On August 22, 565 AD, the Irish abbot and missionary Columba had what many believe was the first recorded encounter with The Loch Ness monster.
Columba sent “the water beast” packing that day by making the sign of the cross, but the Loch Ness monster didn’t stay gone for long, as stories and sightings have continued through the centuries.
The latest news about Nessie concerns a discovery in the Sahara Desert, which admittedly is a long haul from Scotland.
Researchers from the the University of Bath and University of Portsmouth in the U.K., and Université Hassan II in Morocco, found fossils of small plesiosaurs, which is an extinct, long-necked reptile, in what used to be a river system 100 million years ago.
Many Loch Ness monster enthusiasts believed that the Nessie could be a prehistoric reptile.
The findings, which were published in the journal Cretaceous Research, suggest the plesiosaurs were adapted to tolerate freshwater, possibly even spending their lives there, like today’s river dolphins.
So what does this mean for the Loch Ness monster legend?
“One level, it’s plausible,” the University of Bath said a July 26 press release.
But–and there’s always a “but”– the fossil record also suggests that after almost a hundred and fifty million years, “the last plesiosaurs finally died out at the same time as the dinosaurs, 66 million years ago.”
‘A Big Fish Creature’
Nevertheless, the latest news stirred up some emotions on social media, with one person tweeting “it was a hoax. All the original hoaxers have admitted it, and even showed how they pulled off their hoaxes.”
“I don’t know,” another person said. “We can split atoms and take pictures of the beginning of the universe but a big fish creature in a lake is crazy?”
Even a commenter purporting to be Nessie herself jumped into the deep end of the loch.
“Is anyone really surprised?”@RealLochness tweeted, despite an apparent lack of thumbs. “Everyone knows I exist. It’s just hilarious that I’m clearly the best hide and seek player in the world since no one can seem to find me over these past several centuries.”
One could argue that the loch is 7 billion cubic meters in volume and is big enough to hide the entire human population, so it really shouldn’t be too hard for a monster to make itself scarce.
And Nessie certainly hasn’t been bad for business.
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VisitScotland, Scotland’s national tourist board, has an entire webpage dedicated to the Loch Ness monster.
‘Snap a Nessie Selfie’
“We all know that the tale of the Loch Ness Monster lurking in the dark expanse of Loch Ness in the Highlands is not just a tale,” the webpage says. “Nessie does really exist, and there are over 1,000 eye witness accounts and lots of unexplained evidence, leaving scientists baffled.”
The webpage encourages visitors to keep their cameras handy “or how else are you going to snap a Nessie selfie?!”
The Official Loch Ness Monster Sightings Register lists 1,141 Nessie sightings to date, and includes such features as a live webcam of the loch for armchair adventurers, a history of Nessie hunts, a section on scientific evidence and a listing of fakes, jokes and hoaxes.
Gary Campbell, who maintains the register, said in an interview with GoBankingRates that there are less than 10 days each year when Nessie does not get a mention somewhere in the world.
A few years back, Campbell, using data from VisitScotland and local businesses, calculated that Nessie adds nearly $54 million to the Scottish economy every year.
‘The Residual Child’
But why all the interest in this mythical creature? Analysts see a desire to escape the routine.
“On one level, the idea of the Loch Ness Monster appeals to the residual child in all of us,” said David Schmid, associate professor of English at the University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences, “the part that never grew up, the part that still believes–or would like to believe–in the existence of fairies, dragons, and monsters under the bed–a big part of the appeal of ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘Game of Thrones.’ “
On another level, Schmid said, “the adult part of us that is all grown up is still attracted to the idea of Nessie and other mythical monsters.”
“Why?” he asked. “Because we need to believe that there is more to life than meets the eye, that there is more than the mundane reality of the 9 to 5 grind, that the world is still filled with the wonder of the unknown, that it’s still capable of surprising us.”
“We know this belief is not rational,” he added, “but that’s exactly the point–believing in the fanciful allows our imagination to survive, and that can’t be a bad thing.”
‘There’s Still a Mystery’
Robert Thompson, a professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University, said that the Loch Ness monster and other legends show that “somehow in this age of science and CAT scans and the ability to look into things and test their DNA that there still may be something out there that’s still a mystery.”
“I guess Nessie, the Abominable Snowman and others are these little bits of hope that we have not completely conquered the understanding of Planet Earth,” he said.
This is pretty standard human behavior, Thompson said, and “we don’t have to just talk about the Loch Ness Monster or the Yeti or whatever to see an awful lot of people making an awful lot of effort to deny reality…just turn on CNN.”
“I don’t think people feel terribly threatened that the Loch Ness monster is going to eat them,” he said. “I don’t think people see this as a threat like we’ve seen in movies like ‘Jurassic Park’, which makes it a much more fun, thrilling story to follow than all the actual threats from melting icebergs to monkeypox.”