Adrienne Mayor (born 1946) is a historian of ancient science and a classical folklorist.
Mayor specializes in ancient history and the study of "folk science": how pre-scientific cultures interpreted data about the natural world, and how these interpretations form the basis of many ancient myths, folklore and popular beliefs. Her work in pre-scientific fossil discoveries and traditional interpretations of paleontological remains has opened up a new field within the emerging discipline of geomythology and classical folklore. Mayor's book on the origins of biological and chemical warfare revealed the ancient roots of poison weaponry and tactics. Since 2006, Mayor has been a research scholar in the Classics Department and the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology Program at Stanford University.
Mayor has published articles on Amazons, unconventional warfare, toxic honey, tattoos in antiquity, smallpox blankets in history and legend, assassination by poisoned garments in Mughal India, fossil-related placenames, and other topics in scholarly journals and popular magazines, including the Journal of American Folklore, Archaeology, "Natural History," and MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History." Her books have been translated into 10 languages and have been featured in documentaries on the History and Discovery TV Channels. She has lectured at the American Museum of Natural History, Boston Museum of Fine Art, Smithsonian, Art Institute of Chicago, Getty Museum, among other venues, and has been interviewed on NPR, BBC, and Coast to Coast AM. Her biography of Mithradates VI Eupator, The Poison King, was a nonfiction finalist for the National Book Award 2009.
- 1 Bibliography
- 1.1 The First Fossil Hunters (2000, reissued with new Introduction 2011)
- 1.2 Greek Fire, Poison Arrows & Scorpion Bombs (2003, revised edition with new Introduction 2009)
- 1.3 Fossil Legends of the First Americans (2005)
- 1.4 The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome's Deadliest Enemy (2009)
- 2 Books
- 3 External links
The First Fossil Hunters (2000, reissued with new Introduction 2011)
Mayor's first book investigated discoveries and interpretations of dinosaur and other large vertebrate fossils in classical antiquity, and presented her now-widely accepted theory that ancient observations of the fossilized remains of dinosaurs and other extinct species influenced belief some mythic creatures, such as the griffin and the Monster of Troy. This book is the basis for the popular History Channel show "Ancient Monster Hunters."
Other highlights include:
- Greek and Roman discoveries of the huge fossils of woolly rhinoceros and other extinct megafauna remains were interpreted as relics of mythic giants, larger-than-life heroes, and monsters in classical times.
- In Central Asia, exquisitely preserved Protoceratops dinosaur skeletons, discovered by ancient Scythian nomads searching for gold, influenced the ancient image and folklore about the fabulous gold-guarding griffin.
Greek Fire, Poison Arrows & Scorpion Bombs (2003, revised edition with new Introduction 2009)
Mayor's second book uncovers the earliest examples of biochemical weapons in the ancient world, to demonstrate that the concept and practice of biochemical warfare occurred much earlier than was previously thought. She presents ancient Greek, Roman, Chinese, African, and Indian historical accounts of the practice of biochemical warfare, using animal, bacterial, poison, and chemical weaponry, including the titular Greek fire. This book has become a favorite of ancient war gamers and was featured in the History Channel show "Ancient Greek WMDs."
Other highlights include:
- The ancient Greek myth of Hercules dipping his arrows in the poisonous venom of the Lernaean Hydra reveals the deep antiquity of the concept of weaponizing toxic natural forces.
- Unintended consequences and ethical dilemmas have surrounded the use of biochemical weapons since antiquity
Fossil Legends of the First Americans (2005)
Mayor's third book gathers Native American accounts of discoveries of dinosaur and other fossils and oral traditions about their meaning, from pre-Columbian times to the present. It has been featured in History Channel MonsterQuest videos. Highlights include:
- Inca and Aztec ideas about mammoth, giant sloth, and other large fossils
- Traditions from numerous Native American cultures, including Iroquois, Lenape, Sioux, Blackfeet, Pawnee, Navajo, Apache, Zuni, Crow, Cheyenne, and many others, about a wide range of fossils, from stone shells and petrified wood to the skeletons of giant bears, mammoths, dinosaurs, and marine and flying reptiles.
The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome's Deadliest Enemy (2009)
Mayor's fourth book details the story of the life of Mithradates, leader of the ancient Black Sea kingdom of Pontus, who, in the 1st century B.C., did everything he could to overthrow the Roman Empire. Highlights include:
- The historic massacre of 150,000 Roman and Italian residents of Anatolia and [the] Aegean islands
- Mithradates' experiments in potions and poisons and his universal antidote
- The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times (Princeton University Press 2000) — ISBN 0-691-08977-9
- Greek Fire, Poison Arrows & Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World (Overlook 2003) — ISBN 1-58567-348-X
- Fossil Legends of the First Americans (Princeton University Press 2005) — ISBN 0-691-11345-9
- The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome's Deadliest Enemy (Princeton University Press 2009) — [ISBN 978-0-691-12683-8]
- Adrienne Mayor's homepage
- "Digging in Folklore, Unearthing Science" by Felicia R. Lee, New York Times profile (June 12, 2004)
- "Explaining Giant Bones" by Tim Tokaryk, American Scientist (Nov/Dec 2000)