Dragons have never been as popular in popular culture as they are at the moment. Having played a key role in one of the world’s most popular TV shows and taking center stage as the fantasy genre remains as popular as ever before, we should see a lot more of these flying reptiles across all kinds of media. The burning question remains, have dragons ever existed and could they evolve in the future?
Unfortunately, we have to answer the question of are dragons real with a definite no. However, the many myths and stories found in ancient folklore, the Bible, and many of the great work of ancient times must have sprung up from somewhere. There are a number of animals that have existed that we believe may have given rise to the ancient folklore that led to the imagining of real-life dragons hoarding gold and breathing fire.
Let’s start out with the modern history of dragons and explore how these mythical monsters became such a staple of the fantasy genre. The name dragon is based on an ancient Greek word, “Draconta” which translates to English as “to watch.” If we take the work of J.R.R. Tolkein as a guide, his mythical dragons were hoarders of gold and precious metals and stones they would watch over and protect from greedy invaders.
The difference we find between dragons and many other villainous creatures of the past is the lack of a personality or reason to live given to these reptilians. A dragon in the majority of ancient stories provides nothing more than a reason for a hero to make their way to a location and save the day. Some may be surprised to hear of a large number of dragons appearing in the Bible and biblical stories which actually gave us the modern image of these creatures we see on TV and read about in books today. Perhaps the most famous Bible story involving a dragon is that of St. George who rode into town, slain the dragon and converted the local people to Christianity.
One of the most pressing questions we all want to be answered is what are the chances of a fire-breathing dragon having existed at some point in our history? Scientists believe we have never seen a fire-breathing dragon walk the planet but we have seen a number of animals that could have combined to give rise to the myth of the dragon. The elephant in the room is usually that of dinosaurs that we believe may have been the catalyst for the birth of dragons. Much of the reason for the link between dragons and dinosaurs come from China where the dragon is an important part of folklore and culture. Upon uncovering dinosaur bones in any part of China, local scientists have a history of declaring they have discovered dragon bones.
The first dragons born in Ancient Chinese culture are close to those we see today on film and TV but do not have the wings we now associate with flying creatures. I was shocked to discover the first dragons had long bodies and small or no legs to closely resemble snakes. Scientists have discovered fossils of early snakes with short legs to aid with burrowing they now believe could have formed the basis for the early version of snakes.
Over time, we have seen our image of dragons shift from those seen in early literature with six legs to the more commonly seen four-legged mythical creatures. The powerful bodies we now associate with dragons could be anatomically correct because powerful reptilian bords would gain their power from the muscles at the sides of their long bodies. No matter how we view the snake in the modern world we remain drawn to the ancient image of a flying reptile who breathes fire and provides our hero with the chance to prove their worth.