for a wonder to be seen, and weighed 700 pound weight. (Translation of the 9th Book of Pliny by Philemon Holland, 1601)

The description given to us by Roman chroniclers suggest that the animal could have been a giant squid more than any other species of Cephalopod. The large tentacles, supposedly in excess of nine meters long, and the monster’s morphological characteristics, appear to suggest this.

Of what there can be no doubt whatsoever is the particular commotion caused by this event among spectators and citizens alike, who were later able to see this remains of this authentic predecessor of the mythic Kraken….

(Translation (c) S. Corrales, 2011)

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