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There Be Dragons

August 5, 2007

I watched a history channel documentary called “The Quest for Dragons”. In it, the documentary covered a fraction of the plethora of dragon stories from cultures scattered across the whole planet. They then went on to try and explain the widespread belief that dragons existed in many early cultures as simple superstition. Primitive people made up magical explanations for things they did not understand. Heard that one before? I’d like to encourage everyone to take a fresh look at the evidence and seriously consider an important question: How can we know when something is fictitious mythology and when it is based on fact? The truth is once again, so blindingly obvious, that I never even saw it.

Dragons in History
Dragons are recognized by almost every culture on the face of the planet. Cultures that have never had any known contact come up with very similar images of Dragons. Older natural history books list dragons alongside other “actual” creatures still living today. Consider the Chinese Zodiac where every one of the twelve animals are known to be real-life, ordinary animals except for the dragon. Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Boar, Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit: all real, most downright ordinary. But the Dragon?

‘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”. — Marie Trevelyan of Penllin

We have personal accounts throughout history of seeing various terrible lizards who would terrorize the countryside. Hopi have passed down stories of hiding behind rocks as giant lizards walked by. Every step they took would bounce them a foot off the ground. We have multiple historical figures throughout history who have reportedly interacted with dragons.

Here’s the story of Saint George according to this site:

“The story begins approximately between the years 250 AD and 300 AD. It seems there was living in a great lake a terrible dragon with breath so bad it poisoned the countryside around the lake. The local people were forced to feed this beast two sheep a day to keep it content. Pretty soon they ran out of sheep and, so the story goes, began feeding it their sons and daughters. Well, they ran out of those, too. In desperation, they took the king’s daughter and tied her to a stake in the field to wait for the dragon to come and eat her.It was her lucky day because St. George just happened to be passing by. He saw the king’s daughter tied up and crying, so he went to investigate. She warned him to run for his life since there was no point in both of them being eaten. Well, St. George, being a brave man, met the dragon head on and drove his lance through the dragon’s evil heart.”


Every depiction of Saint George I’ve ever seen shows the dragon as being a little bigger than a large dog. Not exactly the stuff of legends, it seems more likely it’s a historical account.

Evidence of Dragons
The list of evidence is pretty staggering actually. I’ve tried to compose a list of stories of dragons, it’s worth the read. I’d recommend the book After the Flood by Bill Cooper. Most of the book is talking about the history of Anglo-Saxons but he also dedicates 30 pages to discussion of dragon stories in Europe and the account of Beowulf. The thing that should really tip people off that this is more than a mythical creature is that “dragons” (they use different names) show up in every culture on the planet.

So do we see any evidence of these “dragons” today? We dig up giant bones of huge lizards on a pretty much daily basis. We call them “Dinosaurs” and say that they lived millions of years ago. We further go on to label first-hand accounts of encounters with giant lizards as “myth” and “overactive imagination”. So eye-witness accounts are purely imaginary but when someone with a bachelors degree in Science digs up bone fragments and tries to interpolate muscle and skin structure, behavior, mating habits, and vocal characteristics; that’s Science! If you think I’m exaggerating watch the Discovery channel for a while and see how many certain statements they make about dinosaurs. One artist on the History channel actually admitted that the fossils only go so far, after that it becomes artistic license.

Evolutionist Theory
So what is the explanation that the history channel and most scientists give for this unanimous belief in dragons in ancient cultures? Since we know that it is a fact that dragons were not kicking around in the 1200’s then all accounts of dragons are mythology, even when they are presented as facts by people of that time. The primitive people’s that came before Science would run across these fossilized dinosaur bones that were sitting around because of erosion and try to extrapolate these massive creatures. This would get their imaginations going and they would make up stories of encounters with terrible monsters. Once this happened dinosaurs became the catch-all explanation for things that they couldn’t explain. So when swamp gases built up and were released into the air, and somehow ignited, causing a burst of flame with no visible source they attributed that to the fire breathing property of dragons. When there were earthquakes the Hopi people attributed the mighty trembles to the footsteps of some huge beast (ignoring the fact that earthquakes don’t bounce). It is also sheer coincidence that they all happened to come up with basically the same body form give or take a pair of front legs.

An Alternative Theory
I would like to pose a more parsimonious (simple) theory. Dragons(English), Dinosaurs(Science), Tannoth(Hebrew), дракон(Russian), Drache(German) etc… are all words that point to the same thing. There were scary, huge reptiles wandering around and humans didn’t like to live with them. Let’s take our ancestors at their word and say they did actually see dragons. They were feared and every time someone managed to kill one of them they were honored in most cultures as heroes, “Dragon Slayers”.

