This article is based on the AskReddit question “What is something that was once considered to be a “legend” or “myth” that eventually turned out to be true?”
[Source can be found at the end of the article]
Many historians think the fairy tale of the Pied Piper of Hamelin is based on some sort of true story. The tale originates around 1284, and by 1300 a stained glass window depicting the events was installed in a church in Hamelin. Stained glass windows were expensive and time consuming to make, so it’s thought that it was dedicated to some sort of tragedy – indeed, town records from 1384 mention that it had been “100 years since our children left”.
Incidentally, the “town being overrun with rats” wasn’t added to the legend until around 1559, well after the (alleged) event took place.
The local legend was that an evil spirit or a monster lived in the lake and would come out at night to kill anyone who lived too close to the lake. One of the local groups, the Bafmen, settled in the high ground near the lake due to the legends. Different groups moved into the area in the mid 1900’s and lived closer to the water’s edge, disregarding the customs of the Bafmen.
In 1986, nearly 1,500 people living near the lake were found dead. Those who lived in the higher ground were fine.
It turns out the lake was very deep, and would essentially become carbonated. A land slide could trigger a release of CO2 from the lake waters. On that night in 1986, an enormous release occurred and since CO2 is heavier than air, anyone in the lower areas simply suffocated and didn’t wake up.
So while the myth about the evil spirits wasn’t entirey true, there really was something in the lake to fear!
It used to be used as a phrase to mean something that was impossible to exist, or an affront to nature. Then they sailed into the swan river in Western Australia, and lo and behold, there they were.
There was tale of a massive eagle that stole babies in Maori legend. Pakeha (European settlers) didn’t believe it until at least after 1871 when a dude found the 400+ year old remains of an eagle in a swamp. They were 20-33 lb/9-15kg and had a 8.5-10 foot/2.4-3m wingspan.
It would kill its prey by diving at ~50mph/80kph toward the neck or head and the “striking force [was] equivalent to a cinder block falling from the top of an eight-story building.”
For a few hundred years the Micronesians, a stone-age culture, had the fastest sailboats in the world. The first few reports of how fast the boats went were derided as fantasy. It wasn’t until George Anson made actual measurements and drawings in the 1740s it was taken seriously.
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It was first mentioned in later ancient historical records, but widely thought as fanciful, with descriptions of an underground replica of China with rivers of mercury. Then a farmer digging a well dug up the head of a terracotta warrior, and archeologists found higher levels of mercury in a nearby hill that turned out to be the giant pyramid mound of the burial complex.
Imagine the reaction of the farmer finding a colorful statue head, only to have the colors on the head quickly fade as the paint oxidize after being sealed for millennia.
The main chamber of the mausoleum is still sealed to this day, with fears that unearthing it would damage whatever was sealed inside thousands of years ago.
It was considered an urban legend for a long time. When it was initially reported, people within the company gave conflicting reports on whether or not the landfill existed and how big it was. Hilariously, this turned out to be true as the landfill was discovered in 2014 and had some ET cartridges.
It wasn’t clear whether King Richard III was really deformed, or if people who wrote about him after he died were just making it up. Some people thought he must have been physically normal, but writers added the deformity to make him seem more hateable. When his remains were found, there was evidence of severe scoliosis that would have made one shoulder higher than the other. Not a hunchback, but at least a bit lopsided.
There was an island that was rumored to have dragons on it. Explorers didn’t find fire-breathing or flying lizards, but they did find the largest living lizard, and called it the Komodo Dragon.
Said to have saved the Japanese from two Mongol invasions and ultimately play a major role in the fall of the Mongol Empire.
Turns out it did happen, but the reason the Mongol’s boats sank was because the Chinese ship builders intentionally built a fault into the ships that would cause them to sink once wind/sea conditions hit a specific level. The Mongols who knew nothing about ships were totally oblivious to the subtle built in error.
The Divine Mistake.
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Kangaroos were once classified as Cryptids (along with Bigfoot, Loch Ness monster, etc.)
