PULLMAN, Wash.--Camel-sheep, headless pygmies with faces on their chests, and a two-horned Sucoterio once roamed the Earth.
In the 1600s, these creatures were believed to exist, and along with many more bizarre, funny, and flat-out wrong ideas, they form the Outrageous Hypotheses exhibit at Washington State University.
The hypotheses presented may seem ridiculous now, but their creators had logical reasons for making them, said Steve Bingo, the project’s archivist.
“Each great idea stands on the backs of others that didn’t succeed,” Bingo said.
The exhibit is part of the campus-wide common reading program, with this year’s theme based on Kathryn Schulz’ novel “Being Wrong.”
“The exhibit makes the reading more real. It is connecting history to you,” said Mark O’English, a library archivist.
The exhibit was the brainchild of Greg Matthews, a WSU metadata librarian. Matthews is on the Common Reading Program board and brought the idea to the archives’ exhibit, which includes a section on “bewildering beasts,” such as bird-like bacteria, mythic tropical animals, and ill-fated ideas and plans.
For example, the exhibit includes Edward Wells’ hypothesis that North America was the lost city of Atlantis, Juan de Fuca’s claim that he had found the Northwest Passage, and other accounts of early world travel. One section focuses on early scientific ideas, such as alchemy, the flat-earth theory, and the theory that the sun revolved around the earth.
O’English and Bingo researched and presented the six sections in the exhibit while graduate student Kerry Clark provided the graphic design.
There are a few learning outcomes that the staff of the WSU archives hopes the exhibit will deliver in addition to sharing the unique hypotheses.
“One of the ideas is that over time we will see that human error is part of the human condition,” Bingo said.
In 200 years people may see current hypotheses in the same light, O’English said.
The exhibit is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. until Oct. 31.
The Murrow News Service provides local, regional and statewide stories reported and written by journalism students at the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University.
Photo 1. The exhibit highlights several animals that people once believed to be real, including a shark with legs, headless pygmies with faces of their chests, and the camel-sheep. The 17th century image of a “wolf-like” shark demonstrates “the persistent stigmas about these misunderstood creatures have a long history,” according to the exhibit.
Photo by Derek Harrison
Photo 2:Using the pen name “Parallax,” Samuel Birley Rowbotham wrote “Zetetic Astronomy: Earth Not a Globe” in the 19th century. Rowbotham posited that the earth was a flat disk bounded by a wall of ice. Photo by Derek Harrison
Photo 3: Many real birds populate the pages of a 1669 book by a Dominican friar. But the friar also dedicated a chapter to the mythical Phoenix. Photo by Derek Harrison
Photo 4: Ever wonder where the term “Coug’d it” came from? It was reportedly coined by a Spokane journalist after a 1985 game against Arizona State University that included numerous penalties, confused players, and the seventh time in the season where Washington State outgained the opponent and lost. Outrageous hypotheses or not, the origination of the phrase shows there can be “joy in failure,” according to the exhibit. Photo by Derek Harrison