Did dragons really exist?

dragon

Have we got history all wrong? Is it possible that dragons were real animals that walked the Earth and ruled the sky? Could it be that dragons lived among us?

Everybody loves a dragon. They’re a fantasy staple, appearing in dozens of books, films and TV series, from Sleeping Beauty to The Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter to Game of Thrones. Sometimes they’re man-eating monsters. Sometimes they’re Toothless, the most adorable dragon ever, in How to Train Your Dragon. And they feature on numerous national flags, emblems and coats of arms, too. (I, of course, felt compelled to join in all this dragon fun when I wrote my fantasy novel, The Pendulum Swings, so I added a sassy dragon character with a deformed wing called Guibbette.)

Welsh flag

Welsh flag

Across Europe, dragons have a recognisable form. Take a look at the Welsh flag, which depicts the red Welsh dragon. These bodily features are what we imagine when we think of a dragon. The reptilian snout. The scaly hide. The bat-like wings. The four legs with eagle-like feet and talons. The long, sinuous tail with an arrow-shaped end. The reptilian tongue. And many dragons are also depicted with horns, neck frills and spines down their backs to add to their grandeur and might.

Depiction of a Chinese dragon

Depiction of a Chinese dragon

Mind you, this is just what the European dragon looks like. The other famous dragon is the Chinese dragon, which looks more like a multicoloured snake with four legs. Its reptilian snout and scaly hide are similar to its European cousin, but Chinese dragons do not have wings and are nearly always depicted with colourful flame-like frills and spines.

And while Chinese dragons are well-known for summoning rain, the European dragon has an arguably more famous trait: breathing fire.

Most people think of dragons as mythical creatures in mythical stories. Just make-believe. However, a small body of dragon believers argue passionately that dragons were real animals. Could they be onto something?

Wilson Knox says this in The World Book Encyclopaedia Vol 5, under “Dragon”:

“Dragon history is revealed on numerous objects of ancient art around the world. They are featured on Babylonian landmarks, Roman mosaics, Asian pottery and royal robes, Egyptian shrouds and seals, Peruvian burial stones, Mayan sculptures, Aboriginal and Native American petroglyphs (carved rock drawings). That’s an impressive and astounding number of cultures.”

And it’s not just ancient art that has dragons in abundance. What about the countless encounters with dragons in ancient and medieval writings?

Dragons pop up numerous times in the Bible. There are ancient historical accounts of giant serpents with bat-like wings in Egypt. In the 4th century BC, Alexander the Great apparently saw dragons fighting elephants when he invaded India. In the same century, Greek historian Herodotus reported seeing the remains of winged serpents near the city of Buto in Arabia. Herodotus said they looked like water snakes with wings similar to a bat’s rather than a bird’s. And in the 13th century AD, Venetian merchant Marco Polo travelled across Asia and reported in his journal seeing “huge serpents, which at the fore part have two short legs, each with three claws”.

Maleficent, after transforming into a dragon in "Sleeping Beauty"

Maleficent, after transforming into a dragon in “Sleeping Beauty”

There is also an account of unknown authorship from as recently as 1405. It states:

“Close to the town of Bures, near Sudbury, there has lately appeared, to the great hurt of the countryside, a dragon, vast in body, with a crested head, teeth like a saw, and a tail extending to an enormous length. Having slaughtered the shepherd of the flock, it devoured many sheep…”

Then there are examples from ancient and medieval literature, such as the story of St. George, a Roman soldier and Christian martyr, saving the fictional town of Silene from a dragon that was eating the town’s children. The Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf features the eponymous hero fighting a flying, fire-breathing serpent. And then there are the fabled battles between the white dragon of England and the red dragon of Wales, thought to symbolise the people who successfully resisted the invading Saxons and became the Welsh.

The question is, why is our history teeming with sightings, stories and visual depictions across disconnected cultures of a creature that never existed? Could the reason be that, in fact, they really did exist?

Daenerys and her dragon, Drogon, in "Game of Thrones"

Daenerys and her dragon, Drogon, in “Game of Thrones”

Modern scholars and scientists generally agree that the answer is no. They say that dragons came about because for millennia, nobody knew what to make of the giant bones that were occasionally being unearthed all over the world. So they decided they must be the bones of dragons.

Today, of course, we know that they were digging up dinosaurs.

However, some have claimed that dragons were dinosaurs. Creationist John Goertzen argued that the flying reptiles reportedly seen in Ancient Egypt were pterosaurs, citing uncanny similarities between them (such as their tail vanes).

But wait. Dinosaurs have been extinct for 65 million years. Humans only evolved a few hundred thousand years ago. Humans and dinosaurs never existed at the same time. So what’s the deal with all these stories about humans slaying dragons? Why do so many people from different cultures claim to have seen them?

Creationists have an answer. It’s that ‘slow evolutionists’—yes, that’s the technical term—have it all wrong. The Earth is not hundreds of millions of years old. It’s actually less than 10,000 years old and all life on Earth was created in a matter of days by direct acts of God, as depicted in the Bible. And yes, dragons/dinosaurs lived alongside humans. The Bible proves it.

Creationist Dr David Swift says this:

“Before humans (and possibly environmental changes) killed them off over the course of thousands of years, there is evidence—from around the world!—that humans saw dinosaurs (dragons) out in the wild.”

Now, in order to accept this, you have to reject everything that science teaches us about evolution—even though creationism has no empirical support and is merely a pseudoscientific attempt to translate the Bible into scientific facts. It tries to describe natural history by way of supernatural causes that can’t be scientifically tested. Professor Samir Okasha even called creation science a “sham” and a “dishonest and misguided attempt to promote religious beliefs under the guise of science, with extremely harmful educational consequences”.

And I agree. While I love the concept of dragons, I’m in no doubt that they’re made-up creatures. All of these alleged historical ‘sightings’ are either distorted, misinterpreted or straight-up fictional. Stories about dragons are just that, created by humans in times when limited scientific knowledge forced them to use their imaginations to explain the world. That’s essentially what the Bible is. I defy anyone who claims that the Bible is a reliable historical document. It’s not. It’s a collection of fables written by people struggling to understand the world around them.

In short, dragons were never real and creationists are bonkers.

Next week: uninvited dinner guests, phantom thumbs and parallel universe astronauts

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