Sunday, November 27, 2005

Dragons - Did they Actually Exist in the Past?

Did dragons ever exist on the Earth? If not, then why are there so many stories about them throughout ancient literature, even down to daily logs of huntsmen on hunting trips, etc. And why are there identical descriptions of them in different cultures around the world despite the fact they were so physically remote? And if they did exist, why do we deny them? What is it about them that makes it so impossible to believe they ever could have lived in the long history of the Earth? Let’s start there.

The Case Against Dragons
Exactly why is it we think dragons never actually existed in real life?
Well, to begin with, there are no skeletal remains of dragons that have been discovered. When you consider that we have the fossils and bones of many, many different types of dinosaurs from millions of years ago, it seems unlikely that an animal such as this would not have left behind some physical evidence somewhere and that it would have been found by now.

Next, breathing fire is universally claimed by the stories about dragons from all over. This seems impossible to us since there are no other animals that share this trait, and since it seems biologically impossible. It seems much more likely that this is some fabrication intended to frighten or impress people, rather than a true account of a bodily function of an actual live animal. The principle of Occam’s razor suggests the simplest answer is more likely the truth, and it is much simpler to think that people just invented this aspect for storytelling purposes. It adds drama and danger and risk, and therefore attributes glamour and virtue and heroism to those who conquer it.

Finally, flight itself seems awkward and unlikely for an animal of the size claimed for dragons of classical times. Aerodynamically speaking, in order for any object to fly, there must be sufficient lift to compensate for the weight of the object. Lift is generally created by two factors: 1) the size of the wings, and 2) the shape of the leading edge of the wings. And this only covers gliding through the air. It does not cover the needs for taking off from the ground in the first place. That presents a whole other set of problems. For that, you must be able to either flap the wings vigorously, or else achieve enough speed on the ground that the airflow under and over the wing’s surface will provide sufficient lift.
Small planes must achieve speeds over 100 miles per hour to lift off, and they are considerably lighter than a dragon would be. According to ancient accounts, the largest dragons were reportedly large enough to completely wrap themselves around a full-grown elephant. It seems unlikely that a 40 or 50 foot or longer lizard with wings stretched out, could run over 100 miles per hour to achieve the lift required for take-off. Can you imagine an elephant running that fast? The bulk and weight is far too much.
And an animal the size of a classical dragon would require wings so large that it couldn’t flap them. Imagine a flying lizard with a 80 foot wingspan! The musculature and skeletal structure required to support and maintain (let alone try to actually FLAP) wings of that size, would be impossible. The muscles would be so big and so heavy that they add too much weight, which in return would require yet bigger wings, which means MORE muscle and bone, which adds MORE weight, etc. Therefore, the muscles required to solve the problem, actually serve to exacerbate the problem further.

So there you have it. The main reasons we in the west generally don’t believe in dragons, is that:
1) There are none now, and there is no physical evidence remaining of any in the past
2) It seems impossible for an animal to breathe fire
3) Animals of the size claimed would simply be too big to fly

The prosecution rests. Well that’s it, then. Guilty as charged. Stamp the page, close the book. Bailiff, read the next case please. …..

Wait. Not so fast there, judge. The defense speaks...

What’s Wrong With That Picture?
If they were just an invented bit of fantasy, then why do they turn up in different cultures all over the ancient world, and with the same features and attributes? Why do all the pictures, paintings, carvings, embroideries, and descriptions match even though those cultures did not communicate at the time? And over such an extended period of time, from thousands of years ago, continuing right up until just a few hundred years ago. They have been cited and described in detail by people from New Zealand all the way to the Inuit (Eskimos) of northern Canada.

And why are these references not restricted to just stories? If they are merely fantasy, why do they not appear only in fantasy stories? Why do they appear in the logs and accounts of municipal townships dealing with a local problem, and in the logs of huntsmen. And they are noted in the accomplishments of fighters, strong men, and warriors of old, when their credentials were read at competitions. (as in: “Wang Cho has killed 1 lion, 4 bears, 1 tiger, 2 dragons, 8 wild boars, …”). Why are dragons included in the list of years on the Chinese calendar along with other normal animals? (The year of the Horse, year of the snake, year of the dragon, etc.). Why are there so many accounts in the literature of ancient times that merely state the facts of dealing with dragons as a matter of record?
And, by inverse logic, if the custom of ancient cultures is to include fantasy creatures in normal everyday documents, then why not other fantasy creatures such as flying horses, mermaids, satyrs, and leprechauns, etc. Why only dragons?

Also, dragons are even described in the Bible. That is, there are 34 references to “dragon” spread across 10 books in the King James version of the Bible. They were in the Ancient Hebrew Masoretic text, which is the original source document for the Old Testament of the Bible. The original Hebrew word for dragon is “tannin”, and that is seen in many places including the book of Job, one of the oldest books of the bible. The word was translated into "Behemoth" and "Leviathan", and then later, those words were again translated into elephant, hippo and alligator.

