Adrienne Mayor

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Adrienne Mayor
Adrienne Mayor.jpg
Adrienne Mayor in 2014
Benton, IL
EmployerStanford University

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.


She was a copy editor, and printmaker 1980–1996.[1]

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.[2] In 2018-19, she was a Berggruen Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford.

Mayor has published books and articles on Amazons, unconventional warfare, ancient automatons, toxic honey, tattoos in antiquity, smallpox blankets in history and legend, assassination by poisoned garments in Mughal India, fossil-related legends, fossil-related placenames, and other topics in scholarly journals and popular magazines, including History Today, Journal of American Folklore, Archaeology, "Natural History," MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History, Gizmodo, and Foreign Affairs.

Her books have been translated into 12 languages and have been featured in documentaries on the History and Discovery TV Channels and BBC. 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.[3]

From 2011 to 2017, Mayor was a regular contributor to the history of science website Wonders and Marvels.[4]

From 2009 to 2015, Mayor maintained a Facebook profile under the name Mithradates Eupator, which became an active network for more than 2,500 people, including international scholars, classicists, archaeologists, linguists, ancient historians, authors, novelists, museum curators, and others who engaged in valuable research and educational conversation. This unique crowd-sourcing site was eliminated by Facebook on May 26, 2015.


The First Fossil Hunters (2000, reissued with new Introduction 2011)[edit]

Mayor's first book investigated discoveries and interpretations of dinosaur and other large vertebrate fossils in classical antiquity, and presented her widely accepted proposal that ancient observations of the fossilized remains of mammoths, mastodons, dinosaurs, and other extinct species influenced belief in giants, heroes, the griffin and other fabulous beings of myth and legend[5] This book is the basis for the popular History Channel show "Ancient Monster Hunters" and the BBC show Dinosaurs, Myths and Monsters. A National Geographic children's book by Marc Aronson, The Griffin and the Dinosaur (2014) describes Mayor's hypothesis that ancient observations of Protoceratops dinosaur fossils influenced ancient images and tales of Griffins.

Greek Fire, Poison Arrows & Scorpion Bombs (2003, revised edition with new Introduction 2009)[edit]

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."

Fossil Legends of the First Americans (2005)[edit]

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.

The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome's Deadliest Enemy (2009)[edit]

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.

The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World (2014)[edit]

Mayor's fifth book surveys ancient myths, legends, folklore, art, and archaeology related to warlike women known to the classical Greeks as Amazons. This is the first comprehensive account of warrior women in myth and history from the Mediterranean world to China.

Gods and Robots: Myths, Machines, and Ancient Dreams of Technology (2018)[edit]

Mayor's sixth book analyzes classical Greek myths and other ancient cultures' tales about fabricating artificial life, automatons, self-moving devices, and Artificial Intelligence. The final chapter describes real robots, animated statues, and self-propelled machines that were actually designed and constructed in the classical and Hellenistic eras.


  • The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times (Princeton University Press 2000) — ISBN 0-691-08977-9 [6]
  • 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
  • The Griffin and the Dinosaur: How Adrienne Mayor Discovered a Fascinating Link between Myth and Science, with Marc Aronson (National Geographic 2014) ISBN 978-1-4263-1108-6
  • The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World. Princeton University Press. 21 September 2014. pp. 4–. ISBN 978-1-4008-6513-0.
  • Gods and Robots: Myths, Machines, and Ancient Dreams of Technology (Princeton University Press 2018) --

ISBN 978-0-691-18351-0


  1. ^ Felicia R. Lee (June 12, 2004). "Digging in Folklore, Unearthing Science". New York Times.
  2. ^ "Adrienne Mayor". Stanford University.
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Monthly Contributors – Adrienne Mayor". Wonders & Marvels.
  5. ^ e.g., Brett-Surman et al. The Complete Dinosaur (2012); Norman Dinosaurs, A Very Short Introduction (2017); SedleyCreationism and Its Critics in Antiquity (2009), 43-44 n 39; Barber and Barber When They Severed Earth from Sky: How the Human Mind Shapes Myth (2012), Lieberman and Kaesler Prehistoric Life: Evolution and the Fossil Record (2010)
  6. ^ Tim Tokaryk (Nov–Dec 2000). "Explaining Giant Bones". American Scientist. Archived from the original on March 13, 2007. The First Fossil Hunters brings together mythology, art, geology and paleontology in a convincing manner. Because of its vast scope and the author's cross-disciplinary approach, the book may encounter resistance from some readers, but archaeologists and paleontologists with open minds will find their vision of the past broadened.

External links[edit]

External video
[1], Chicago Humanities Festival, 2018