Dragons: Evidence They Existed

blessmycottonsocks

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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.

The Wyvern strikes me as a far more plausible creature, as no vertebrate AFAIK has ever possessed six limbs (although obviously the draco volans has 4 limbs and a wing-like skin spread across its extended ribs).
 

PeteByrdie

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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.
Excellently put! Your model of the development of mythical beasts makes total sense, although in his book, Dragons: More than a Myth, lordmongrove makes an excellent argument for the Chinese long originating from occasional encounters with indo-pacific crocodiles (if memory serves, but I'm sure he can correct me).

The four legged, two winged dragon is far older than medieval. They are found in ancient Babylon.

Are you able to post any links to art depicting such dragons, and is there any evidence of an unbroken tradition of creatures in that specific form from Babylon to western Europe?
 

Comfortably Numb

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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.
Dragons do not exist, never have and neither do fairies, or goblins.

Wish it was otherwise... comprehensively, simply isn't...
 

PeteByrdie

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Dragons do not exist, never have and neither do fairies, or goblins.

Wish it was otherwise... comprehensively, simply isn't...
Well I wouldn't go that far. Six limbed fire breathing reptiles certainly don't exist and never have. But given the wide range of mythical forms referred to as dragons, with some level of monstrous reptilian appearance being the only common characteristic, there are many candidates. Dinosaurs, and other ancient archosaurs, huge or venomous snakes, crocodilians, komodo dragons. As I said in the above post, defined broadly enough, anything becomes universal.
 

Mikefule

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As for fairies we have the bones of at least one type of goblin, the ebu-gogo or Homo floresiensis.
And..
But given the wide range of mythical forms referred to as dragons, with some level of monstrous reptilian appearance being the only common characteristic, there are many candidates. Dinosaurs, and other ancient archosaurs, huge or venomous snakes, crocodilians, komodo dragons.

Lordmongrove: Superficial resemblance is not the same as being identical with. The goblin is a small humanoid to which legends attribute a number of characteristics. H floriensis was a small humanoid but there is no reason to suspect that it had any of the other defining characteristics of a goblin. Similarly with PeteByrdie's examples.

Goblins and dragons could be described as known things, described as larger or smaller than the originals, and with added features from other sources.

I could describe a creature that was black and white striped, huge, with a trunk, and with a long mane. Pointing to those features on zebras, elephants and lions would not suggest that my creature existed. It would only highlight the paucity of my imagination.

Not addressing your points but making my own:
It is of course plausible — likely, even — that the crocodile was one of many inspirations for dragon myths. It would be unjustifiable reductionist to say that the dragon was a poorly described crocodile. There would certainly no basis for taking the argument a step further and saying that stories of dragons are evidence of a recently extant species of super crocodile.

If you look at pictures of Egyptian gods, you will see humanoids with the heads of dogs, cats and hawks. I can find you humans, dogs, cats, and hawks, but that is not evidence that those gods were based on actual creatures that had animal heads on human bodies.

As I said in the above post, defined broadly enough, anything becomes universal.

Ooh! Define anything broadly enough, and the definition ceases to be meaningful.
 

PeteByrdie

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Lordmongrove: Superficial resemblance is not the same as being identical with. The goblin is a small humanoid to which legends attribute a number of characteristics. H floriensis was a small humanoid but there is no reason to suspect that it had any of the other defining characteristics of a goblin. Similarly with PeteByrdie's examples.

Exactly. Either the words have a meaning which refers to a specific thing, or they are merely adjectives. We could call H. floresciensis (or chimps, or aye-ayes, or tarsiers) 'goblin like', but that implies no relationship between the two, and certainly proves no causal relationship between human experience of one and the creation of the folklore of the other. Goblins are diminutive, ugly, mischievous or evil spirits, native to European folklore, and for them to exist, that's what we'll have to find to prove it. Similarly, the long, or the piasa, or quetzalcoatl, or Tiamat, or even Python who guarded the oracle of Delphi, could be described as 'dragon-like', but if your definition of a dragon is a large, winged, fire-breathing reptile, they are not dragons. If your definition of a dragon is a monstrous or dangerous reptile, well yes, dragon myths become universal. But there's little to be learned from that except what is obvious, that mythical creatures often contain elements from living taxa. Assuming anything else from the many reptilian monsters of the world, just because they're lumped into the category of 'dragon', is unwise, because...

