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Mammoths, unicorns and other prehistoric creatures

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Illustrated version here.


The ASOIAF bestiary contains several creatures freely inspired by animal species from our prehistory.


The mammoth


One of the giants coming up on them looked older than the rest. His pelt was grey and streaked with white, and the mammoth he rode, larger than any of the others, was grey and white as well. Tormund shouted something up to him as he passed, harsh clanging words in a tongue that Jon did not comprehend. The giant’s lips split apart to reveal a mouth full of huge square teeth, and he made a sound half belch and half rumble. After a moment Jon realized he was laughing. The mammoth turned its massive head to regard the two of them briefly, one huge tusk passing over the top of Jon’s head as the beast lumbered by, leaving huge footprints in the soft mud and fresh snow along the river.



Inspired by the mammoth, of course.


The aurochs


Grenn had changed a great deal from the big, clumsy, red-necked boy Jon had first befriended. He had grown half a foot, his chest and shoulders had thickened, and he had not cut his hair nor trimmed his beard since the Fist of the First Men. It made him look as huge and shaggy as an aurochs, the mocking name that Ser Alliser Thorne had hung on him.



Inspired by the auroch, a large wild cattle. (I include the auroch in this list because it is often associated with prehistory, even if it survived in some parts of Europe until the 17th century.)


The direwolf


« Direwolves, » Bran said. Still half-grown, they were as large as any wolf he had ever seen, but the differences were easy to spot, if you knew what to look for. Maester Luwin and Farlen the kennelmaster had taught him. A direwolf had a bigger head and longer legs in proportion to its body, and its snout and jaw were markedly leaner and more pronounced. There was something gaunt and terrible about them as they stood there amid the gently falling snow. Fresh blood spotted Grey Wind’s muzzle.

AGOT – Bran V


Inspired by canis dirus. (source) This species was bigger than the gray wolf. It lived in the Americas and died about 10,000 years ago.


The pouch tiger


The ships of Braavos sail as far as the winds blow, to lands strange and wonderful, and when they return, their captains fetch queer animals to the Sealord’s menagerie. Such animals as you have never seen, striped horses, great spotted things with necks as long as stilts, hairy mouse-pigs as big as cows, stinging manticores, tigers that carry their cubs in a pouch, terrible walking lizards with scythes for claws.

AGOT – Arya IV


Inspired by the thylacine ? This carnivorous marsupial, known as the Tasmanian tiger, has a striped coat and a pouch. (For the prehistoric XL version look at the thylacinidae family, in particular thylacinus potens, or the species of the genus thylacoleo, known as « marsupial lions »).

If I believe it ? 20/20


The tattoed lizard


Farther south lie the regions known as the Green Hell, where beasts even more fearsome are said to dwell. There, if the tales are to be trusted, are caverns full of pale white vampire bats who can drain the blood from a man in minutes. Tattooed lizards stalk the jungles, running down their prey and ripping them apart with the long curved claws on their powerful hind legs. Snakes fifty feet long slither through the underbrush, and spotted spiders weave their webs amongst the great trees.

TWOIAF – Sothoryos


Inspired by theropod dinosaurs ?

If I believe it ? 20/20


The wyvern


[Of all the beasts in the Green Hell], most terrible are the wyverns, those tyrants of the southern skies, with their great leathery wings, cruel beaks, and insatiable hunger. Close kin to dragons, wyverns cannot breathe fire, but they exceed their cousins in ferocity and are a match for them in all other respects save size.

Brindled wyverns, with their distinctive jadeand-white scales, grow up to thirty feet long. Swamp wyverns have been known to attain even greater size, though they are sluggish by nature and seldom fly far from their lairs. Brownbellies, no larger than monkeys, are even more dangerous than their larger kin, for they hunt in packs of a hundred or more. But most dreaded of all is the shadow-wing, a nocturnal monster whose black scales and wings make him all but invisible…until he descends out of the darkness to tear apart his prey.

TWOIAF – Sothoryos


Inspired by pterosaurs ?

If I believe it ? 19/20


The leviathan


Though the Lorathi isles themselves are bleak and stony, the surrounding waters teem with shoals of cod, whales, and grey leviathans that gather and breed in the bay, and the outlying rocks and sea stacks are home to great colonies of walrus and seal.

