Dragons: Science or Science Fiction?

Join HTHT in celebrating
Appreciate a Dragon Day
January 16th!

Image Source: Pixabay.com

Since it is Appreciate a Dragon Day on January
16th, we started wondering, just where does the idea of Dragons come
from, anyway?  Why does this mythical
beast appear in ancient myths and legends all over the world, from The British
Isles all the way to East Asia? 

Ancient people did not have the kind of
scientific knowledge that we do today, but to survive in a world without
supermarkets, antibiotics, or electricity, they had to become close observers
of the natural world and experts in their environment.  This means that legends of Dragons in many
world cultures were actually based on careful observations of the natural

Image Source: Pixabay.com
Dinosaur fossil

In Ancient Greece around 500 BC, some amazing philosophers were hard at work observing nature.  One of them, Xenophanes, was one of the first known people to identify and examine fossils, suggesting that the world had been through many changes and the existence of shells deep in the rock of high cliffs must be evidence of that.  We know the Greeks were aware of fossils, and some may even have seen the types of dinosaur fossils that so closely resemble the classic European-style dragon.  Herodotus, the Ancient Greek traveler, and historian went deep into the deserts of Arabia and observed “the backbones and ribs of such serpents as it is impossible to describe: of the ribs there were a multitude of heaps. . . ” He ascribed these bones to winged serpents that had been killed by ibises.   Thinkers like Herodotus influenced the European conception of dragons as a fearsome, fire-breathing, flying reptile.  Because Dragons were perceived in their fossil state as fierce beings coming out of the Earth, today the European Dragon is often found deep in a cave, crankily hoarding the earth’s wealth, like Smaug in The Hobbit.

Image Source: Pixabay.com
European Dragon

A European Dragon is generally not a nice animal, but a Chinese Dragon is!  Chinese Dragons bring blessings, abundance, and luck, particularly in the form of much-needed water for life.  Why?  In China, there is no shortage of fossils, and ancient naturalists certainly encountered them from time to time.  As far as we know, the conception of the Dragon in Ancient China goes back even beyond the time of the Greeks, to the time Chinese people were starting to build their 5,000-year-old culture.  In the heartland of Ancient China, water was scarce and difficult to manage, but desperately needed in order to support a growing population.  The Ancient Chinese became experts in observing the patterns of clouds, the movement of air and rain, and the flow of water.  Think of a long, curving river seen from the air, a rainbow, or a gracefully curving, wispy cloud high in the sky and you can see the basic natural pattern that inspired the Chinese Dragon.  Chinese Dragons are creatures of the water, and instead of fierce guardians of treasure deep in the earth, much Chinese mythology sees Dragons as intelligent, benevolent creatures that dwell in rich palaces under the water, especially in rivers.  When a Chinese Dragon appears, it means luck and prosperity, not fire and blood!

Image Source: Pixabay.com
Chinese Dragon

We may think of Ancient people as superstitious because they did not have the detailed scientific understanding of the world that we do today.  But in fact, mythological things like Dragons were based on careful observations of the natural world.  Whether it was observing fossils or the movement of rain clouds, Ancient people were doing their own kind of “proto-scientific” observations and experiments which allowed them to survive in a harsh world without the technology that we as modern people take for granted.  Thanks our Ancient ancestor’s observations and their creativity, we have been able to enjoy the magic of Dragons for millennia.

It is not a very
big stretch of the imagination to look at modern day birds and see
characteristics that overlap with dinosaurs and even the mythical dragon. Well,
we have learned through science that birds are actually descendants of
dinosaurs. Join us for this week’s at-home experiment of the month and explore
the various species of birds, their most popular attribute – their beaks, and
how they have adapted to survive in every climate & environment! Check out the
lesson plan, grab your supplies, and take our Bird Beak Challenge!


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