News & Views | Published: 01 April 2015
Here be dragons
Nature volume520, pages42–43 (02 April 2015) | Download Citation
Emerging evidence indicates that dragons can no longer be dismissed as creatures of legend and fantasy, and that anthropogenic effects on the world's climate may inadvertently be paving the way for the resurgence of these beasts.
Long considered to be the stuff of legend, dragons cross cultures and continents. Until recently, however, scant attention had been paid to the fact that the commonality in cultural representations of such creatures indicates something more sinister. From depictions in Ancient Greek literature and Slavic myth, to the dragons of the East or allusions in Zoroastrian scripture, the descriptions resonate. What if these legends were rooted in truth? The differences in appearance — some lack wings, some have multiple heads and some seem not to breathe fire — once thought to reflect local traditions, can also readily be explained by speciation.
The 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta in 1215 has sparked an unprecedented investigation of literary resources from the early medieval period. One such document, uncovered by chance under a pile of rusty candlesticks in a locked cupboard marked “loste propertie” in the depths of the University of Oxford's Bodleian Library, provides strong evidence that the field of fantastical beasts requires urgent re-evaluation. Attributed to the monk Godfrey of Exmouth, the treatise discusses many verified aspects of English history but, crucially, proffers evidence that for millennia dragons have periodically been a scourge to civilizations (Fig. 1).
Further work has revealed that the early medieval period was a veritable paradise for dragons. This can be attributed to the period's unusually warm temperatures (Fig. 2) and an abundance of knights, the beasts' favourite combatant and food. It was also a time when wealth and status were measured in terms of gold and silver — the preferred nesting material for Western dragons. As a result, the major needs for living, feeding and, crucially, relaxation were readily available to dragons, allowing populations to flourish. The roasting of flesh and the indiscriminate demolition of hovels and castles became commonplace.
It would have been expected that humanity's ignorance of the dragon situation would have been maintained were it not for a combination of events in the past few decades. First, the global economic downturn has led to a rise in the search for 'buried' treasure, and hoards that serve as homes to resting dragons are an ideal way to bolster a failing economic policy. This strategy of 'quantitative thieving' is highly likely to provoke reprisals from slumbering dragons who awake to discover that their nests have been stripped bare.
To make matters worse, it seems that the 'block' on human awareness is occasionally failing, as evidenced in 1976 when a scientist (ironically, a knight and baron) published a non-fiction manuscript on dragons in Nature3. Sluggish action on global warming is set to compound the problem, and policies such as the restoration of knighthoods in Australia are likely to exacerbate the predicament yet further by providing a sustained and delicious food supply. It is now only a matter of time before The Third Stir takes place, and this, to borrow a phrase from Godfrey of Exmouth, will be the “bigge one”. Climatic conditions are rapidly reaching an optimum for breeding dragons, and it is only a matter of time before the neurotransfer spell loses its efficacy completely. Further research into fireproof protective clothing is highly recommended — as is an avoidance of honorific titles.
This is an extract. Read full article here: https://www.nature.com/articles/520042a#auth-3