Over time, they went extinct one species at a time, starting with the least adaptable, biggest, scariest dinosaurs in ancient times until the species were dwindled down to Saint George picking on a poor Baryonyx and the peasant Baptista beating a bewildered Tanystropheus to death… That was probably the low point in dinosaur history. Today, the only species still around are Komodo Dragons (who are too isolated to be too threatening) and alligators (who are too lazy to hold a village captive). Though humans probably helped, dinosaurs probably died out for a variety of reasons, one of the biggest being loss of habitat. Giant herbivores like Brachiosaur require massive amounts of plants to stay alive. We know that the earth used to be covered in massive trees and plants of all types. Losing this habitat would have led to the extinction of the large herbivores and possibly many of the large carnivores that preyed on them (picture a T-Rex trying to chase down an antelope through the forest).

Fossil Evidence
graveyard1.jpg The fossil record is usually used to back up the current story of what happened to dinosaurs. It’s a good example of looking at something in so much detail you can’t see your nose in front of your face. Things today do not form fossils very often. A living thing does not simply die and then fossilize. Fossilization requires very specific conditions. Directly after the animal dies, before any carrion eaters can get it and before the bones can be scattered by natural processes the corpse must be buried (mud flows work well) and kept that way for a long time. The body must be kept in a low oxygen environment so that bacteria cannot cause decay. Then the body can dissolve slowly and the calcium in the bones is replaced with other minerals in the rocks over time. The fossils that we see today did not die of old age, they were buried. We see dinosaurs at every stage of life, mothers still sitting on nests with eggs, fish in the process of eating etc. Anywhere you see a fossil it is evidence that there was a flood, mudflow, landslide or some other catastrophic event there to bury the animal before it could be eaten by something else. Scientists typically invoke local floods to create fossils any time they see obvious evidence of this rapid deposition. In the fossil record we see a mass graveyard pattern where bodies are literally stacked on top of each other. What process would most likely create that kind of pattern? The Darwin Papers have a good discussion of fossilization conditions as well as a modern test for fossilization.

Lost World

buffalo.jpg
If we relied entirely on the fossil record we would be led to believe that the stories from Native Americans of massive herds of buffalo that could wipe the grasslands clear and shake the ground like thunder are entirely mythological. There is little to no fossil evidence of these massive herds. They lived in grasslands, any time one of them died they’d be picked up by humans or scavengers and an entire herd never died off simultaneously so we never see a massive fossil bed filled with buffalo.

In this case, the white man, was around to see the ground shaking buffalo herds first-hand. Our ancestors also took the liberty to wipe out the buffalo. This we accept as history, no matter how it makes us look, because we were there. Today, the buffalo can still be seen in a five acre pen outside some podunk town that supplies Fat Albert’s with 1lb. buffalo burger. So I would ask you, is it a fair assumption to think that the world has been basically the same as what we see today considering that I know as fact that 200 years ago my backyard hosted swaths of huge beasts traveling as a group miles long?

buffalo_herd.jpg

Other Mythological Creatures
So how do we know when something is a fairy tale and when something had a basis in reality? How much of it is true? How much of it is exaggeration? How much of it is oral distortion and how much of it is a fable trying to explain a moral? Can real world events from our lives have a moral to the story?

Perhaps we should approach these questions with both skepticism and humility. Skepticism because there certainly are fictions simply because we write fiction for entertainment today. Skepticism does not mean being sure something is fiction, only being aware that we don’t have all the pieces. Humility is also appropriate in admitting the limits of our knowledge. Can we really know? I think we can test and find evidence to support or contradict. I obviously can’t cover every mythology on the planet but I picked out one because it was pointed out to me as a chief example of physical proof of fabrication of mythology. I was honestly surprised when I dug deeper.

Cyclops
Cyclops are real. I don’t mean this in an allegorical sense. I mean that there is a genetic disease or birth defect called Cyclopia. Straight off Wikipedia: Cyclops exist. The site linked here is a medical site with pictures of a human cyclops (follow the links at your own risk). They’re also at MessyBeast which has a whole slew of pictures on birth disorders. Cyclops like Cy the kitten, born in 2006, are near the bottom. We have a paper from 1665 of scientists examining a Cylops “Observables upon a Monstrous Head“. So these things were known, and should still be known in the information age. According to LiveScience “Not a Hoax, One-Eyed Kitten Had Bizarre Condition“.

