Dragons in History

“The dragons of legend are strangely like actual creatures that have lived in the past. They are much like the great reptiles which inhabited the earth long before man is supposed to have appeared on earth. Dragons were generally evil and destructive. Every country had them in its mythology.” (Knox, Wilson, “Dragon,” The World Book Encyclopedia, vol. 5, 1973, p. 265)

Stories of dragons have been handed down for generations in many civilizations. No doubt many of these stories have been exaggerated through the years. But that does not mean they had no original basis in fact. Even some living lizards look like dragons and it is easy to see how a larger variety of such an animal could frighten a community. Have you ever seen an old dinosaur film where they used an iguana in a miniature town set to create the illusion of a great dragon?

In 2004 a fascinating dinosaur skull was donated to the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis by three Sioux City, Iowa, residents who found it during a trip to the Hell Creek Formation in South Dakota. The trio are still excavating the site, looking for more of the dinosaur’s bones. Because of its dragon-like horns and teeth, the new species was dubbed Dracorex hogwartsia. This name honors the Harry Potter fictional works, which features the Hogwarts School and recently popularized dragons. The dinosaur’s skull mixes spiky horns, bumps and a long muzzle. But unlike other members of the pachycephalosaur family, which have domed foreheads, this one is flat-headed. Consider some of the ancient stories of dragons, some fictional and some that might be authentic history of dinosaurs.

Dragons are featured in the ancient Gilgamesh Epic, a Sumerian story from about 3000 BC. (Kramer, Samuel, History Begins at Sumer, 1959, pp.170-81.) Daniel was said to kill a dragon in the apocryphal chapters of the Bible. After Alexander the Great invaded India he brought back reports of great hissing monsters in caves. Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia (“Dinosaur” entry) explains that the historical references to dinosaur bones may extend as far back as the 5th century BC. In fact, some scholars think that the Greek historian Herodotus was referring to fossilized dinosaur skeletons and eggs when he described griffins guarding nests in central Asia. “Dragon bones” mentioned in a 3rd century AD text from China are thought to refer to bones of dinosaurs.

The Chinese have many stories of dragons. Some of their ornamental pictures of dragons are shaped remarkably like dinosaurs. Marco Polo reported in 1271 that on special occasions the royal chariot was pulled by dragons and in 1611 the emperor appointed the post of a “Royal Dragon Feeder.” Books even tell of Chinese families raising dragons to use their blood for medicines and highly prizing their eggs. (DeVisser, Marinus Willem, The Dragon in China & Japan, 1969.) Above are pictures of fossilized Protoceratops dinosaur eggs (one is double-yoked) from China that are currently on display at Creation Evidence Museum. It is interesting that the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac are all animals – eleven of which are still alive today. But is the twelfth, the dragon, merely a legend or is it based on a real animal – the dinosaur? It doesn’t seem logical that the ancient Chinese, when constructing their zodiac, would include one mythical animal with eleven real animals. “The interpretation of dinosaurs as dragons goes back more than two thousand years in Chinese culture. They were regarded as sacred, as a symbol of power…” (Zhiming, Doug, Dinosaurs From China, 1988, p. 9.) Shown here are dragons that were cast in red gold and embossed during the Tang Dynasty (618-906 AD). Notice the long neck and tail, the frills, and the lithe stance. Evolutionists have brought forward some bizarre theories for how such realistic depictions could have been made. “Carl Sagan presented the idea that dragon legends are ‘fossil memories’ passed down the evolutionary lineage from our supposed early mammalian ancestors, tens of millions of years ago, who were awe stricken by dinosaurs.” (Swift, Dennis, Secrets of the Ica Stones and Nazca Lines, 2006, p. 144.)

