The big science museum in San Francisco has a big exhibit on skulls going on, so given my interest in comparative anatomy, I was quickly on my way to pay a visit.
I was very interested to see all the different bones of the skull arranged differently across a wide range of species, particularly in the mammals which share so much with humans. In anatomy we had to learn a lot about all the different aspects of the skull, including the bones, and all the openings in the skull and what passes through them. For example, it was interesting to see where the different cranial nerves, particularly branches of the trigeminal nerve end up in different species. For example, the huge infra-orbital foraman in some species. In some species it makes sense that changes will need improved innervation and vasculature. The trunk of the elephant demands lots of sensory and motor innervation as well as vascular supply, coming out of the skull. What I could identify as the infra-orbital foraman on a large, adult African elephant, was several inches in diameter, and I assume it was supplying the trunk.
However, an annotation on the much smaller skull of an Asian elephant really surprised me and I took a picture of the skull. One hypothesis is that the skull of an elephant could have given rise to a myth of the cyclops, and it is was certainly compelling to me. I could see where such a skull might suggest a giant with a single huge eye. Cyclopic holoprosencephaly is quite rare in human births, but the land around ancient Greece used to be the home of elephant-like species, and there is certainly proximity to India where these animals still live. It seems quite possible that these skulls could have been found as fossils in ancient Greece and given rise to mythological creatures, much like the fossils of dinosaurs are believed to have help contribute to myths of dragons (even today in some remote areas of China).
So did the fossil skulls of elephants create the myth of cyclops? I don’t know, but it is certainly interesting to see different skulls and see how they compare to the human skull.