TWOIAF – Lorath


Inspired by the livyatan, a prehistoric sperm-whale ?

If I believe it ? 0/20

The idea is attractive, unfortunately this species was only discovered in 2008, long after the release of ACOK in 1999…

The leviathan is more likely to be inspired by the sperm whale.

If I believe it ? 18/20




Nagga had been the first sea dragon, the mightiest ever to rise from the waves. She fed on krakens and leviathans and drowned whole islands in her wrath.

AFFC – The drowned man


Inspired by a gigantic marine reptile like elasmosaurus or kronosaurus ?

If I believe it ? 5/20

Did the Ironborn ancestors observe a sea monster attacking krakens and leviathans ? Possible…

Is the legend of Nagga to be interpreted in a more symbolic way ? Probably ! ^^


The unicorn


The island os Skagos sat at the mouth of the Bay of Seals, massive and mountainous, a stark and forbidding land peopled by savages. They lived in caves and grim mountain fastnesses, Sam had read, and rode great shaggy unicorns to war.

AFFC – Samwell II


GRRM suggested that in future novels there would be unicorns « of a sort »… (source)

We may have already seen one indirectly, in a wolf’s dream.


A wild rain lashed down upon his black brother as he tore at the flesh of an enormous goat, washing the blood from his side where the goat’s long horn had raked him.

ADWD – Jon I


It is likely that the scene is taking place on Skagos.

The unicon, inspired by elasmotherium ? This single-horn mammal is a cousin of the rhinoceros, but its appearance would rather resemble that of a horse. It seems that this fascinating creature, known as « giant unicorn », has been around man. Some even believe that it is at the origin of the myth of the unicorn.

If I believe it ? 15/20

First downside : elasmotherium doesn’t really look like a goat. But perhaps a wolf, without a better word to describe this animal, would use the expression « an enormous goat » ?

The second downside is that the unicorns of Skagos are supposed to be mountain animals….

But elasmotherium is quite well known to the general public and GRRM was nevertheless able to draw inspiration from it. We’ll see. ^^


The lion of the Westerlands


One autumn year, Lord Tytos came between a lioness and her prey. The lioness didn’t give a shit that she was Lannister’s own sigil. Bitch tore into my lord’s horse and would have done for my lord too, but my grandfather came up with the hounds. Three of his dogs died running her off. My grandfather lost a leg.

ACOK – Sansa II


Inspired by the European cave lion ? This prehistoric lion, which was probably one of the largest felines of all time, was much larger than the current lion. It is assumed that in winter, he lived in caves to protect himself from the cold.

Since GRRM has already been inspired by a prehistoric animal living in North America, the American lion is also a good candidate.

If I believe it ? 20/20

The Western Lands do not really correspond to the environment of actual lions.


The Westerlands are a place of rugged hills and rolling plains, of misty dales and craggy shorelines, a place of blue lakes and sparkling rivers and fertile fields, of broadleaf forests that teem with game of every sort, where half-hidden doors in the sides of wooded hills open onto labyrinthine caves that wend their way through darkness to reveal unimaginable wonders and vast treasures deep beneath the earth.

These are rich lands, temperate and fruitful

TWOIAF – The Westerlands


And GRRM declared that lions used to make dens in the Rock itself. (source)


Notes :

All the images come from Wikipedia (except the elasmotherium artist’s view, for which I did not found a definitive source).

We could talk about lizard-lions and panthers of the Summer Islands, and show giant crocodiles and other prehistoric big cats, but it is difficult to link them to a particular species. Same thing for the krakens, for me they’re just big squids….

If you know of any other examples, let me know!

There are prehistoric plants or mushrooms in ASOIAF? (I am talking about species that have lived on Earth and are now extinct.)


Bonus : the real unicorn of Skagos !

Edited by un_Autre_monde

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Nice compilation! I think that some of the animals in the story are just fantasy versions of present-day animals, not prehistoric.  The "hairy mouse-pig" must have been inspired by the capybara, a rodent that grows as large as 150 lbs. It looks like a furry pig, although genetically it's closer to a rabbit or woodchuck.

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In the real world, the unicorn started as stories from India about the Indian Rhinoceros https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_rhinoceros . The stories were changed over centuries of re-telling, including by men dealing in whaling products trying to get better prices for narwhal tusks.


Edited by Anthony Appleyard

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