In medieval times, the Scandinavians described swimming dragons and the Vikings placed dragons on the front of their ships to scare off the sea monsters. The one pictured to the right is from approximately 1000 A.D. (From the book The Vikings, p.17.) Indeed Hans Egede, Missionary to Greenland, drew this sketch of the “sea monster” he saw off the coast of Greenland in 1734. Numerous such stories have been recorded from the age of sailing ships (1500-1900 A.D.). The familiar story of Beowulf and the legend of Saint George slaying a dragon, which are well-known in the annals of English literature, likely have some basis in fact. Indeed the “dragon” pictured to the left is the dinosaur Baryonyx, whose skeleton has been found in England. Dragons were even described in reputable zoological treatises published during the Middle Ages. For example, the great Swiss naturalist and medical doctor Konrad Gesner published a four-volume encyclopedia from 1516-1565 entitled Historiae Animalium. He mentioned dragons as “very rare but still living creatures.” (p.224)

The city of Nerluc in France was renamed in honor of the killing of a “dragon” there. (Picture from Taylor, Paul, The Great Dinosaur Mystery, 1989, p. 40.) This animal was said to be bigger than an ox and had long, sharp, pointed horns on its head. Was this a surviving Triceratops? A famous naturalist of that era, Ulysses Aldrovandus, recorded the details of a peasant killing a small dragon along a farm road in northern Italy (May 13, 1572). He obtained the dragon carcass, thoroughly documented the encounter, and had it mounted and placed in a museum. (Aldrovandus, Ulysses, The Natural History of Serpents and Dragons, 1640, p.402.) A sketch of this dragon (on left) was included in Athanasius Kircher’s book Mundus Subterraneus written in 1678. The story is told of a tenth century Irishman who encountered a large clawed beast having “iron on its tail which pointed backwards.” It had a head similar to a horse. It also had thick legs and strong claws. Could this be a remaining Stegosaurus? (Ham, K., The Great Dinosaur Mystery Solved, p.33, 1999.)

Ancient explorers and historians, like Josephus, told of small flying reptiles in ancient Egypt and Arabia and described their predators, the ibis, stopping their invasion into Egypt. (Epstein, Perle S., Monsters: Their Histories, Homes, and Habits, 1973, p.43.) The well-respected Greek researcher Herodotus wrote: “There is a place in Arabia, situated very near the city of Buto, to which I went, on hearing of some winged serpents; and when I arrived there, I saw bones and spines of serpents, in such quantities as it would be impossible to describe. The form of the serpent is like that of the water-snake; but he has wings without feathers, and as like as possible to the wings of a bat.” (Herodotus, Historiae, tr. Henry Clay, 1850, pp. 75-76.) John Goertzen noted the Egyptian representation of tail vanes with flying reptiles and concluded that they must have observed pterosaurs or they would not have known to sketch this leaf-shaped tail. He also matched a flying reptile, observed in Egypt and sketched by the outstanding Renaissance scientist Pierre Belon, with the Dimorphodon genus of pterosaur. (Goertzen, J.C., “Shadows of Rhamphorhynchoid Pterosaurs in Ancient Egypt and Nubia,” Cryptozoology, Vol 13, 1998.)

In medieval times, scientifically minded authors produced volumes called “bestiaries,” a compilation of known (and sometimes imaginary) animals accompanied by a moralizing explanation and fascinating pictures. One such volume is the Aberdeen Bestiary, written in the early 1500’s and preserved in the library of Henry VIII. Along with the newt, the salamander, and various kinds of snakes is the description and depiction of the dragon: “The dragon is bigger than all other snakes or all other living things on earth. For this reason, the Greeks call it dracon, from this is derived its Latin name draco. The dragon, it is said, is often drawn forth from caves into the open air, causing the air to become turbulent. The dragon has a crest, a small mouth, and narrow blow-holes through which it breathes and puts forth its tongue. Its strength lies not in its teeth but in its tail, and it kills with a blow rather than a bite. It is free from poison. They say that it does not need poison to kill things, because it kills anything around which it wraps its tail. From the dragon not even the elephant, with its huge size, is safe. For lurking on paths along which elephants are accustomed to pass, the dragon knots its tail around their legs and kills them by suffocation. Dragons are born in Ethiopia and India, where it is hot all year round.”

