Artwork of a dragon for the Durian-Project of the Blender Foundation

Dragons: Exploring the Ancient Origins of the Mythical Beasts

(Read the article on one page)

One of the most popular and persistent characters of the human mythos is that of the dragon. Whether it is a gold hoarding serpent or fire-breathing giant, dragons continue to fascinate and entertain people around the world. Yet where did the idea of these mythical beasts come from? Nobody knows for certain when or where dragons first entered into the popular culture, although tales of dragons existed in ancient Greece and ancient Samaria. Over the years, experts have put forward a number of interesting theories.


The saltwater crocodile and Nile crocodile are the first and second largest reptiles currently living on earth, respectively. Today, saltwater crocodiles have a broad habitat range, living throughout the eastern Indian Ocean regions – from the eastern coast of India, throughout Indonesia, and south along Australia’s northern coastline. The Nile crocodile is prevalent in the rivers, lakes, and marshes of Sub-Saharan Africa. Thousands of years ago, however, both species would have had a far more extensive habitat range. Evidence suggests that in ancient times, some Nile crocodiles lived on the northern side of the Mediterranean, meaning they could threaten inhabitants of southern Italy, Greece, and Spain. Interestingly, Nile crocodiles, which can grow up to 20 feet (6.1m) in length, are capable of elevating their trunks off of the ground – a movement called the high walk. This may be a clue as to why the dragons in European myths are often depicted as reptiles rearing up to slay warriors. In a similar but distinct move, saltwater crocodiles, which can grow up to 23 feet (7.0m) can propel themselves upward so that they jump out of the water to catch prey. However, dragons in Asiatic myths tend to be more serpents like.

Did legends of dragons originate from the Nile crocodile?

Did legends of dragons originate from the Nile crocodile? ( Arvalis / DeviantArt )


Many archeologists believe that the myths of dragons originated from ancient peoples’ discovery of unfathomably large, long-necked dinosaur fossils. For instance, the Qijianglong was a dinosaur that lived 160 million years ago and measured approximately 49 feet (15 m) long. Its fossil was discovered by construction workers in China. One by one, they uncovered the massive vertebrae stretched out in a row in the earth. Today, we know that these enormous bones belong to prehistoric beings but in ancient times, people would have most likely invented stories to explain what the beasts were. One of the paleontologists who has studied the Qijianglong fossil, Tetsuto Miyashita of the University of Alberta, has pondered what it would have been like for ancient people to discover such remains. “I wonder if the ancient Chinese stumbled upon a skeleton of a long-necked dinosaur like Qijianglong and pictured that mythical creature” (Gray, 2015). There is evidence to suggest that the Chinese have been finding and studying dinosaur fossils at least as far back as the 4 th century B.C.

The Qijianglong may have inspired legends of dragons

The Qijianglong may have inspired legends of dragons ( Alexanderlovegrove / DeviantArt )


A similar theory for the origin of dragons is that the myth is based on the skeletons of whales that washed ashore to the astonishment and puzzlement of early coastal dwellers. Because whales spend most of their time underwater out in the high seas, ancient humans, who did not then have advanced nautical technology, would only ever catch glimpses of the behemoths. In the Book of Job, the Leviathan (believed to be the sea-monster Cetus, the same mythological whale sent by Poseidon to attack Ethiopia) is described like a dragon in fantastic detail:

12 “I will not fail to speak of Leviathan’s limbs,
    its strength and its graceful form.
13 Who can strip off its outer coat?
    Who can penetrate its double coat of armor [b]?
14 Who dares open the doors of its mouth,
    ringed about with fearsome teeth?...
18 Its snorting throws out flashes of light;
    its eyes are like the rays of dawn.
19 Flames stream from its mouth;
    sparks of fire shoot out.
20 Smoke pours from its nostrils
    as from a boiling pot over burning reeds.
21 Its breath sets coals ablaze,
    and flames dart from its mouth…
25 When it rises up, the mighty are terrified;
    they retreat before its thrashing.
26 The sword that reaches it has no effect,
    nor does the spear or the dart or the javelin.
27 Iron it treats like straw
    and bronze like rotten wood…
33 Nothing on earth is its equal—
    a creature without fear.
34 It looks down on all that are haughty;
    it is king over all that are proud.”


None of the above. Try Thuban and you might get somewhere.

After this vinyl emerged mankind became progressively more stupid. The copmmonly available knowledge of actual flying dinosaurs known as Pteradactyls etc was lost, and graphic artists made lots of money by substituting ideas as impossible, and not even as anarchic as Darwin's very own. Years later, the few remaining copies of "Phenomena" were removed by assiduous non-believers and that a live toad was discovered in a piece of Welsh Coal, and a live Pteradactyl from marble whilst building the Mont Blanc Tunnel in very recent times made my crocodile cry, but not as much as "Kerry".

There are some interesting books which suggest in the few thousand years before Common Era there were comet storms which came very close to the earth, with some coming as close as between the moon and the earth and filling the night sky, and as well as striking the earth to end some early cultures like the Akkadians, comet swarms may have led to the stories about gods and fiery dragons.

The Apocalypse: Comets, Asteroids and Cyclical Catastrophes by Laura Knight-Jadczyk. (Laura has written several such books including Comets and The Horns of Moses.)

The Cycle of Cosmic Catastrophes by Firestone, West and Warwick-Smith (The first two are Ph.D's and Warwick-Smith is a geologist. They examine the physical evidence to compare it to the legends.)

Books like these make interesting reading and I bought mine used in v.g.c. for pennies from Amazon.

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

The Langeid Viking Battle Axe: The original and the copy.
Contrary to what many believe, battle axes from the last part of the Viking age, i.e. the 11th century, had evolved to become light, streamlined, and well-balanced. At the same time, they were powerful lethal weapons, something the recently reconstructed broad axe from Langeid in Southern Norway confirms.

Myths & Legends

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article