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Dragon Teeth Hunters and the Mindless Destruction of History

World myths present a holographic array of surreal characters and events, but among the most powerful and misunderstood of all mythological concepts, are dragon’s teeth. In Western mythology, when planted, dragons’ teeth became weapons of mass destruction and from them grew armies infused with the spirits of dead warriors. In the East, however, dragons’ teeth were and still are believed to be very real, and this article explains how Chinese alchemists are causing the willful destruction of important paleontological landscapes to support the dragon teeth trade.

An alchemical dragon illustrated in a 1460 edition of the Medieval

An alchemical dragon illustrated in a 1460 edition of the Medieval  Liber Floridus . Public Domain.

The Mythological Origins of Dragon’s Teeth

In Greek mythology, dragon's teeth were ‘planted’ in the stories of Cadmus and Jason and the Argonauts. The former hero was the bringer of literacy and civilization, who collected the teeth after killing a “sacred dragon”. Having been advised by the goddess Athena to sow the teeth, a group of ferocious warriors called the  spartoi grew from them. Jason's legendary quest for the Golden Fleece was also hindered when planted dragons’ teeth grew into fully armed skeletal-zombie-warriors.

The two classical legends of Cadmus and Jason inspired the phrase “to sow dragons teeth”, which mythologists say is archetypal for doing something that has the effect of “fomenting disputes” and making an already desperate situation, much worse. The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable  described how the myth of the Spartoi entered everyday English.

To sow dragon's teeth.  To foment contentions; to stir up strife or war. The reference is to the classical story of Jason or that of Cadmus, both of whom sowed the teeth of a dragon which he had slain, and from these teeth sprang up armies of fighting men, who attacked each other in fierce fight. Of course, the figure means that quarrels often arise out of a contention supposed to have been allayed (or slain). The Philistines sowed dragons' teeth when they took Samson, bound him, and put out his eyes. The ancient Britons sowed dragons' teeth when they massacred the Danes on St. Bryce's Day.

Portrayal of Cadmus fighting the dragon. Painting from a krater in the Louvre Museum, Paris.

Portrayal of Cadmus fighting the dragon. Painting from a  krater in the  Louvre Museum , Paris. Public Domain

Eastern Alchemy

In Chinese alchemy and early medicinal practice, mushrooms and buddha fruits were consumed with powdered scorpions, rhinoceros horn, and fossilized dinosaur teeth and bones known as  longgu or longchi (dragon’s bones), as medicine. Dragons’ teeth were, are still are, highly esteemed for their curative properties which are detailed in the oldest text of Chinese medicine, written by the mythological emperor Sheng Nung (Shennong). Speaking of the perceived powers of dragon’s teeth, they: “cure spasms, epilepsy and madness and the twelve kinds of convulsions in children.”

According to mythologist Bruce MacFadden “the Chinese value teeth more highly, and teeth are therefore more expensive than bones” and in J. Gunnar Andersson’s 1934 book  Children of the Yellow Earth: Studies in Prehistoric China , we learn that “fossilized clam shells” were powdered and dissolved in water to treat “ rheumatism, skin diseases, and eye disorders “.

The Dictionary of Traditional Chinese Medicine  lists “Dragon’s Bone and Dragon’s Teeth” under the category of Sedatives and Tranquilizers, describing them as follows:

“Dragon’s Bone; Os Draconis.” This drug consists of the fossilized bones of ancient large mammals, such as Stegodon orientalis and Rhinocerus sinensis and is used as a “sedative and tranquilizer for the treatment of palpitation, insomnia, dreamfulness due to neurasthenia and hypertension. (Xie and Huang, 1984, 202–03).

Today, it is known that fossils do not contain any curative vitamins or minerals and any improvement in health after consumption is no more that the placebo effect. But where do all these “dragons’ teeth” come from?

Dragon Teeth are much sought after in China

Dragon Teeth are much sought after in China (public domain image)

The Actual Origins of Dragon Teeth

The fossil-rich Guizhou and Yunnan Provinces in China span hundreds of millions of years back to the Precambrian and for several millennia, extremely valuable Maotianshan fossils have been dug up in Chengjiang county for use in traditional Chinese medicine. Today in China, fossils still provide a great wealth for local peasants who guard their secret locations from Chinese paleontologists and sell them to private collectors and institutions. This schism between scientists, medical alchemists and merchants, is being widened by the vast wealth of the Chinese government, which aims to make China a world leader in unearthing the fossil record.

Huaxi — far view of Banbianshan, near Guiyang, Guizhou province. Olemissius Zhang.

Huaxi — far view of Banbianshan, near Guiyang,  Guizhou province. Olemissius Zhang. Public Domain

The willful destruction of fossils in modern times, when we really should know better, stands testimony to the depth of Chinese cultural beliefs in the powers of “dragon bones and teeth.” Even as late as the early twentieth century in China, it was believed that “a sick person who buys from the chemist in his native town, let us say, a rhinoceros tooth, is assuredly convinced that he is enjoying the help of his revered patron, the dragon,” according to Andersson (1934, p82). The origin of the mythological Chinese dragon has been the focus of intense debate, but its symbolism and what it represented is very clear.

The dragon is the most powerful of all mythological beasts and it embodies the “supreme benevolent force” which controls the rain and rivers, fertilizes soil and brings life to earth. In the Han Dynasty,  Shuowen the dragon is described as follows: “The foremost among scaly and reptilian creatures, the dragon could hide in darkness or appear in daylight. It could diminish or enlarge, shrink or elongate. It ascends the sky in spring and dives to the depths of the pool in autumn.” Andersson (1934, p112).

While these mythical properties were applicable in pre-history, in 2017 it is quite sad to think that a large portion of over a billion people have been so deluded by their authorities, that their superstitions are adding to the rape and destruction of one of the most resource-rich fossil beds in the world. The cynic in me concludes that it is easier to control and tax a people who are more worried about dragon energy, that the acts of their dastardly politicians.

Top image: Dragon head (public domain)

By Ashley Cowie

References

A. Room (2000) Brewer’s Dictionary of Modern Phrase and Fable.

Grimal, Pierre (1992). "Cadmus".  The Penguin Dictionary of Classical Mythology . A. R. Maxwell-Hyslop (trans.) (Reprint ed.). Penguin Books. ISBN 9780140512359.

The Dictionary of Traditional Chinese Medicine Springer; 2003 edition (July 29, 2003)

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