Reliable sightings of “flying dragons” (pterosaur-like creature) in Europe are recorded as recently as 1649. (Thorpe, B. Ed., The Anglo Saxon Chronicle, 1861, p.48) “The woods around Penllin Castle, Glamorgan, had the reputation of being frequented by winged serpents, and these were the terror of old and young alike. An aged inhabitant of Penllyne, who died a few years ago, said that in his boyhood the winged serpents were described as very beautiful. They were coiled when in repose, and “looked as if they were covered with jewels of all sorts. Some of them had crests sparkling with all the colours of the rainbow”. When disturbed they glided swiftly, “sparkling all over,” to their hiding places. When angry, they “flew over people’s heads, with outspread wings, bright, and sometimes with eyes too, like the feathers in a peacock’s tail”. He said it was “no old story invented to frighten children”, but a real fact. His father and uncle had killed some of them, for they were as bad as foxes for poultry. The old man attributed the extinction of the winged serpents to the fact that they were “terrors in the farmyards and coverts.” (Trevelyan, Marie, 1909, Folk-Lore and Folk Stories of Wales, 1909.)

An example of an ancient dragon story is given to the right (click to enlarge and read some text.) The prolific 17th century writer Athanasius Kircher’s record tells how the noble man, Christopher Schorerum, prefect of the entire territory, “wrote a true history summarizing there all, for by that way, he was able to confirm the truth of the things experienced, and indeed the things truly seen by the eye, written in his own words: ‘On a warm night in 1619, while contemplating the serenity of the heavens, I saw a shining dragon of great size in front of Mt. Pilatus, coming from the opposite side of the lake [or ‘hollow’], a cave that is named Flue [Hogarth-near Lucerne] moving rapidly in an agitated way, seen flying across; It was of a large size, with a long tail, a long neck, a reptile’s head, and ferocious gaping jaws. As it flew it was like iron struck in a forge when pressed together that scatters sparks. At first I thought it was a meteor from what I saw. But after I diligently observed it alone, I understood it was indeed a dragon from the motion of the limbs of the entire body.’ From the writings of a respected clergyman, in fact a dragon truely exists in nature it is amply established.” (Kircher, Athanasius, Mundus Subterraneus, 1664, tr. by Hogarth, “Dragons,” 1979, pp. 179-180.) Such bioluminescent nocturnal flying creatures are known in some regions still today. (See the Ropen page.) Might they not be the basis for the “fiery dragon” lore from ancient civilizations around the world?

On April 26, 1890 the Tombstone Epitaph (a local Arizona newspaper) reported that two cowboys had discovered and shot down a creature – described as a “winged dragon” – which resembled a pterodactyl, only MUCH larger. The cowboys said its wingspan was 160 feet, and that its body was more than four feet wide and 92 feet long. The cowboys supposedly cut off the end of the wing to prove the existence of the creature. The paper’s description of the animal fits the Quetzelcoatlus, whose fossils were found in Texas. (Gish, Dinosaurs by Design, 1992, p. 16.) Could this be thunderbird or Wakinyan, the jagged-winged, fierce-toothed flying creature of Sioux American Indian legend? This thunderbird supposedly lived in a cave on the top of the Olympic Mountains and feasted on seafood. Different from the eagle (Wanbli) or hawk (Cetan) the Wakinyan was said to be huge, carrying off children, and was named because of its association with thunder and lightning–supposedly being struck by lightning and seen to fall to the ground during a storm. (Geis, Darlene, Dinosaurs & Other Prehistoric Animals, 1959, p. 9.) It was further distinguished by its piercing cry and thunderous beating wings (Lame Deer’s 1969 interview).

from Genesis Park

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