Before it was established that they kept their babies in their pouches, it was told that they were “creatures with two heads”. Makes me think what other cryptids we actually are just seeing wrong.
Mountaineers found a small lake in the himalayas, absolutely covered in bones. As they searched, they found the bodies of at least two hundred, as well as potentially up to three times that many in the lake itself. All of them died of blunt force trauma from what appeared to be a rockslide, but there was no sign of any such rocks.
According to legend, Raja Jasdhaval, the king of Kanauj, was traveling with his pregnant wife, Rani Balampa. They were accompanied by servants, a dance troupe, and others as they traveled on a pilgrimage to Nanda Devi shrine, for the Nanda Devi Raj Jat, which takes place every twelve years. As they traveled, they were overcome by a sudden, severe hailstorm with extremely large hail stones. The storm was too strong, and with nowhere to take shelter, the entire group perished.
That one scene from The Newlywed Game where the question was “Ladies, where is the weirdest place you’ve ever gotten the urge to ‘make whoopee’?” To which one of the contestants replied, “In the butt!” The host, Bob Eubanks, even insisted for years that it never happened. But then a clip emerged.
The local people had an oral tradition of stories about these little people. It was considered to be a myth or a legend, until the bones were found.
Interestingly, the locals have stories of the hobbits up until the 19th century. Presumably these later stories are myths, because we never found bones that recent. But what if…
It was a legendary creature living in Hoan Kiem lake in Vietnam.
In the 15th century the golden turtle god Kim Qui appeared to the emperor of vietnam and gave him a sword. After a war with the Chinese, the turtle reappeared and took back the sword. Sightings of the mythical turtle persisted on and off for hundreds of years until in 1967 a fisherman actually found or caught the turtle and beat it to death with a crowbar. Multiple sightings since then confirmed the turtle or turtles in the lake are very similar to or possible the same creature as the Yangtze giant soft-shell turtle.
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It’s a room inside an AT&T telecommunications backbone that was rumored to house beamsplitters to monitor all internet traffic in the United States. Once PRISM was released it was insane how accurate the conspiracy theories were.
Back in conquistador days Spanish explorers went into the jungle. When they came out one of the many stories they told was of a boiling river that killed any living thing that fell in. Some guy heard these stories growing up, went into geology, and asked around about it. Nobody in academia knew of any such river so he gave up. He mentions the topic among family in a “too bad it’s not real” way and his aunt says “but it is.” She takes him to some locals and he takes a trip to see it. It totally is and it is boiling, not just pretty hot. It’s way hotter and larger than anything else in the area and they’re not sure yet why/how that much geothermal activity is going on at that spot.
e: Wow, I thought I got in late but it looks like a lot more people enjoyed this than I expected. Cool. I guess I’ll pay less attention to overfull comment sections in the future.
In the 1960s there were rumours that the US government had been carrying out secret germ-warfare tests on its own citizens. These rumours were strongly denied.
Then in the 1970s, when pressed by Senate hearings, the military admitted that, between 1949 and 1969, such tests HAD taken place, most notably on the New York subway system.
The Kraken was the legend of a sea monster that used to destroy ships off the coast of Norway. Nowadays, it is thought that maybe the Giant Squid or octopus was what was known to be the Kraken! Similarly small miniature dragon resembling lizards have been found and not only such creatures but also the case of the Komodo Dragon might account for Chinese mythological accounts of the dragon!
It was long maintained by her mother, Lindy Chamberlain, that a dingo made off with her baby and presumably, killed her. The body was never found and “a dingo ate my baby!” became a national (arguably international) joke. Most suspected the parents of the child’s murder and both were convicted (Lindy, of murder; Azaria’s father, of accessory after the fact) in 1982. The convictions were overturned in 1988 after finding some of Azaria’s clothing near a dingo lair, but everyone still thought of them as guilty and the joke persisted.
It was only in 2012, at the fourth inquest, that the finding was that a dingo really did kill the kid.