Ooh! Define anything broadly enough, and the definition ceases to be meaningful.
... which I suppose is my main point.
 

AlchoPwn

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Dragons do not exist, never have and neither do fairies, or goblins.
Wish it was otherwise... comprehensively, simply isn't...
By heavens I wish you were correct. I have seen a pixie IRL. It is my one and only supernatural encounter. I was lucky enough to see through one of their numbers' "glamorflage". I promise you that I saw this, though I can't promise that what I saw wasn't subject to me having some sort of mental break, because I saw a pixie FFS. Why couldn't I have seen a ghost or an alien? They're much less embarrassing.
 

PeteByrdie

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By heavens I wish you were correct. I have seen a pixie IRL. It is my one and only supernatural encounter. I was lucky enough to see through one of their numbers' "glamorflage". I promise you that I saw this, though I can't promise that what I saw wasn't subject to me having some sort of mental break, because I saw a pixie FFS. Why couldn't I have seen a ghost or an alien? They're much less embarrassing.
I love 'glamorflage', I don't know if you originated it but it's a great portmanteau.
 

Frideswide

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I love 'glamorflage', I don't know if you originated it but it's a great portmanteau.

Isn't it? there's a makeup line called that, I think.
 

Frideswide

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Yeah, came up with it for that very post, unaware that anyone else had.

Allopatric generation of words - you definitely get the kudos!
 

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The Wyvern strikes me as a far more plausible creature, as no vertebrate AFAIK has ever possessed six limbs (although obviously the draco volans has 4 limbs and a wing-like skin spread across its extended ribs).
The dragons wings may not be limbs as we think of them but extended ribs as you mentioned in the Indoneasian lizard, the flying dragon, for fin like structures like the frill of a frilled lizard but running down the animals' sides.
 

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And..


Lordmongrove: Superficial resemblance is not the same as being identical with. The goblin is a small humanoid to which legends attribute a number of characteristics. H floriensis was a small humanoid but there is no reason to suspect that it had any of the other defining characteristics of a goblin. Similarly with PeteByrdie's examples.

Goblins and dragons could be described as known things, described as larger or smaller than the originals, and with added features from other sources.

I could describe a creature that was black and white striped, huge, with a trunk, and with a long mane. Pointing to those features on zebras, elephants and lions would not suggest that my creature existed. It would only highlight the paucity of my imagination.

Not addressing your points but making my own:
It is of course plausible — likely, even — that the crocodile was one of many inspirations for dragon myths. It would be unjustifiable reductionist to say that the dragon was a poorly described crocodile. There would certainly no basis for taking the argument a step further and saying that stories of dragons are evidence of a recently extant species of super crocodile.

If you look at pictures of Egyptian gods, you will see humanoids with the heads of dogs, cats and hawks. I can find you humans, dogs, cats, and hawks, but that is not evidence that those gods were based on actual creatures that had animal heads on human bodies.



Ooh! Define anything broadly enough, and the definition ceases to be meaningful.

The ebu-gogo was said to steal human children, attack livestock, steal crops and generally be a pain in the arse to the Nage people. It did all the things European goblins were supposed to do. It was not called a goblin because the language was different. I'm not saying that the Homo floresiensis is behind European goblin lore just it would have been called a goblin by a European if they had encountered one.
 

PeteByrdie

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The ebu-gogo was said to steal human children, attack livestock, steal crops and generally be a pain in the arse to the Nage people. It did all the things European goblins were supposed to do. It was not called a goblin because the language was different. I'm not saying that the Homo floresiensis is behind European goblin lore just it would have been called a goblin by a European if they had encountered one.
But so far as it concerns the question of whether diminutive evil spirits were inhabiting rural medieval Europe, we can say H. floresiensis an ebu-gogo has little bearing. So, while that doesn't prove the non-existence of such spirits, it certainly doesn't mean they exist.

