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Author Topic: Why do you find dragons in both Europe and China?  (Read 18058 times)

Offline ...lets split up...

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Why are dragons depicted by both ancient China and western Europe?

I remember reading a theory that they found fossilised bear skulls back in the day and invented the creature that bore it (similar to the idea of a cyclops from an elephant skull). Did this happen in both nations, if it happened at all?

Was there a link between the two nations and was the idea of dragons taken from one to the other via this route?
« Last Edit: 01/11/2008 15:51:47 by ...lets split up... »


 

Offline Pumblechook

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Why do you find dragons in both Europe and China?
« Reply #1 on: 01/11/2008 21:14:39 »

 

Offline DoctorBeaver

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Why do you find dragons in both Europe and China?
« Reply #2 on: 02/11/2008 13:56:03 »
You get dragons in ancient South/Central American art too.
 

Offline Bored chemist

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Why do you find dragons in both Europe and China?
« Reply #3 on: 02/11/2008 14:15:43 »
One possible answer is that the idea of the dragon is very old. If it existed before mankind spread out from wherever we started (probably Africa, but the garden of Eden would have the same effect) then our ancestors would have taken the idea with them. You would get stories of dragons wherever there were people to tell stories.
 

Offline DoctorBeaver

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Why do you find dragons in both Europe and China?
« Reply #4 on: 02/11/2008 14:29:55 »
Or maybe dragons are real!

 

Offline RD

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Why do you find dragons in both Europe and China?
« Reply #5 on: 02/11/2008 14:34:54 »
lizards with wings do exist...



http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Draco_lizard
« Last Edit: 02/11/2008 14:38:47 by RD »
 

Offline ...lets split up...

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Why do you find dragons in both Europe and China?
« Reply #6 on: 02/11/2008 16:32:07 »
For some reason i have a quote from somewhere stuck in my head... "Here there be dragons"

can't remember where it came from.
 

Offline DoctorBeaver

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Why do you find dragons in both Europe and China?
« Reply #7 on: 02/11/2008 17:00:21 »
I think you may find that comes from old maps. If I remember rightly, it was used to signify areas that had not been explored properly. On sea maps it was common to see "Thar be whales".
 

Offline RD

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Why do you find dragons in both Europe and China?
« Reply #8 on: 02/11/2008 17:38:12 »
I think you may find that comes from old maps. If I remember rightly, it was used to signify areas that had not been explored properly.
On sea maps it was common to see "Thar be whales".

Don't you mean "Thar be Monsters"...



http://scienceblogs.com/worldsfair/2007/08/thar_be_monsters_science_relig.php

(admittedly the one of the monsters depicted looks like a whale with two blow-holes)
« Last Edit: 02/11/2008 18:01:03 by RD »
 

Offline DoctorBeaver

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Why do you find dragons in both Europe and China?
« Reply #9 on: 02/11/2008 18:34:02 »
The amazing beaver is correct yet again!  [^]
 

Offline LeeE

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Why do you find dragons in both Europe and China?
« Reply #10 on: 03/11/2008 00:19:39 »
I'd guess that the idea of dragons first occurred when humans started quarrying stone for building, as opposed to just picking bits up, and found fossils.  All civilisations would have found fossils but those who were actively quarrying would probably find more and whereas the find of a fossil by a single person collecting rock might not be passed on through any society that they were part of, a find by a team of people working together seems more likely to have been noted and become part of their society's lore.
 

Offline DoctorBeaver

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Why do you find dragons in both Europe and China?
« Reply #11 on: 03/11/2008 02:05:05 »
LeeE - that wouldn't explain why dragons are depicted as being largely the same from all around the world. Surely, with no contact between the continents the inhabitants would conjecture the fossils as being from animals that looked different. And they didn't just conjecture them to look similar. Universally there are legends of fire-breathing dragons. How could such a belief come into being across the world when the inhabitants of the continents were isolated from one another?
 

Offline ...lets split up...

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Why do you find dragons in both Europe and China?
« Reply #12 on: 03/11/2008 08:47:58 »
If it really did happen like that, it's quite impressive that the information didn't suffer from "broken telephone" during cross-continent migration over the time it took to populate the world.

And just a thought, maybe if you cross reference the movement of ancient man across the world against the records of dragons you could find the "birthplace" for the idea of dragons. Dragon hunter Mecca.
 

Offline LeeE

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Why do you find dragons in both Europe and China?
« Reply #13 on: 03/11/2008 17:15:45 »
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LeeE - that wouldn't explain why dragons are depicted as being largely the same from all around the world

This is all mostly guesswork, so I'm not going to try to defend the suggestion, but the only real similarity between dragons seems to be their proportions i.e. they all tend to be long and thin, as opposed short and dumpy, like a hippo.  In detail there seem to be quite a few differences - crests, number of eyes (yeah - iirc, some of the old reports of dragons give them different numbers of eyes), number of limbs (would you class a Wyvern as a dragon?), and of course, wings - I believe the Chinese dragons tend to be wingless).  In terms of proportion, dragons would seem to be a match for either the stoat/otter families, or lizards (possibly including snakes).  As well as the more common lizard type of dragon, there have also been ancient reports of giant otter-like monsters.

