Fossil, dinosaur and dragon montage (Legendz Collective)

Unearthing Unexpected Fossil Usage in Ancient Medicine (Part 2): Dragon Pills to Gods' Horns

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Of all fantastic creatures of legend, dragons are undisputedly the most iconic of the lot. One powerful reason for their fame may be found in the fact that dragonkind permeates across cultures worldwide, with much of humanity mutually admiring these cosmopolitan creatures throughout generations. So how did dragons become insanely famous and revered by people of completely different cultures? A probable explanation might've come from the fossilized remains of dinosaurs and related animals.

Three triceratops in a museum could be taken for mythical creatures like dragons

Three ceratopsian skulls in a museum could be taken for mythical creatures like dragons (Legendz Collective)

Dragon Bones

Dinosaurs and their close relatives (which includes flying pterosaurs and marine reptiles like plesiosaurs ) have been unearthed in all continents. It's very likely that these prehistoric lifeforms inspired the foundations of dragon mythos. Whenever saurian fossils are spotted in diverse locations, they'd be classified under the extinct animal category. In antiquity, however, their bones would've been assigned under the label of mythical beasts instead – where fantasy reigns supreme. It's been confirmed that the ancients have confused actual animal fossils for remains of fabled creatures on numerous occasions; such as the accounts of glossopetrae or “dragon tongues” as previously described in Part 1.

Additionally, ancient folk once mused that fossils themselves contained miraculous healing properties; having used them as key ingredients in medicinal preparations historically. Today, prominent cultures with roots dating back thousands of years are still handling fossils for therapeutic purposes (even selling them at modern apothecaries). Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a prime living example.

Artistic representation of plesiosaurs (Legendz Collective)

Artistic representation of plesiosaurs (Legendz Collective)

Ancient Chinese Beliefs

Chinese lore originally considered fossils to be dragon bones. Dragons in turn are venerated as ancestral deities symbolizing prosperity, wisdom or divine might. As such, whenever individuals would encounter fossils or skeletons during olden times, emotions of sheer draconic excitement would arise from inside their hearts. One twist, though: these alleged dragons were none other than misidentified animal bones – this time belonging to dinosaurs or even extinct mammals.  

Chinese soil is rich in fossils with a majority of the world's recent dinosaur discoveries being excavated from their provinces. These discoveries included major scientific breakthroughs which tremendously shook modern popular culture's image of dinosaurs; where instead of appearing as scaly lizards, it's very likely that several meat-eating varieties (including the famous Tyrannosaurus ) were feathered proving that dinosaurs and birds are of the same family. The general public's perception of dinosaurs is prone to constant flux as new findings keep popping up that revolutionize old ideas. Going backwards to classical antiquity, however, the ancients did not view dinosaurs for what many modern people know them for today. Nay... dinosaurs were magic dragons to their antique eyes.

Dinosaurs shown as scaly lizards (Legendz Collective)

Dinosaurs shown with feathery plumage (Legendz Collective)

Oddly enough, numerous Classical Asian art depict dragons possessing scaly, feathery or furry features. Did ancient people knew something that modern minds might have missed? One could wonder. Nonetheless, their dragons appear serpentine and elongated in appearance – quite different to most modern carnivorous dinosaur imagery. Because of the dragon's divine heritage, their bones are thus said to be mystical in nature.

TCM refer to “dragon bones” as Long Gu (Mandarin) or Os Draconis (Latin). Interestingly, dinosaur bones aren't the only fossils being used in preparing Long Gu compounds. Fragments of mastodons, horses, rhinos and other megafauna have been considered “dragons bones” as well. In fact, most Os Draconis specimens in Chinese medical shops today originated from extinct mammals rather than dinosaurs, as megafauna species were once abundant in primordial China like the dinosaurs that thrived before them.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (Legendz Collective)

Traditional Chinese Medicine (Legendz Collective)

Today’s TCM

Fast forward to present day, many Long Gu preparations (mammal or dinosaur) come in the form of pills or capsules. In antiquity, Long Gu were commonly roasted under intense heat to ash (known as calcining), or taken as fine powders. Ancient texts like the Shennong Bencaojing – a medical compendium written around 200 to 250 AD which are based on much older traditions from the legendary sage-king Shennong claim that dragon bones are useful in treating “demoniac ailments”. Today, these ailments would be referred to as psychiatric disorders. Long Gu are said to normalize internal organ functions whilst dispelling emotional disruptions caused by invading “spirits”. Nowadays, TCM practitioners would use Long Gu for treating cases of manic depression, epilepsy, anxiety disorders and insomnia.

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