Marco Polo noted in his records of his trips to China that the royal family kept dragons for ceremonies.

How Could It Be Possible?
Years ago I read an article in a science magazine written by a researcher who was looking into the municipal records of a small village in ancient China, and he noted how there was casual mention of dragons quite often. He cited one case where an outlying village had been bothered by a bear, and so the leader of the main town determined that he would take out some hunters on a two week excursion to kill the bear and help that village. On the way out, about two miles down the road from the town, they were attacked by a dragon, who they then killed by a spear, and arrows. Since they were on their way out for a 2 week trip, they did not wish to carry the carcass all along the way with them, so they left it there and thought they would pick it up and carry it back to town on their way back. But by the time they came that way again, 2 weeks later, the dragon’s body had deteriorated too much already, so they resolved to leave it there. It became such a marker on the road that people used it to tell how far they were from town. Over the course of the next few months, it quickly dissolved until finally, within 2 years, the bones themselves had dissolved away to nothing so that it was barely a stain on the ground anymore. No skeleton remained.

How is that possible? And is that a clue?
The researcher decided to involve a couple other scientists from other disciplines. Biologists looked at the stories, and did some research and analysis and determined that indeed, there are certain metabolic processes that could create acids that would dissolve the tissues like that even after death. Further, these acids would be produced along with certain gases. Specifically hydrogen and other gases that are lighter than air. This got them thinking.

One expert biologist in this field who has speculated on the subject of whether dragons were real is Dr. Peter Hogarth, Senior Biologist of the University of York, in the UK. He has written several books now on the subject. He may have even been one of the original biologists discussed in the article I read back in the 1980’s. He is considered the world’s foremost authority on the real-life possibility of dragons.

Dr. Hogarth and the other biologists ended up determining that an animal could conceivably have 4 stomachs like a cow, but generate gases in them that would create enough buoyancy to help lift the animal into the air, almost like a balloon. Some birds today have air sacs like that. This would allow the animal to have shorter, smaller wings since they didn’t have to work as hard to lift the entire weight of the animal. The wings would mostly be used to take off and maneuver then, which reduces the size necessary to within more reasonable limits.
Now, it just so happens that hydrogen, when mixed with platinum powder, and oxygen of the air, will ignite into flames at room temperature.
The thought was that when the creature needed to dive to attack, it would have to expel some of it’s gasses in order to reduce buoyancy. Expelling gasses would have meant igniting into flames from the mouth.
Why didn’t it burn itself? Well, flame resistant skin is not so rare, actually. Some animals are quite resistant to flame, radiation, etc. The so-called “super-rat” of South America and the Indian subcontinent became resistant to fire when they burned the sugar cane fields. They also became resistant to poisons, and virtually every method devised to kill them except hitting them with a club. So the resistance to heat and flame is certainly evolutionarily possible and even pre-existent in other species.
Finally, as it turns out, the same metabolism that would create hydrogen in internal sacs, which would also create fire when expelled and mixed with air, is also highly caustic and the natural acids would dissolve the body and skeleton quickly once the creature is dead. So the very thing that would allow it to fly and breathe fire, also served to eliminate the concrete skeletal evidence to today's scientists that it once lived.
Ah, the ironies of Mother Nature. The defense rests.

Final Judgement?
Personally, given the information presented here, it's difficult to know whether they truly existed or not. What once seemed totally impossible, now seems at least scientifically possible. It is not logical to simply dismiss all the matching stories, accounts, logs, records, drawings, carvings, embroideries, and other renderings that occurred over thousands of years from the top of the world to the bottom. Across societies which were not aware of each other let alone in communication with each other. How likely is it that the accounts and pictures would be so exactly alike without communication between them, unless they had all seen the same thing?

Also, what is the point of listing creatures of fantasy in municipal records and logs, etc. if they did not exist and pose actual problems to be solved? Why go to that trouble? It would simply be illogical for accounts of dragons to exist anywhere but in stories if they were not real. And now we have a scientific explanation to support their possible existence. For my part, I am not comfortable enough to say they definitely existed, but I will allow that they were possible, and, given the widespread accounts over thousands of miles and thousands of years, I must admit that they probably did exist.
You will have to make up your own mind based on the information presented here.

In a 90-minute televised special called "Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real", hosted and narrated by Patrick Stewart, that was an entertaining, detailed and realistic study on the subject that took over 2 years to make, Dr. Hogarth explains in great detail about exactly how dragons could have existed and the exact nature of their metabolisms and their habits, and shapes, sizes, mobility, etc. Yet, in the end, he must still say that despite all the indicators, he cannot say for certain that dragons really existed. He has to protect his reputation as a scientist.
To hide part of your research conclusions in order to keep your reputation so you can keep funding your research: Ah, the ironies of the business of science.

You can read more about this subject and read an interview with Dr. Hogarth at Animal Planet's website:
Have fun!


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