So, in light of that real physical evidence, I have to wonder what is really a more plausible scenario? Is the story of a cyclops inspired by the ignorant Greeks stumbling across an elephant skull and failing to look at it from the side? Or was the story of a Cyclops inspired by… a cyclops? Maybe before people decide they should also know that (according to wikipedia) Hippocrates (400 BC) describes the herb “White Hellebore“. Now under causes of Cyclopia we find a plant called Veratrum californicum or “False Hellebore” which will cause Cyclopia. Veratrum album (Hellebore) is an herbal remedy for vommitting and cramps in pregnant women, Veratrum californicum(False Hellebore) will cause the child to become a Cyclops. The confusion is really easy to make, in fact, it took me a couple minutes to write that sentence because the distinction isn’t clear. They’re in the same family of plants. So if someone gets their plants swapped instead of getting a cure for cramps, they get a cyclops. And they still have cramps.

I can imagine some people wondering if I’m now going to claim that Zeus was really running around throwing lightning bolts like a spear. My main point is that ancient people were not as brain-dead or superstitious as they are portrayed. They’re people just like us. How far the myths go I don’t know. Most Cyclops die shortly after birth. Cy lived a day. They have a high mortality rate because their nose is squashed and they can’t breath. Their insides are all messed up. If there was evidence that humans were more genetically and physically robust in the past then perhaps one could survive to adulthood. If they did, they would be mentally retarded because of the failure of the forebrain to divide and the excess space taken up by the giant eye.

So we have a monstrous retarded Cyclops shunned from society and angry about it. Throw in a gene for gigantism and that’s basically the story. The idea that Cyclops were master black-smiths is a strike against that particular theory and in favor of the eye-patch explanation. The truth is probably some conglomeration. I do know that truth is stranger than fiction and things should not be discredited simply because they seem outlandish or silly.

Just think, this morning you thought Cyclops didn’t exist.

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3 comments

  1. Even though the history channel shows the occasional UFO special. They are still incredibly reliable. Attacking credibility?… Anyway…

    The section on saint george and the dragon is interesting on the origin of that story:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_George#Saint_George_and_the_Dragon

    Here is some interesting things on crocs:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crocodile_attacks

    This source states that most dragons were very dissimilar from one another and they are all from european orgins.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dragon#Speculation_on_the_origins_of_dragons

    Unless you consider birds to be dragons. Native American culture does not really have dragons. \

    Furthermore, I had trouble finding anything on dragons in Africa.


  2. Yeah first of all after making a site like this I don’t think that you should accuse the History Channel of being arrogant.

    First things first I couldn’t actually find a good link for the Hopi Dragon. But I do remember the documentary you watched and I kinda remember it being a bird. And when they dressed up as this “Dragon” they were adorned in a lot of bird featherers.

    Next Saint George. I am assuming that the web sites you give as reference are also the same sites that you are pulling your information from. Here is the parent site of the St. George article

    http://www.faithalone.com/

    [edit]

    It turns out that the real St George tale…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._George

    … was actually an Eastern story that was taken back after the crusades. The dragon had nested near a water source and in order to get water the villagers had to offer up a human sacrifice. They drew lots to determine who got sacrificed. Then one day the king’s daughter drew unlucky. Now that there is some royalty on the line George shows up kills the dragon and converts the village to Christianity. It’s entirely possible that the adapted story could just be another allegorical tale where the dragon represents a pagan cult.

    And now Beowulf. It’s a good story and I would suggest you reading it sometime. Just not from the Creationist web site that was provided on this web site.

    http://www.ldolphin.org/

    Ancient people did in fact find fossils and since they had no explanation for them they would make up stories about them. Granted it’s a far cry from the Discovery Channel “Walking With Dinosaurs” but it’s the same idea. In fact this may be where we get the Cyclops legend from.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyclops#Origins

    Dwarf elephant skulls were found in Crete and Sicily, and since Hesiod and Homer (not the Simpson) probably hadn’t seen a dwarf elephant before they would have seen the large nasal cavity as a massive eye socket. Also since the actual eye sockets on an elephant are around the sides.

    Now on to fossilization. If you make a statement like “Fossils only occur during mudslides” then of course you are never going to see any dinosaurs that just died of old age, evolution or not. And second of all. If all this fossilization occurred in Noah’s flood all at once, then why are so many fossils so neatly sorted by geological age and evolutionary progress. Why aren’t they all jumbled up as if they were in one massive flood.

