Scientists discover the possible origin of the Chinese dragon
The Chinese word 龍 (pronounced "lon") traditionally refers to a revered, mythical dragon that is very different from the feared and fierce dragons in the western world. The Chinese dragon, by contrast, is considered a symbol of fortune and its stature is intertwined with the evolved Chinese culture and language. The origin of the Chinese dragon has always been attributed to myth and legends, but paleontologists have found the skeleton of a super long-necked dinosaur that could be what the visual imagery of the Chinese dragon is based on.
The new discovery has been named Qijianglong, or "Dragon of Qijiang," denoting the location of discovery in Qijiang city in China's Sichuan province. In 2006, a construction team uncovered fossils which turned out to be that of a 15-meter (almost 50 feet) long dinosaur that lived 160 million years ago. What's surprised the paleontologists is that its neck is so long that it is more than half of the body's full length.
According to PhD student Tetsuto Miyashita of the University of Alberta team that has just published its findings in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, “Qijianglong is a cool animal. If you imagine a big animal that is half neck, you can see that evolution can do quite extraordinary things.”
Another surprise was that Qijianglong's long neck, despite its size, was relatively light. Its vertebrae were filled with air, like birds, and could move up and down with ease. The head of the Qijianglong was also quite small, and it was found still attached to the neck to the delight of the paleontologist team.
Miyashita continued, “Qijianglong shows that long-necked dinosaurs diversified in unique ways in Asia during Jurassic times—something very special was going on on that continent. Nowhere else we can find dinosaurs with longer necks than those in China. The new dinosaur tells us that these extreme species thrived in isolation from the rest of the world.”
To be clear, Qijianglong and its companions roamed China, or the land where China would eventually come into being, over 160 million years ago in the late Jurassic period, long before humans walked on earth. It is now speculated that the ancient tribal people in China might have seen the fossilized bones of the super long-necked dinosaur and imagined the mythical beast with a long body that would soar and fly in the heavens above. The Chinese dragon enjoys a revered stature in Chinese culture and traditions. Most Han Chinese even in modern times consider themselves symbolic descendants of the dragon.
If you love learning about the beauty of the Han dynasty, watch The Virtuous Queen of Han:
The skeleton of Qijianglong is now housed in a museum in Qijiang and will be moved to a new dinosaur museum being built in the city.