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Thursday, 19 December 2013

Natural History of Dragons

Natural History of Dragons
"For using dragon's bones, first cook odorous plants; bathe the bones twice in
hot water, pound them to powder and put this in bags of gauze. Take a couple
of young swallows and, after taking out their intestines and stomach, put the
bags in the swallows and hang them over a well. After one night take the bags
out of the swallows, rub the powder and mix it into medicines for strengthening
the kidneys. The efficacy of such a medicine is as it were divine!"
--Chine
se medical scholar Lei Xiao (AD 420-477)
etaa0000406_med.jpgetaa0000406_med.jpg
© A. Baker / AA World Travel / Topfoto / The Image Works
Klagenfurt, Austria: The Lindwurmbrunnen (dragon fountain), its head the skull of a woolly rhinoceros
Dragons in the Dust
In legends and folktales, dragons are
magical--yet early naturalists often
treated these creatures as part of the
natural world. Biologists in Europe
once wrote accounts of the behavior
and habitat of dragons, along with
lizards and snakes. Chinese scholars
have classified the dragon as one of
the 369 animal species with scales.
Long before the development of
paleontology, people unearthed
fossilized bones in Asia and Europe-
-and believed they had found the
remains of dragons
from an earlier age.Town Trophy
Legend has it that long ago, the marshes near Klagenfurt, Austria, were
haunted by a fearsome Lindwurm--a serpentlike dragon. It devoured all the
people and livestock who ventured its way.Finally, a local ruler called on
his knights to destroy the dragon, and after many attempts it was slain.
To commemorate the event, a "dragon" skull was placed in the town hall. In
1582, an artist borrowed the skull--really the fossil remains of an Ice Age
woolly rhinoceros--to use as a model in shaping a massive sculpture of the
Lindwurm, which still stands in the city today.
amnhTRex_med.jpg
© AMNH / D. Finnin
Tyrannosaurus rex
amnhTRex_med.jpgDragons and Dinosaurs
With their enormous size, reptilian
shape and threatening teeth and
claws, some dragons might easily
be taken for cousins of
Tyrannosaurus rex. Living dinosaurs
did not inspire the dragon idea--they
died out long before people were
around to observe them. But the fossil
remains of extinct animals have
sometimes been taken for dragon
bones--and helped perpetuate old
dragon stories.
Mortal Enemies
According to the Roman scholar Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79), a dragon could
strangle an elephant with its tail. Perhaps Pliny heard stories about pythons,
which can crush and devour large animals, though elephants are beyond
their capabilities.
So They Say
"The dragons of the mountains have scales of a golden color, and in length
excel those of the plain, and they have bushy beards, which also are of a
golden hue; and their eye is sunk deep under the eyebrow, and emits a
terrible and ruthless glance."
--Greek scholar Philostratus (c. AD 170-245)
"
33.--Woolly-rhinoceros-skull-cast_md.jpgDragon Bones"
In traditional Chinese medicine, longgu, or "dragon bones," are prescribed
as a treatment for numerous ailments, from madness to diarrhea and
dysentery. Most fragments and powders sold in Chinese pharmacies as
dragon bone come from fossil remains of extinct mammals, unearthed from
China's renowned fossil beds.
Dragon's Blood
Arab merchants once sailed to the Socotra Islands in the Arabian Sea to
obtain resin from the fruit of the palmlike dragon's blood tree. Dragon's
blood was once prized as a medicine in Europe and the Middle East.
According to the early Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder, it formed when
dragons attacked elephants, and their blood ran together and congealed.33.--Woolly-rhinoceros-skull-cast_md.jpg
© AMNH / D. Finnin
"Dragon" Skull
The skull of a woolly rhinoceros
(Coelodonta antiquitatis) was once
kept in the town hall of Klagenfurt,
Austria. It was said to be the remains
of a dragon slain before the city was
founded around AD 1250.
Chinese Parade Dragon
A Chinese parade dragon is carried by dancers from the Wan Chi Ming Hung
Gar Institute, a martial arts school in New York City, and performs the dragon
dance, a Chinese tradition linked with the Lunar New Year.

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