_Face: When people found giant fossils of dinosaurs, their imaginations took hold and filled in all the missing pieces. That’s about as simple an explanation as I can give.
natha105: Why do you click on click-bate?
One of the absolutely most compelling things to us humans is a good story.
Before the internet, before books, before television and radio, we all lived in pretty small towns where nothing overly dramatic ever happened. When a stranger was passing through that was a big deal. They might have weird stuff to sell (consider how exciting someone selling a wooden box with a hing would be in a town where the general store only sold stuff the owner’s son could make. And as people like attention and to feel special, travelers would tell stories. Stories they had heard claiming them as their own, or just fables and legends. It gave you something to do once the sun went down.
So it makes perfect sense that stories would spread and stories that resonated (for whatever reason that you care about dragon stories these people did too), would spread faster.
the_original_Retro: We’ve always had a fear of scary monsters, and giant lizardy/snakey/salamandery/eely ones are easy to imagine would be really scary if they were supersized. A few fossil dino claws wouldn’t hurt too, especially if shown to a peasant and accompanied by a thrilling story.
So in a classic good versus evil tale (which more often than not had a companion man versus nature element), the hero defeating a giant lizardy/snakey/salamandery/eely creature kinda comes naturally and will grow organically out of regional folklore.
And then all of those regional-cultural villains got translated over into the concept of the english word.
Portuguese “Giant sea leviathan!” –> English “Ooh, dragon.”
Chinese “Scaled flying snake with claws!” –> English “Ooh, dragon.”
and so on.
robynflower: One possible explanation is a combination of known animals such as crocodiles and alligators and the remains of animals such as whales which could wash ashore. The combination of a huge crocodile like creature which could leave equally huge remains behind could be the origin for dragons. However since the myths date back so far it is impossible to really say for sure. You could even postulate a theory round them having existed though the evidence is somewhat fanciful – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pG8jBoKho_g
Loki-L: While some people claim that people in the past misinterpreted fossils that probably had little to do with it.
If you look at all the dragon legends of Eurasia you will start finding certain patterns and similarities. The stories might have divered over time but if you follow them back to their roots you sort of notice how they get more similar and how it seems they are just different version of the same original myth.
There appears to have been a myth in proto-indo-European religion that most of these came from. They did not have any writing so details about that are scare but the many different culture descended from them all have the same pattern of myths.
There is a pattern of Heroes/Gods slaying serpents/dragons. Indra and Beowolf, Heracles and Thor, Sigfried and Perun, Susano’o and Apollo all were dragon slayers in some fashion.
Often the God is associated with thunder and the battle has some element of fighting against chaos.
So instead of many different legend we seem to really just have one legend of one dragon that got retold many many times around the world.
Might the original legend have been influenced by dinosaur bones. Unlikely as the oldest versions of the legend didn’t really talk about the sort of dragons we know today from fiction. They talked about the hero fighting some large serpent not a Godzilla sized monster with wings.
The monster started to grow as the story got retold and evolved it gained size, wings or a fiery breath. After all what was an impressive feat for illiterate nomadic hunter gatherers lost some of its glory as people developed better weapons and technology.
Dragons only really started to look as much like dinosaurs as they do today when people actually discovered dinosaurs and started to reconstruct what they looked like and got inspired. There is little dinosaur in historic ideas of Lindwurms etc.
By the time people came across dragon like legends in places untouched by the proto-indo-european culture they were already used to seeing dragon myths everywhere they went and when searching for the best known concept to translate entities like Quetzalcoatl to they simply went with dragon even if they didn’t really have much in common.
Bnthefuck: are we talking about religion?
soulreaverdan: There’s a theory by Carl Jung referred to as the “collective unconscious.” The idea is, basically, that since all humans are created from the same “mold,” the unconscious background of our minds function basically the same way. This is sometimes used to explain similarities in legends and myths across cultures. Because all (or most, allowing for deviations) humans are wired the same way in the unconscious parts of our minds, we’re going to create similar, if not completely identical, myths and legends even if the cultures creating them never existed.
vlt88: Well you are assuming a lot here and your question is actually far more complex than it may seem.
First “dragon” isn’t a uniform term or animal. Variations are extensive and the role that these creatures play in various cultures is extremely varied.
Second, why just Eurasia? There are similar creatures in the mythology of the americas and I would guess Africa.
Third, stories travel. Humans trade, trade requires travel, and after you trade you stick around and chat.
Forth, people develop stories for the unexplained. With snakes, crocodiles, whales, squids, and lots of crazy looking animals are out there. A simple confusing sighting could get mistaken for dragons or any other mythical animal.
Fifth, yes fossils. Fossils are old some look like dragons. geologic Time was not understood in the West until at least the 17th century. It was assumed these were just dead animals or more interesting, manifestations of Neoplatonism (or interpreted through other philosophies). The work of Adrienne Mayor is cool on subject of mythology and fossils.
My point is history and mythology is great subject, but when you consider the unspecified nature of “dragons” and all the people and cultures who had some form of lore, the answers are very varied.