Antwerp, Belgium’s second largest city, started as a river port during Roman times and grew to become the world’s diamond center.

Local legend tells of a giant who would extract tolls from boatmen navigating the river. He cut off the hands of those resisting his tax. A Roman legionnaire ended this nonsense by slaying the ogre and flinging his huge hand into the river. Hantwerpen was the spelling of the city for centuries and means throwing the hand.

Some huge bones, unearthed years later, substantiated the legend. The local museum displayed these remains as belonging to the giant until somebody realized that the bones were a fossilized rib and shoulder blade from a two-million-year-old right whale. Scholarly research ensued and turned up aanwerpsoil deposited in a river delta—as the more likely source of the city’s name. Did this create a municipal identity crisis? Momentarily, perhaps.This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 19-03-Antwerp-sculpture-throw-hand.jpg

Undaunted by the bare-bone facts, the locals have commemorated the brave legionnaire’s fictional heroism with a bronze sculpture, which is the main plaza’s centerpiece. (A stream of water courses from the amputated hand.) Also, hands remain on the city’s coat of arms, sweet shops sell hand-shaped cookies and chocolates, and the hallmark for locally produced gold and silverware is, naturally, a hand.

The notorious whale bones, now accurately labeled, are still on display at the local Museum aan de Stroon. 

14 thoughts on “Did whale bones cause an identity crisis in Antwerp?

    1. Hi Libby,
      I am glad you liked the post. After knowing each other for 50+ years, please call me Roy!! 😉
      Best wishes, Roy

  1. Great story. I didn’t know the origin of the city name. Is that “wright whale”, or “Right Whale”? My understanding is that the “Right Whale” got its name as it was the “right one” to kill. It provides a good source of blubber (also therefore floating well when dead due to the buoyancy of the fat) and swims in accessible locations, making it easier to hunt.

    1. Hi Ed,
      I am glad you liked the post. I have fun researching and writing them, just like you do, I guess, with your awesome photography.
      Best wishes, Roy

  2. Don’t know how you come up with this stuff but it’s oddly interesting. Almost like Ripley’s “Believe it or Not”. Am I dating myself?

    1. Hi Alan,
      I do not think you are dating yourself referring to Ripley’s. Just to check, I googled it just now, They have 17 “Odditoriums” scattered around the country in heavily touristed locations. I’ll make a point of visiting if I come across one. No telling what I might learn about bones!
      Best wishes, Roy

    1. Hi Diane,
      Thanks for the feedback. Learning should be fun. It is for me. I try to make it so for others. Please let other fun learners know about the blog.
      Best wishes,
      Roy

  3. Dr. Meals,
    Thanks for encouraging me to visit your blog site. Your posts are beautifully written, informative, and very entertaining. Might I suggest a topic for your future consideration- the impact of calcium channel blockers on bone heads?
    Keep up the terrific work!
    Jerry Brown

    1. Hi Jerry,
      A am glad you like the blog. Please spread the word since writers need readers.
      Where would we get bone heads to test the effects of calcium channel blockers?
      Best wishes,
      Roy

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