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There have been anecdotal reports of it for hundreds of years, but it was hard to document because it doesn’t last long and it couldn’t be photographed. It’s also hard to create it in a lab. But it is acknowledged now that it does exist.
I first read about it in one of the Little House on the Prairie books and thought it was wild. I wasn’t sure if it was real or some kind of hallucination.
If I remember right the was a myth about a rich guy who built a massive tunnel network under Liverpool and lived down there. Turns out he did and he did it all because of mass unemployment, he was rich dude who did not want to see all the people out of work so he hired them to build a network of brick tunnels under his house, later he lived down there. The people who built the tunnels then went on to build all the train tunnels in Liverpool, which some actually intersect the mole mans tunnels and you can see where they have been bricked over.
Turns out it was actually an incredibly rich African city. Can’t remember if it was due to gold mines, salt mines, or position on a trade route that brought in the wealth, but wealthy it was. However, African kingdoms rose and fell pretty frequently (think of how many dynasties China has had – same deal) and it was eventually lost to legend until evidence arose of its existence.
I was 10 in 1986 when Halley’s Comet swung close to Earth. All the materials I saw at the time talked about how in ancient times people thought comets were harbingers of doom but now we know better and they’re just “dirty snowballs.” Then we saw ShoemakerLevy 9 smash into Jupiter and we started to realize that they could cause major damage. Now we think the dinosaur killer could have been a comet and one 12,000 years ago may have wiped out the Clovis people. The ancients were right to be fearful of them.
It was discovered to exist and was actually the Giraffe. The Karkadann was described as a Unicorn the size of an Ox, later found to be an Indian Rhino. A creature of the ocean was said to have the head of a dog, forelegs with claws, a fish tail and a mane. This was later found to be a Walrus.
Interestingly, creatures that are far and wide believed to be completely fabricated could actually exist. Dragons being a combination of bones and living giant lizards (especially when lizards today can grow as large as 20+ feet).
When almost every culture on earth has some documented story on a large ape-like monster man, it becomes difficult to believe that the legends on Bigfoot are completely fake. Perhaps they are not what people think it is but it certainly has to be something.
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For centuries, sailors out on the oceans occasionally reported giant waves coming out of seeming nowhere, even in otherwise calm seas and clear weather. These monster-sized waves were probably responsible for quite a few ship disappearances and sinking over the centuries. However, no one really believed the sailors and rogue waves were relegated to sea myth and tall tales. It took until the late 20th Century for photographic evidence and satellite imagery to prove their existence once and for all.
Until not long ago there was no evidence for freak waves (seven sisters etc) and waves with an height of 20 or 30 m that basically can come from nowhere in rougher waters. Sailors had reported of them for centuries but most people believed it was just made up stories from them.
Then evidence showed up those do exist (the cruise ship Bremen was nearly sunk by one) and since the last few years there are radar measurements from satellites telling us those waves are actually pretty frequent.
Pygmy tribe in Africa has an oral history about the tribe splitting into two groups millennia ago… one group went north and came out of the trees, the other group is still there to this day… Eddie Izzard did a documentary for the BBC years back where he was the first brit to have his paternal and maternal genetics tracked through the ages… his father had one question ‘ why is everyone from my side short?’… turns out his dad is related to the pygmy tribe and is a long lost relative from the group the went north… confirmed their story.
Special was called Meet The Izzards.
The theory that all the continents used to be a single, super-continent. Alfred Wegener proposed the theory on 1912, but he was a meteorologist, not a geologist, and his explanation of how the continents drifted was bunk, so no one took him seriously until the 1950s when the fossil record and an understanding of plate tectonics started leading to only one conclusion.
When the Platypus was first discovered no one believed they actually existed. When the first dead and stuffed ones were brought to the UK people still did not believe it, claiming they were fake and stitched together from a duck and a beaver. Then eventually it was discovered that they were real, and further proof came when live ones were brought to civilisation.