Six Ancient Legends That Are Based On Real Events

Dragons might not be real, but great floods and fiery cataclysms definitely are. Tithi Luadthong/Shutterstock

Thunderbird and the Whale

Another Native American tale speaks of a Thunderbird, a benevolent supernatural being, swooping down into the sea and seizing a murderous whale, one that was depriving the Quileute tribe of resources.

During this struggle, powerful waves were generated, and many people on the land were killed in the chaos. Eventually, the Thunderbird managed to lift the whale out of the sea before dropping it onto the land with an almighty thud.

Incredibly, back in the 1980s, geologists uncovered evidence that a powerful earthquake occurred in the Pacific Northwest in 1700, one which dislodged enough of the ocean in order to cause a tsunami. Not only did this hit the American coast where the tribe would have lived, but it was so powerful that it managed to reach Japan.

Additionally, Aiornis, a prehistoric giant bird that early North American settlers would have seen, may have been the inspiration for the Thunderbird. With a wingspan of up to 5 meters (16 feet), it used to swoop down on whale carcasses to feast. Although it's unlikely it would have lifted one onto land.


Native American totems of the Thunderbird near Vancouver, Canada. Tom Clausen/Shutterstock

The Great Flood

No, of course the boat full of animals of every kind wasn’t real. However, as is often the case with apocryphal texts, the epic biblical flood may have at least been based on an earlier tale. In this case, the Epic of Gilgamesh comes to mind.

In this Mesopotamian saga dating back to the 7th century BCE, many gods conspired to create a great flood and destroy the world. One of the gods, Ea, told a man named Utu-napishtim to make a boat to save himself and his family, along with a whole host of animals. The story, part of the first great work of literature in human history, unfolds in pretty much the same way as the biblical equivalent – so is there any evidence that the floods themselves happened?

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