    And apparently this flood took a little over a month of rainfall to get going. Why would all these animals bother to die in mid pose sleeping eating or sitting on a nest. If I was sitting here posting on your blog and all of the sudden we had some inclement weather I think I wouldn’t bother to stay at my computer in order to pose for Scientologist Creation Scientists 6,000 years in the future. I think I would have a reaction more akin to “Oh no! I am drowning!”

    I agree with Phillip that I would really like to see a fossil of a chewed up caveman inside a T-Rex’s belly. And even if we did find some sort of Dragonesque critter wandering around today I don’t think that there is any way that Christians could hold it up as proof of a young earth. It’d be a fascination undiscovered new species, albeit a large one.

    And remember. Just because it’s portrayed in a piece of art doesn’t mean it’s real. For the longest time moses was portrayed as having horns.

    I don’t know where Creationists stand on this, but I would love to hear a Creations Science theory on spontaneous horn manifestation.

    I request that spontaneous horn manifestation theory be your next web page.


  3. Thanks,
    I actually agree with a lot of the criticisms of this article. I was having a hard time writing it. I got stuck, because I felt like I was missing something. So after letting it sit around for a month I decided to just throw it up and see what people said. Now I think I know what it’s missing.

    The real root of what I was trying to get at is that we seem to have a cultural compulsion to consider the most mundane of all possible explanations to be the only credible one. There seems to be an effort to make history as uneventful as possible. This results in cherry-picking through accounts and labeling anything out of our everyday experience as myth. The Trojan war was long considered myth, until we found Troy. Giant squids were considered myth until one washed up on shore. Komodo Dragons were considered myth until someone went and checked. And of course, an index fossil(used for dating other fossils), which shows up nowhere else in the fossil record, which went extinct 60 million years ago, showed up off the coast of Africa (funny skeptic rant).

    I liked the movie “Man of the Year” with Robin Williams. One of his advisors told him “The only difference between history and fiction is that fiction has to sound credible.” History just happens and it seems that skeptics have been wrong often enough that a bit of skepticism in skepticism is in order. Truth is stranger than fiction. Zach has actually provided the perfect example: the Cyclops.

    Cyclops are real. I don’t mean this in an allegorical sense. I mean that there is a genetic disease or birth defect called Cyclopia. Straight off wikipedia, from the article that Zach referenced: Cyclops exist. The site linked here is a medical site with pictures of a human cyclops (follow the links). There’s also MessyBeast which has a whole slew of pictures on birth disorders. Cyclops like Cy the kitten, born in 2006, are near the bottom. We have a paper from 1665 of scientists examining a Cylops “Observables upon a Monstrous Head“. So these things were known, and should still be known in the information age. According to LiveScience “Not a Hoax, One-Eyed Kitten Had Bizarre Condition“.

    So, in light of that real physical evidence, I have to wonder what is really a more plausible scenario? Is the story of a cyclops inspired by the ignorant Greeks stumbling across an elephant skull and failing to look at it from the side? Or was the story of a Cyclops inspired by a cyclops? Maybe before people decide they should also know that (according to wikipedia) Hippocrates (400 BC) describes the herb “White Hellebore“. Now under causes of Cyclopia we find a plant called Veratrum californicum or “False Hellebore” which will cause Cyclopia. Hellebore (Veratrum album) is an herbal remedy for vommitting and cramps in pregnant women, False Hellebore(Veratrum californicum) will get you a Cyclops child. The confusion is really easy to make, in fact, it took me a couple minutes to write that sentence because the distinction isn’t clear. They’re in the same family (genus?) of plants. So if you get your plants swapped instead of getting a cure for cramps, you get a cyclops. And you still have cramps.

    So I can imagine some people wondering if I’m now going to claim that Zeus was really running around hucking lightning bolts like a spear. My main point is that ancient people were not as brain-dead or superstitious as they are portrayed. They’re people just like us. How far the myths go I don’t know. Most Cyclops die shortly after birth. Cy lived a day. They have a high mortality rate because their nose is squashed and they can’t breath. Their insides are all messed up. If there was evidence that humans were more genetically and physically robust in the past then perhaps one could survive to adulthood. If they did, they would be mentally retarded because of the failure of the forebrain to divide and the excess space taken up by the giant eye. So you have a monstrous retarded Cyclops shunned from society and angry about it. Throw in a gene for gigantism and that’s basically the story. The idea that Cyclops were master black-smiths is a strike against that particular story and in favor the eye-patch explanation. The truth is probably some conglomeration. I do know that truth is stranger than fiction and things should not be discredited simply because they seem outlandish or silly. Just think, this morning you thought Cyclops didn’t exist.



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