The centaur housed on the first floor of the John C. Hodges Main Library has stepped out of its glass display and entered two publications, where it was cited as a source.
Officially named the “Centaur Excavations at Volos,” the display obtained recognition in an article titled “The Unicorn, the Mermaid, and the Centaur” in Zoogoer, the magazine of the Friends of the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. The centaur was also cited in a catalogue essay by Loren M. Danforth for the “Cryptozoology: Out of Time, Place, Scale” exhibition held last fall at Bates College Museum of Art in Maine and the H&R Block Space in Kansas City, Mo.
The centaur, a half-man, half-horse creature, has been displayed in the library’s Jack E. Reese Galleria for 13 years. In a screen on the showcase’s back, the centaur is described as “one of three centaur burials discovered in 1980 by the Archaeological Society of Argos Orestiko, eight kilometers northeast of Volos, Greece.” It is set up in the strictly academic fashion that one would expect of a museum piece. However, the question remains, taunting its onlookers from the plaque on the case’s front: “Do you believe in centaurs?”
Alison McGowan, a freshman in English, said she learned — while at orientation — how the centaur came to the university.
“I believe they told us about the art professors who brought it in during orientation,” she said.
Most students are unaware that it is a work of archaeological fiction.
Veronica Harris, an undecided sophomore, said whether fictional or not, the work looks real.
“I think it could be real. If it’s not real, whoever made it did a great job because it looks authentic,” Harris said.
Even though the creature remains a work of art, the Zoogoer describes it as “one of the most amazing mythological hoaxes.”
It was first assembled in the 1980s by Williams Willers, a biology professor at the University of Wisconsin. He combined the bones of a Shetland pony with a human skeleton and stained them with tea to make them appear aged. After exhibiting the artwork, Willers placed it in a barn for storage.
In 1992, Neil Greenberg of the University of Tennessee’s Department of Zoology and Beauvais Lyons, a UT art professor, began campaigning to raise funds to purchase the centaur and display it at the university. The exhibit finally secured its spot at UT in 1994.
One may ask why two professors would want to trick students in such a manner. The answer is a lesson in skepticism.
“Many students are conditioned to believe the word of authorities, whether they be academic, political, scientific or religious,” Lyons said.
In Zoogoer, Greenberg said science is not always as factual as it often seems: “I want my students skeptical. Science is not a pile of facts and bones but acts of critical inquiry, driven by imagination and reined in by logic.”