Sunday, January 10, 2010

Dragons and Dinosaurs

Dragons are a creature that feature in the stories and mythologies of various cultures around the world.  They're mentioned in the Bible and ancient middle eastern stories, they feature prominently in east Asian traditions, and have also featured in ancient and medieval European folk tales.  The east Asians typically depict dragons as large snake-like creatures, while the Europeans typically depict them as sauropod-like creatures, oftentimes with wings.  While dragons may be depicted somewhat differently in different cultures, it seems that giant reptilian creatures of some sort feature in stories from all around the world.

So where did all these people get these ideas about giant reptiles?  The study of Paleontology has only been around since the 19th century, but people have been finding dinosaur fossils for hundreds, maybe thousands of years.  Could the stories of dragons have been developed by people who found dinosaur fossils?  If so, the next question in my mind would be how did they know the fossils were reptilian?  If they had never seen large reptiles before, what would make them think the fossils belonged to reptiles?  Even if someone in ancient times had found an intact skeleton of a sauropod, what about it would indicate to them it was a reptile instead of some bizarre cross between a giraffe and an elephant?

Some people point to the Ica stones as evidence that some dinosaurs roamed the earth at the same time as humans.  The Ica stones also depict scenes that appear to show men looking through telescopes, performing open heart surgery, and performing cesarean section births.  These stones are generally believed to be a hoax not only because of what they depict, but because one man who sold the stones claimed he had been carving them himself (Although it's been claimed that he confessed to carving them to avoid jail time, because if they were legitimate artifacts, they would be the property of the government, and therefore, illegal to sell.).

But the Ica stones are not the only depictions of dinosaur-like creatures from the past.

An ancient Greek mosaic known as the Nile mosaic of Palestrina depicts what looks like some sort of dinosaur like creature.

The temple of Ankor Wat in Cambodia has a depiction of what has been alleged to be a hippo with a lotus flower behind it.

It also looks a little bit like a stegosaurus.  I don't know if it is a stegosaurus, but I don't think it looks like a lotus flower and hippo either (tail looks to long to be a hippo to me).

A figurine found in Anatolia also bears a modest resemblance to a stegosaurus:

It might not be a stegosaurus, but it's hard to tell exactly what it is supposed to be after a few thousand years of weathering.

People argue over what these ancient artworks depict, but what about the depictions of dragons themselves?  Regardless of how you spin it, dragons resemble dinosaurs.  Any single depiction of a dragon might not match up exactly with any single known type of dinosaur, but there is no denying the obvious similarities.  I think it's also important to note that dinosaur skeletons are rarely ever found completely intact.  Modern depictions of dinosaurs are artists interpretations based partially on fossil evidence, and partially on guesswork.  With that in mind, there may be even more similarities than previously thought.

So where did the ancients come up with their ideas of dragons?  Are they the result of some ancient psychic having visions of the earth's distant past?  Or could people have seen 'ghosts' of dinosaurs, like a type of residual haunting?  Or could it be that ancient people found dinosaur skeletons and tried to visualize what they may have looked like (much like how modern artists try to visualize what they looked like based on scientific descriptions)?  Or is it just a mere coincidence that depictions of dragons just so happen to resemble depictions of dinosaurs?  Or could it be that humans and some dinosaurs did coexist at the same time?

Some people think that dinosaurs and humans not only coexisted at the same time, but that certain types of dinosaurs still exist today.  Some people have speculated that the Loch Ness monster and Champ may be plesiosaurs.  Chessie of the Chesapeake Bay is said to be a long serpent like creature, which some some have speculated might be a zeuglodon.

