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The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Etruscans and Romans all used animal-shaped waterspouts. During the 12th century, when gargoyles appeared in Europe, the Roman Catholic Church was growing stronger and converting many new people. Most of the populations at this time were illiterate, and therefore images were very important to convey ideas. In the medieval world many creatures had mystical powers attributed to them. Also, human qualities were sometimes ascribed to specific animals—that is, the animals were anthropomorphized. This was especially common for pagans, and using these ideas helped conversion to Catholicism. Some animals (such as the rhinoceros and the hippopotamus) were unknown in Western Europe during the Middle Ages so gargoyles of these species (such as the ones at Laon Cathedral) are modern gargoyles and therefore did not have symbolic meaning in medieval times.
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