If it is possible that the Loch Ness Monster may have been one of the last remaining members of an extinct species then the same could be true for the dragon. How else could one explain the remarkable similarity between ancient depictions of dragons and some long-extinct dinosaurs? Well actually, the widely recognized medieval image of the dragon may have evolved from the original serpentine dragon after dinosaur remains were accidentally uncovered in classical Mesopotamia. In ancient Greece, Rome and the Celtic world dragon iconography was much more like that of China. Europe did not convert to the modern, metric dragon until much later on.
But does this alteration of dragon iconography help us determine the origin of the myth? Not really. The dragon, albeit in a more serpentine form, features in the folklore of almost every culture around the world and is synonymous with power, strength, wisdom and often brutality. The ancient civilizations of Central America even worshiped flying serpent gods, going so far as to make blood sacrifices in their honour. The serpent cults of Eastern Europe and Central Asia may once have done the same for their own dragon icons too. Clearly this reptilian obsession is as old as mankind itself.
But does this mean that dragons are nothing more than a distant memory from our primordial past? The people of medieval Europe and Asia clearly thought otherwise. To them dragons were everywhere, hiding in the cave down the road, burning down churches and eating their children. It was believed that the far off lands of the East were abound with the fire breathing brutes.
Are we to take these stories literally? Many scholars believe that dragons are nothing but a metaphor for evil and pagan ritual, but while this may be true of some Christian folklore there is much evidence to suggest that the monsters these people were so afraid of were not merely ideological in nature.
In the Far East, of course, dragons have entirely different connotations. There they are considered to be creatures of great wisdom and spirituality. They are associated with the elements of water and air, rather than fire. The gods are said to have descended from the sky inside the belly of a dragon. Legend has it that Emperor Huang Ti also ascended to the stars aboard a dragon drawn chariot. This, says UFOlogist Hartwig Hausdorf, is evidence that dragons were not living creatures at all, rather some kind of alien spacecraft.