Dragons: Evidence They Existed

Brig

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I have an open mind about dragons. If there were ever any left over Pteradactils (sorry about the spelling) you know what I mean, any knight or otherwise seeing it would immediately assume it to be a dragon. In fact, many of the dinosaur line that supposedly went extinct some 65 million years ago, but didn't, would probably register as "dragon" to even many moderns. We are learning on a frequent basis the extinct does not always mean "gone completely". Extinct creatures just keep turning up and some so called "dinosaurs" are reported so often that scientific expeditions actually form to investigate. Loche Ness Monster, Yeti, Thunderbird, Giant Ocks (birds), Tasmanian Wolf, Mammoth are a few that come to mind. Contrary to what armchair scientists will tell you; no way have we found all the different animals, etc. that still exist in the secret places of the earth. Many are admittedly romantic hopefuls and pipe dreams but perhaps a few are real and perhaps St. George really did slay a dragon (or maybe it was just a tough old misplaced alligator) Most of us romantics still hope the incredible will appear and after all the fun is in the search and the possibility. Let us not forget the ancient fish and several long extinct animals that have suddenly reappeared because some one took the time and trouble to look. Birds are dinosaur survivors, so why not others. Maybe dragons faded out in the middle ages and then maybe not.
 

James_H

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The Anatomy Of a Dragon - an article from the British Library showing the wide range of physical appearances in mediaeval European depictions of dragons.

6a00d8341c464853ef01a3fcf56673970b-500wi

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On the first page of this thread, a now-anonymous poster wrote this:

From Edward Topsell's 'Historie of Serpentes', pub. 1608, quoted in an encyclopaedia of reptiles:

... hide themselves in trees covering their head and letting the other part hang down like a rope. In those trees they watch until the Elephant comes to eat and croppe off the branches, then suddainly, before he be aware, they leape into his face and digge out his eyes, and with their tayles or hinder partes, beate and vexe the elephant, untill they have made him breathlesse, for they strangle him with theyr foreparts, as they beat him with the hinder.

Here's a picture of same. A hearsay depiction of a boa?

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Mythopoeika

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From that account:
In the Norfolk Chronicle of September 28 1782, the following report told a different tale: “On Monday the 16th, a snake of enormous size was destroyed at Ludham in this county by Jasper Andrews, of that place. It measured five feet eight inches long, was almost three feet in circumference, and had a very long snout: what was remarkable, there were two excrescences on the forepart of the head which very much resembled horns.
Five feet eight inches long! What a monster!
Sorry, but that's not big at all. By UK snake standards, yes - it is big, but does not qualify as a monster snake.
 

Frideswide

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It does say it was almost 3 feet in circumference..... so... a rather stout and not-that-big snake!
 

Mythopoeika

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It does say it was almost 3 feet in circumference..... so... a rather stout and not-that-big snake!
Yes. It wouldn't move much with proportions like that.
 

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Yes. It wouldn't move much with proportions like that.

5'8" long = 172 cm

3' circumference = 91 cm = a diameter of only 29cm

Therefore, it was 5.93 times as long as it was thick.

That's not ideal for a snake — although we can reasonably assume that it tapered considerably from its maximum circumference, otherwise it would have resembled a sausage.

If we set aside the fact that the story sounds fictional and almost certainly allegorical in purpose, and just look at that description, such a story could have developed form the discovery of the remains of a particularly large pike or a sturgeon, or a snake that had been killed and flayed open so that it appeared larger than it really was. "Imagine what that was like when it was alive..." leads in time to a good story.

Also, of course, there is the phenomenon of incremental exaggeration observed with many story tellers, and perhaps especially with fishermen:
It was a couple of feet long.
It was a good couple of feet long.
It was well over two feet long.
It was the best part of three feet long.
It was a yard long.
It was at least a yard long.
It was over a yard long.
It was well over a yard long...
(Several stages omitted for brevity)
It was as long as I am tall... and I'm 5'8"
 

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5'8" long = 172 cm

3' circumference = 91 cm = a diameter of only 29cm

Therefore, it was 5.93 times as long as it was thick.

