Dragons! These mythical beasts captivate us with tales of their power, intelligence, cunning capability, and frightening reptilian appearance. Although no one has ever seen a live, fire-breathing dragon, what is it about these mythical creatures that we find so intriguing? No matter how much time we spend searching for dragons, we are never going to find one, nor even evidence that they existed.
Nevertheless, millions of people from a variety of cultures continue to be enthralled by tales of huge, scaled beasts with natural flame-throwing ability and a penchant for magic. Throw greed into the mix and we have a frightening beast that makes regular appearances in fantasy novels, video games, and films.
The idea of dragons has been around so long, we aren’t really sure when they made their first appearance. Some say that dragons made their debut on the walls of the ancient Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Among the motifs shown on those old ruins are images of creatures that do indeed resemble a dragon or some sort of small dinosaur. It’s difficult to find a match for any known animal so we can only assume that the artist was revealing the fruits of his or her imagination. The alternative hypothesis is that dragons did indeed exist during the days of Babylon, or that they at least lived on in the consciousness of the Babylonians.
The most likely explanation for depictions of dragons in Babylon, ancient China, medieval Europe, and so many other places throughout history does not involve kidnapped princesses and valiant knights. It is related to the finding of fossils and lack of a proper, science-based explanation. Before the 19th century, when dinosaur bones (or any other fossils) were discovered, any explanation was possible and usually took the form of religious beliefs associated with a global deluge, or, that they were remains of ancient dragons.
In a sense, many of those bones were the remains of dragons, albeit, ones that we refer to as dinosaurs. As far as we know, they didn’t breathe fire nor perform magic, but some of them did come pretty close to descriptions of dragons. Perhaps it comes as no surprise then that China, the country with some of the most prevalent myths about dragons, is the one with the highest number of dinosaur fossils. The deserts of China are a treasure trove of fossils, especially dinosaurs, many of the bones being some of the best preserved dinosaur fossils on the planet.
Many fossils of dinosaurs are discovered in China to this day although we have ceased to believe that they are the remains of dragons. Contrast this to ancient times when people had no concept of the true age of the Earth nor past eras, and it’s easy to see how dragons fit into the equation. All it took was knowledge of common, actual animals like lizards and other reptiles, some imagination (perhaps stoked by various fears), and dragons were born.
However, that brings us to the continued existence of dragons and the modern era. Unlike past ages, we now know that the scaled, winged fire-breathing monsters never existed, and have good explanations for the appearance of giant, weathered bones. That said, judging by the number of times dragons appear in popular culture (including the popularity of exquisite dragon statues and decor), there’s no question that the mythical, fire-breathing monsters are probably more popular today than they have ever been.
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