TIL Hanno the Navigator, an ancient Carthaginian from the 5th century BCE, was one of the first to record the discovery of what he described as “hairy, savage people”. The local tribes called them Gorillai and viewed them as a type of human and were described as a type of man.

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In the 2004 film Alexander about Alexander the Great, when he’s in India he talks about meeting “a little man from the tribe of monkey” and it shows a shot of him and what looks like a capuchin monkey. I always wondered if that was based on anything historical or if they just threw that in for kicks. But it made sense to me that ancient peoples who had never seen other primates might think they’re some new type of human. I could especially see that with gorillas and other great apes. Every time I’ve seen them in zoos I’m always struck by the sense that I can see a human level of intelligence in their eyes. Always makes me feel bad we keep them in zoos at all.


Orangutan in the Malay language meant “forest person”. It’s possible that the people believed orangutans, who are very intelligent and who use tools, to be another species of human. They apparently claimed the apes could speak, but chose not to in order to avoid being compelled to labor. Orang Pendek, short person, is a mythical creature that inhabits the island of Sumatra and is considered by some locals to be a short, hairy species of human.


The ancient world must of been a bewildering place


Pretending to not know how to speak to avoid work is an all-time move


I was always very skeptical of that story. The ancient Greeks and Romans were aware of monkeys, so surely the Carthaginians were too. Were they really fooled by apes? Also, those “Gorillai” are described as living on an island, and there are no known Atlantic islands with gorillas or chimps.