How do we know unicorns didn't exist?

I’m, involved on a religous debate on another forum. Somehow the concept of unicorns came up and I’m left wondering: Excatly HOW do we know these things didn’t exist. I have some ideas, but would like some answers from someone in the know :wink:

Some questions:

When did the unicorn myth arise?

Have the ancients declared the myth to be myth, or did they truly believe in the existance of unicorns? (In other words do we have a writer of the time saying: “And so here Pete paints the mythological unicorn hunt to symbolise fertility and the prowess of men”).

I know there are no fossil records of unicorns, but are there fossils that would suggest such a creature could nto have existed?

Wonderfully complicated question.

See Odell Shepherd’s book The Lore of the Unicorn, and follow it up with Willy Ley’s essay on the Unicorn (available in various anthologies of his work). Toss in, for good measure, T.H. White’s translation of The Bestiary.

Short answer: Ktesias first wrote about the unicorn as an inhabitant of India. He almost certainly was trying to describe a rhinoceros. Confusion with a biblical description of the auroch (Hebrew “re’em”) landed the Unicorn in the Bible, so its existence couldn’t be denied. Through the years, it got embellished. The process of bestiarists turning the rhino into a horse-like unicorn isn’t really all that different from what happenede to other creatures (see White on the Amphisbaena, or the relationship between the basilisk and the king cobra). Finally, it seems likely that unicorns may have been “manufactured” . See the work of Dr. Dove reported in Ley, and the “unicorns” createde by the Church of All Worlds (I kid uyou not – see their website). A little help from narwhal horns and fossil tusks of various types helped.

Unicorns do exist. We call them rhinoceroses.

The earliest account of the unicorn was by the Greek historian Ctesias (c. 400 BC), who wrote of a kind of “wild ass” in India that had a white body and a single horn emerging from it’s forehead. This is almost certainly a garbled description of the Indian rhinoceros.

Over the centuries various legends grew up around this animal. The spiral horn of the narwhal was thought to be the horn of the unicorn. By the Middle Ages, the unicorn (in its traditional image as a graceful white horselike animal with cloven hooves and a spiral horn on its forehead) was believed by many to be a real beast.

We don’t “know” that unicorns didn’t exist. What point is the poster on the other message board trying to make?

How do you propose that existing fossils can prove that other creatures didn’t exist?

Several searches found these

Hope you can find the information you’re looking for in those.

Wasn’t there a circus recently that touted a unicorn it had? It was a mutated goat wasn’t it? I found nothing about it in my numerous Google searches. Has anyone else had better luck?

His point was that exactly, that science could enver truly ‘prove’ anything.

I don’t, I simply thought it might be possible, but now that I think about it, it doesn’t make much sence, does it?

Isn’t this standard “can’t prove a negative” stuff? We can prove they do exist, if they did, so science can obviously prove something.

I think the “unicorn myth” is based in some fact, like the “mermaid myth”. However, this animal attained a religious significance that added a new layer to it’s mystique. I think that “unicorns” exist in both senses, in a very real “literal” sense, and also in the “religious symbolism” sense.

Look at the Dragon, it has significance in many cultures, Wales, Japan, and St. What’s-His-Name the Dragonslayer. There is no proof that it actually existed, but it’s significance in those cultures is still real, it still holds “philosophical weight”.

Unicorns do exist, if you follow the literal translation of the word. They also exist as a very legitimate religious/philosohpical symbol.

This seems to be related to the Church of all Worlds, and their “Living Unicorn Project” that Cal mentioned. The only information I could find on it, is that the founder of the church funded some sort of project with that name, and some of the resulting animals were sold (or rented or something) to Ringling Bros. I saw a brief mention of goats. No photos or any sort of extensive articles, just a few one-liners here and there on a couple different websites. My guess would be that they took goat kids of horned breeds, removed one of the horn buds, and moved the other one to the center of the forehead.


My understanding was that the goats were bred until the mutation occured, and that it sometimes occurs naturally anyway. Just one horn, (two fused?) in the center of the forehead.

I think alot of you are misunderstanding the intended purpose of the OP. It isn’t really about unicorns. Apparently the OP is involved in a religious debate on another message board, and it seems that one of the posters on that board (I may be mistaken) is trying to show that science can’t prove anything. Am I on the right track Kinthalis?

Yep you got it x-ray.

Though that’s only part of it. I really did become intrigued with what he was saying about unicorns and wanted to see what evidence (if any) existed about wether or not they were real.

From this site.

I used to work at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg. They had lots of penned animals throughout the park, including a pen of long-horned goats. One of the goats was missing a horn. I guess he qualified.

As for magical horses that only virgin girls can see, well, the fossil evidence is sparse.