That's not ideal for a snake — although we can reasonably assume that it tapered considerably from its maximum circumference, otherwise it would have resembled a sausage.

If we set aside the fact that the story sounds fictional and almost certainly allegorical in purpose, and just look at that description, such a story could have developed form the discovery of the remains of a particularly large pike or a sturgeon, or a snake that had been killed and flayed open so that it appeared larger than it really was. "Imagine what that was like when it was alive..." leads in time to a good story.

Also, of course, there is the phenomenon of incremental exaggeration observed with many story tellers, and perhaps especially with fishermen:
It was a couple of feet long.
It was a good couple of feet long.
It was well over two feet long.
It was the best part of three feet long.
It was a yard long.
It was at least a yard long.
It was over a yard long.
It was well over a yard long...
(Several stages omitted for brevity)
It was as long as I am tall... and I'm 5'8"

It may have been wide due to just having swallowed a large prey item.
 

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There was a stunning photograph, some 15 or so years back, in FT, depicting UK military personnel, posted abroad and holding up an enormous snake. Anyone help with this?
 

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The above pic shows US navy seals holding a 23 foot long oarfish. In a number media outlets it was claimed that it was a 'naga' captured in the Mekong River during the Vietnam War. Of course it was no such thing.
Further evidenced by...

1551365636356215.jpg


I recalled the FT photo as being a giant Python!

False memories, eh ..

You would think someone on here would start a thread about that...
 

lordmongrove

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EnolaGaia

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I never said it dated any further back than 1996. ...

Understood ... Sorry if I gave the impression I was reacting to you personally. I just wanted to add some more specific factoids about the posted photo and give a link to the related thread.
 

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Dragons existed... seriously?

Surely it's overwhelmingly evident they most absolutely did not - same as fairies, et al?
 

PeteByrdie

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Dragons existed... seriously?

Surely it's overwhelmingly evident they most absolutely did not - same as fairies, et al?
Well, this thread has become a pretty good discussion about the various possible origins of a number of mythical beasts which we might describe with the word dragon, so I think it has proven its worth.

Since my last posts on this thread, I suppose my outlook on dragons has changed a little. I don't feel there is a clear form which we can attribute to creatures called 'dragons', and that should be no surprise to us, as mythical beasts need be restricted by no natural history. As far as I can tell, the fire-breathing, winged quadruped of traditional western depiction is of medieval origin, and I'm not even sure its fire-breathing aspect is especially common. Mostly, it's the draconic tendency to be highly venomous which is emphasised.

The 'drakonoi' of ancient Greece seem to have been essentially large serpents, with a few monstrous characteristics thrown in. Perhaps the word 'dragon' belongs only to them, but anyway it is now applied to a range of mythical monsters, and the relationships between those creatures is sometimes unclear. I've noticed that books about dragons will often contain on their back-cover blurb or within their introductory chapters, a phrase along the lines of, 'Dragon myths are universal.' This immediately seems to add a hefty relevance to the subject matter. Books about vampires or fairies often contain the same claim. But in most cases, upon examination, many of the beings deposited into these categories are much different from expected. Of course, if defined broadly enough, anything becomes universal.

So without ever having made a conscious decision to, I realised I've tended to categorise dragon-like creatures in terms of their legends, and their place in them, rather than asking whether a dragon with two legs should properly be called a 'wyvern' (as far as I can tell, a distinction only really relevant according to the rules of British heraldry).

So, for example, the serpentine drakon of Ismenia guarded the spring of Ares, was slain by Cadmus, and the warriors which sprang from its sown teeth became the founding population of Thebes. This seems to me to place it with the griffin of the Leicestershire village of Griffydam, which guarded the local spring, was dispatched by a wandering knight, and gave the village its name. Two legends, millennia apart, have a connection in their narratives. The similarities between the myth of Perseus' rescuing of Andromeda and St George's story have often been noted.