I think the overview section in the wiki dragon article shows that there was actually quite a large variation in dragons and that they were only alike in broad terms.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dragons#Overview

The situation would have also been something like taking two people from one of those isolated South American jungle tribes and showing one of them a Ford and the other a BMW - they'd both agree that they'd seen a car and would describe them similarly, while noting that there was some variation in cars, just as there is with animals.

The fire-breathing aspect of dragons is very interesting, although once again, I believe that this isn't universal in all dragons.  My best guess at this comes down to trying to portray a noxious, but not necessarily flaming, breath.  Even today, a cartoon would show show bad-breath as curly lines emanating from the mouth and it wouldn't be too difficult to misinterpret these as flames if you didn't already know that it just meant bad-breath.  What would then be interesting is to know why it was thought that dragons had bad-breath?  Perhaps it was just that in those times before the invention of mouthwash, it was assumed that anything that big must have bad-breath.

Like I say though, all it's just guesswork.
 

Offline RD

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Why do you find dragons in both Europe and China?
« Reply #14 on: 03/11/2008 17:36:44 »
The fire-breathing aspect of dragons is very interesting, although once again, I believe that this isn't universal in all dragons.  My best guess at this comes down to trying to portray a noxious, but not necessarily flaming, breath.... What would then be interesting is to know why it was thought that dragons had bad-breath? 


Quote
Komodo dragons also possess virulent bacteria in their saliva, of which more than 28 Gram-negative and 29 Gram-positive strains have been isolated. These bacteria cause septicemia in their victim... There is no specific antidote to the bite of a Komodo dragon, but it can usually be survived by cleansing the wounded area, and treating the patient with large doses of antibiotics. If not treated promptly, gangrene can quickly develop around the bite, which may require amputation of the affected area. Because the Komodo dragon appears immune to its own microbes, much research has been done searching for the antibacterial molecule in the hopes of human medicinal use
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Komodo_dragon#Venom_and_bacteria

So Komodo "dragons" probably have world-class halitosis, and their bite could cause serious inflammation.
 

Offline BenV

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Why do you find dragons in both Europe and China?
« Reply #15 on: 03/11/2008 17:37:40 »
The fire-breathing aspect, in reference to lizard-based drangon myths at least, could well be a result of seeing a forked tongue flitting out of the mouth...
 

Offline DoctorBeaver

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Why do you find dragons in both Europe and China?
« Reply #16 on: 03/11/2008 18:54:23 »
LeeE - I didn't say that dragons are depicted across the world as being the same in all details (nor that all were fire-breathing). I meant that if you take ancient images of dragons from China, Europe & South America you would see largely the same thing. Your car analogy was a good one - the headlamps may be different, you may have a hatchback and a sports car; but the overall appearance would be similar.

My point was that no dragons were depicted as being like bears, wolves, big cats or whatever; the were all, no matter where in the world the legends originated, depicted as large, scaly and serpentine. If the legends sprang from the discovery of fossils I would have expected a lot of differences in their descriptions.
 

Offline LeeE

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Why do you find dragons in both Europe and China?
« Reply #17 on: 04/11/2008 15:53:32 »
I see what you mean Doc - yes - dragons all tend to be long and thin, whereas if all fossils were interpreted as dragons then they'd also be short dumpy ones.  Then again, dragons aren't the only mythical creatures, so perhaps the obviously different fossils were interpreted as different mythical creatures?  One point to remember is that although the idea of dragons seems to have been pretty much world-wide, they can only all be regarded as dragons once there is a consensus between all the sources as to what defines a dragon.

I knew about the Komodo dragon's state of dental health care but as they're limited to a very small region they couldn't have been the prototype for a widely distributed creature.  That is unless similar creatures were widely distributed at the time the dragon legends were started but have since become extinct - is there any evidence to suggest that this is possible?

BenV's suggestion about the forked tongue sounds reasonable too.
 

Offline DoctorBeaver

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Why do you find dragons in both Europe and China?
« Reply #18 on: 04/11/2008 18:10:24 »


LeeE - If you found a skull like the 1 above, you would quite possibly imagine the beast it came from as being from different to what someone else might imagine; so I don't think you can say that just obviously different fossils would result in different imaginary beasts.
 

Offline LeeE

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Why do you find dragons in both Europe and China?
« Reply #19 on: 05/11/2008 05:20:16 »
I'm not sure that anyone but an experienced paleontologist would make a guess as to what that skull's body would look like  i.e. it could look like anything to you, me or zog.

Like I said, it's not an argument I'd support - just my best guess.
 

Offline ...lets split up...

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Why do you find dragons in both Europe and China?
« Reply #20 on: 05/11/2008 08:43:27 »
I just realised i'd hate to have been eaten by a prehistoric bear.
 

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Why do you find dragons in both Europe and China?
« Reply #20 on: 05/11/2008 08:43:27 »

 

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