You are wrong, both did.
The dragons wings may not be limbs as we think of them but extended ribs as you mentioned in the Indoneasian lizard, the flying dragon, for fin like structures like the frill of a frilled lizard but running down the animals' sides.
We can theorise about what characteristics dragons may have had if they existed, but what evidence is there that a species of four limbed, seemingly winged reptile actually existed, and inspired European dragon mythology? And, more to the point, are you able to point us to it, rather than just telling us about it?

EDIT: I think I said previously in this thread that, as far as I can tell, the fire-breathing quality of European dragons is a recent development, and that they're most often described as incredibly venomous. I've since found several images of dragons breathing fire dating to at least the 13th century, so I'll retract that. However, I suspect it's a quality inherited from classical fire breathers such as the chimera or Aeete's bulls rather than from any ostensibly draconic progenitor.
 
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lordmongrove

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But so far as it concerns the question of whether diminutive evil spirits were inhabiting rural medieval Europe, we can say H. floresiensis an ebu-gogo has little bearing. So, while that doesn't prove the non-existence of such spirits, it certainly doesn't mean they exist.



We can theorise about what characteristics dragons may have had if they existed, but what evidence is there that a species of four limbed, seemingly winged reptile actually existed, and inspired European dragon mythology? And, more to the point, are you able to point us to it, rather than just telling us about it?

EDIT: I think I said previously in this thread that, as far as I can tell, the fire-breathing quality of European dragons is a recent development, and that they're most often described as incredibly venomous. I've since found several images of dragons breathing fire dating to at least the 13th century, so I'll retract that. However, I suspect it's a quality inherited from classical fire breathers such as the chimera or Aeete's bulls rather than from any ostensibly draconic progenitor.

The mushussu of Babylon is depicted as a four footed, winged beast way before European depictions. It is shown Dragons in China have been depicted as four footed, two winged beasts at least as far back as 200BC.
 

lordmongrove

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7983272.jpg
 

lordmongrove

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The fire may have been a burning venom in the earliest accounts. The god like dragons of antiquity were associsated with the element of water.
 

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Some types of snake can spit venom. It might be the fire-breathing is related to that.
 

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My example of the ebu-gogo was meant to illustrate that legends of small, man-like but none human creatures are sometimes based in truth. Om a larger scale the same could be said of trolls. Lars Thomas of Copenhagen University was researching an ancient Danish king. The king loved to hunt and there are accounts of his favourite quarry, trolls. The descriptions are of strong, man-like, hair covered creatures with thick brows. The females had pendulous breasts. They had no fire but could lift and hurl rocks that no human could. The descriptions matched up with the modern eye-witness accounts of the almasty in the Caucasus whom i had been interviewing at the same time Lars was doing his work. They fitted like a glove. Also the almasty has been reported in areas of Russia close to the boarder with Finland. Reports of trolls persisted in the wilder parts of Scandinavia well into the 20th century. The two are probably one in the same. The smaller goblins may be a distorted memory of another kind of hominin, one smaller than man as opposed to larger.
 

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We must also take into account that the dragons reported by people in medieval Europe may have been 'paranormal' manifestations for want of a better word. Something more akin to Mothman or Owlman than a flesh and blood animal that you could catch and put on display at a zoo. Janet and Colin Board touch on this in their 1980 book Alien Animals.
 

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These are both excellent examples, and exactly the kind of representation I was hoping for! Do you know anything about their age and the civilisations from which they came? And can we be sure of any direct link between their appearance and that of European dragons? I'm sorry to be pinning you down on this but you're an authority on the subject (I've got your book), but I remain unconvinced that the appearance of the winged, quadrupedal European dragon didn't arise independently.
 

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From the Classics of Mountains and Seas, also Han Dynasty. The Ying-long, the winged or 'responding dragon' who brought rain and killed unruly gods.
 
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