So dragons, griffins, sea monsters, can all occupy a similar place in a narrative, and can be related to one another, perhaps, even if they are physically very different. On the other hand, physically similar mythical beasts around the world may have no cultural relationship connecting them. Lordmongrove has pointed out that four footed, winged dragons appear in Mesopotamian art dating back many millennia. I'd be interested in any links he can provide, since it's an interest of mine. At any rate, their similarities to our modern view of dragons doesn't necessarily imply an unbroken cultural connection between them.

I'm disbanding the 'never seen Game of Thrones club' I began earlier in this thread. My fiancée is a fan and has introduced me to it. I'm hooked!
 
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Mikefule

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Well, this thread has become a pretty good discussion about the various possible origins of a number of mythical beasts which we might describe with the word dragon, so I think it has proven its worth.

Since my last posts on this thread, I suppose my outlook on dragons has changed a little. I don't feel there is a clear form which we can attribute to creatures called 'dragons'...
At any rate, their similarities to our modern view of dragons doesn't necessarily imply an unbroken cultural connection between them.
Top post. I enjoyed reading it. Well thought out.

The origin of the dragon myth is probably not susceptible to proof. We can speculate based on historical records and by comparison to how modern myths develop (e.g. Slender Man), and by applying what we observe in the behaviour of people around us, but we can never know.

My gut feeling is that if fossilised skulls or other bones contributed to the dragon myth, it was as confirmation and reinforcement of an existing myth, rather than as the starting point.

I can imagine someone finding fossil remains and thinking, "Crikey, that's a dragon!" Once they had done so, the evidence of the fossils might feed into the development of the dragon myth.

I find it harder to imagine someone in ancient times finding fossil remains and setting out to explain them from scratch and coming up with the dragon.

Two common things in the human imagination: exaggeration and combination:
  • Exaggeration: a 5 foot snake becomes a 10 foot snake as the story develops. The snake bites a child but this becomes "it ate a child." This is exaggerated to, "It ate children," then later, "It ate people." Then, if it was big enough to eat people, it must have been 20 feet long... and a 20 foot long serpent could "eat a whole village" — and so on.
  • Combination: When you've heard about the 20 foot snake enough times, it becomes just a 20 foot snake. But add horns, or wings, or a poisonous sting... or had the head of a goat and the claws of a lion, etc.

We can see both these phenomena in popular science fiction, fantasy and the like.
  • Exaggeration: King Kong is an ape, but a very big ape. Lovecraft's Old Ones built on a massive scale. Megalodon is somehow asssumed to be scarier than the Great White in Jaws because it is bigger. (Once a shark is big enough to eat you, frankly, further increases in size are irrelevant!)
  • Combination: science fiction is full of lizard men, insect men, cat people and so on. In superhero comics, you get the man with the powers of a spider; the man with the power to control fire; the man who bases his costume on a bat, or on an octopus.
When trying to come up with amazing or frightening stories, the human race's standard techniques are "make it bigger" and "combine features from various sources."

This is a far simpler explanation.

I'm with Pete Byrdie that the interest in dragon myths is the folkloric approach of finding the similarities and connections between the stories, rather than the reductionist approach of seeking a concrete basis for key aspects of the stories.
 

lordmongrove

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Dragons existed... seriously?

Surely it's overwhelmingly evident they most absolutely did not - same as fairies, et al?
No, the very reverse. Dragons turn up in every culture on Earth and have been traced back in legend to Africa some 40,000 years ago. Sightings persist up to the modern day. As for fairies we have the bones of at least one type of goblin, the ebu-gogo or Homo floresiensis.
 
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lordmongrove

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Dragons turn up on historic records like The Angalo-Saxon Chronicles and they the legend IS universal. The four legged, two winged dragon is far older than medieval. They are found in ancient Babylon. The wyvern, however seems to have emerged in medieval France.
 
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