The Center of Science and Industry will shed some light on history's fabled beasts that populated land, sea and sky.

"Dragons, Unicorns & Mermaids: Mythic Creatures" will be on display from Saturday, Feb. 23, through Sept. 2 at COSI, 333 W. Broad St. in Columbus.

Admission to the display is $4 for COSI members and $5 for all others.

"I think people will be pleasantly surprised by the content," said Jaclyn Reynolds, spokeswoman for COSI. "People of all ages love dragons, unicorns and mermaids, and people will be interested in seeing them from their cultural beginnings through beautiful artwork and fascinating models and artifacts."

Dozens of replicas, artifacts and stories accompany the exhibit, which is part of an ongoing collaboration with the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Nautical navigation brought about some of the most storied characters that survived centuries of folklore, said Brianna Gribler, director of strategic projects at COSI.

Throughout history, sailors would mark maps where they saw fantastic images, Gribler said.

One of the most enduring legends, of course, is that of the mermaid – a half-woman, half-fish creature.

As with many sightings, the beings usually were a combination of actual visual encounters and imagination, resulting in anthropomorphization, or attributing human characteristics to nonhuman forms, Gribler said.

The mermaid had both good and bad connotations, based on geography.

Circus magnate P.T. Barnum reportedly fashioned a "carcass" of the Fiji mermaid from a monkey's head and fish's body, Gibler said.

The looks of the mermaids were dispelled somewhat by Christopher Columbus, who saw something he thought rather unattractive in his exploration of the New World.

"He was probably seeing a manatee," Gibler said.

Some of the misrepresentations of real animals likely came from fossils, Gibler said.

The griffin, which had the head of an eagle and the body of a lion, probably was concocted when the bones of a protoceratops were discovered, she said.

One of the most enduring legacies was the dragon, believed to have been conceptualized more than 2,500 years ago in China, Gibler said.

The Chinese believed dragons were a symbol of power and good luck. Europeans thought they were evil.

In some cases, the animals were real.

For example, the elephant bird – similar to an ostrich – inhabited the island of Madagascar.

It is believed to have become extinct about 1,000 years ago.

Though science has intruded on many classic tales, "we're still making up stories based on these mythologies," Gibler said.

gseman@thisweeknews.com

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