Of course, it's not known whether those sea serpents actually exist, much less if they are dinosaurs that survived extinction.  However, stories of dinosaurs surviving extinction are not limited to aquatic dinosaurs.  The Mokele-mbembe is allegedly a type of sauropod that lives in remote areas of the Congo today.  The term Mokele-mbembe translates to "one who stops the flow of water," because apparently the Mokele-mbembe is so large it can get into a river and stop the flow of water.   A handful of westerners have claimed to see the animal, and when locals of the region are shown pictures of animals known to exist in the region, they are able to identify them; when they are shown animals not native to the region, they draw a blank; when shown pictures of sauropods, they identify them as Mokele-mbembe (Although, according to the Wikipedia entry on the subject, a BBC documentary interviewed some tribe members who identified the Mokele-mbembe as a rhinoceros.  So I guess it may depend on which local you ask).  And it is not a situation where they are confusing the picture of a sauropod with a smaller sized reptile, because they are clear that the Mokele-mbembe is very large, and the name itself suggests that it is very large.

So what are the odds that some large sauropods could have survived extinction and still roam the earth in remote areas?  I don't know what the odds are, but it may be important to emphasize that the regions these animals supposedly inhabit are very remote.  We may have satellites and have charted the whole planet, but there are still plenty of places in the world that are rarely visited by people.  There are monuments in the Amazon that modern archaeologists have not excavated (not yet, anyway).  It's known that these monuments are there because they can be seen from an airplane.  But those monuments stay still.  They don't go anywhere.  A 'Mokele-mbembe' - whatever it is - can move around. So while there may be satellite images of the Congo and western investigators may have traipsed through the jungles at various times, the entire Congo is not under constant surveillance.  

Some people have also claimed to see pterosaurs flying through the sky.  There are also stories of flying serpents, which may or may not fit the description of what a dragon is.  A sighting of a flying serpent isn't necessarily paranormal though, as is it known that some snakes have the ability to glide through the air.  However, I doubt a small snake gliding through the air would be mistaken for a large dragon.

So is it possible that some dinosaurs survived extinction and still exist today?  Well, it's not only possible, it's true.  For anyone who doesn't believe that, I would recommend you go to the local zoo and look for an animal known as the 'crocodile'.  Crocodiles walked the earth with the Tyranosaurus Rex, and they still walk the earth today.  The Tuatara lizard also walked with dinosaurs.  Turtles lived with dinosaurs.  The coelacanth was once thought to be a prehistoric fish that had gone extinct, that is, until they found some living ones.  Certain types of insects, such as a grasshoppers and cockroaches, walked with dinosaurs too.  All of these animals look the same now as they did in the past.  All of these animals survived the dinosaur extinction.  Bugs, turtles, fish, and small lizards might not be dinosaurs, but crocodiles are.  Crocodiles are not the largest type of dinosaur, nor are they the smallest.  They are dinosaurs in every sense of the word.  They not only lived at the same time T-Rex's lived, but they are clearly large reptiles.  If you factor in their aggressive nature, the term 'terrible lizard' (which, of course, is what the word 'dinosaur' means) could be a fitting description.

So if crocodiles still exist, why not another type of dinosaur?  Could dinosaurs be the inspiration for dragons?  Could the dragons that the Chinese people revere have been some type of dinosaur that their ancestors had seen?  Could a dinosaur sighting have turned into a local tradition, which in turn spread to other communities, which eventually lead to a widespread tradition? Could a similar sighting somewhere else have produced similar results in other cultures around the world?

Something to ponder, I suppose.


  1. Wonderful post! I just love this subject. I was thinking about something like this the other day. The subject of Bigfoot. It seems at times as though man around the world and all parts of our own country seem to see this big hairy man so much like a gigantopithecus from the past. The same with dinosaurs, Loch Ness, and dinosaurs in Africa. It makes you wonder. It's just such a universal thing that either there's some way man has "memories" of his own ancestry, DNA contains memories, we flash sometimes past an image of something that once walked the land like a residual haunting as you said. It's almost like it's in us to know these things. Look at pyramids found in China, Egypt, the Americas? Crazy, huh? Dragons in many cultures from Asia to England. The other possibility is that the ancient world was not as isolated as we think and they passed on the stories from other cultures, hence Gilgamesh and the Great Flood. These tales are so intriguing, they bring them home with them...

  2. I wonder if dinosaurs are also archetypes, common to all cultures worldwide.