well totally non architypal, i read, that the early greek had seen skeletons of elephants (before they ever saw an elephant alive) and mistook the large front nasal cavity for an eye socket and 'constructed' the cyclops myth from that. (they had evidence of some large animal, that had mythical powers, never have seen one, and with only the skull to judge.. came up with cyclops.. (there is the same sort of evidence about 'griffens'--you can google and--there was an article in the early 1990's in archiology magazine about how mythical griffens might have been constructed out of fossilized evidence(of a dinosaur)

elephant aren't found (naturally) north of sahara, and african elephants don't lend themselves to domestication anyway, so the closet elephant that could be domesticated would have been indian.. (and pretty far away.)

there are large game animals who's existance was thought to be fabled until the modern exploration of the interior of africa (ie, late 1800/early 1900's.