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Creation 39(4):54–55, October 2017

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Are there dragons in the British Museum?

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british-museum-dragons

Dragon Plesiosaurus.1 Yes, you read that correctly. It’s the name given to some of the earliest found fossil plesiosaurs from the famous fossil beds of Lyme Regis, UK. Most visitors to the British Museum of Natural History would not anticipate dragons among the collection. However, several Dragon Plesiosauri were unearthed in the 1830s and 1840s by Thomas Hawkins, an early fossil collector, and were subsequently acquired by the British Museum.

Writing in 1840, Hawkins identified his finds as belonging to a group of animals known up until that day as dragons—in this case dragons of the sea. He titled his book on the subject The Book of the Great Sea Dragons, Ichthyosauri and Plesiosauri. He was not alone in this way of thinking. His workmen, pondering the plesiosaur remains they were unearthing in 1832, referred to it as a ‘dragern’, in their West County dialect.2

Many of the sea dragons in Hawkins’ collection were actually found by Mary Anning (see creation.com/mary-anning) of Lyme Regis. Anning was an accomplished amateur paleontologist of her day with an international reputation. She is credited with the first-ever complete Plesiosaurus find in 1823, and in 1828 the first correctly identified British example of a pterosaur, as well as many ichthyosaur fossils.

Anning’s pterosaur was described to the prestigious Geological Society of London in 1829 by the first Oxford professor of geology,3 William Buckland. He referred to it as “a monster resembling nothing that has ever been seen or heard-of upon earth, excepting the dragons of romance and heraldry.”4 Headlines of the time celebrated Anning and her “flying dragon”.5 An unpublished painting of the pterosaur made that same year (and one of the first pterosaur reconstructions) pictured it in the style of an historical dragon or basilisk.6 

Mary Anning’s flying dragon, eventually assigned the name Dimorphodon macronyx, was purchased by the British Museum (Natural History) in 1835.7 It remains in the museum collection, though it is no longer on view.8 

One of Thomas Hawkins’ sea dragons, acquired by the museum in 1848, had been artfully and appropriately renamed Thalassiodracon hawkinsii (Greek for Sea Dragon of Hawkins), and can be viewed in the Fossil Marine Reptiles gallery in the British Museum. An ichthyosaur specimen (Ichthyosaurus communis) purchased from Hawkins by the British Museum in 1838 is also displayed, stamped with the abbreviation HAWK. SEA-DRAG.9 

The British Museum of Natural History was established by Sir Richard Owen, a naturalist who coined many new scientific names (including the above Thalassiodracon hawkinsii in 1840). Sir Richard came up with the name dinosaur (‘great or terrible lizard’) in 1841 to cover the novel fossil reptiles that were being found in his time. Technically this category did not include plesiosaurs, ichthyosaurs, or pterosaurs. Nonetheless the term dinosaur came to popularly include almost every beast that had formerly been identified under the title of ‘dragon’.

The fact that these fossil finds were quite readily identified as dragons at the time of their discovery, and that people around the world retain cultural memories of when their ancestors knew ‘dragons’, stands in stark contrast to the evolutionary belief that such beasts (under a new name) all became extinct well before any human existed. Yet it affirms the reality of the Bible’s history, that every group of creatures, living or extinct, was created within the same six real days as the first human couple and lived alongside human beings.

What’s in a name? Is a dragon by any other name still a dragon? If so, there are dragons in the British Museum.

WikiCommonsMary_Anning
This portrait of her and her faithful dog Tray hangs in the Natural History Museum, London. For more on her fascinating life, see creation.com/mary-anning.

Mary Anning (1799–1847)

A devout Christian, Mary spent her entire life collecting and dealing in fossils she excavated from the cliffs along the English Channel at Lyme Regis in SW England. She was the inspiration for the tongue-twisting rhyme commencing ‘She sells sea-shells by the sea-shore’.

Despite rarely being given credit for her finds at the time, in 2010 she was recognized as one of the top ten British women who have most influenced science.

Mary’s many important findings (see main text) contributed to our understanding of ancient marine life—undoubtedly deposited at the time of Noah’s Flood, though unfortunately history has claimed her as a champion of evolution.

References and notes

  1. Hawkins, T., The Book of the Great Sea-Dragons, Ichthyosauri and Plesiosauri, William Pickering, London 1840. Return to text.
  2. Hawkins, T., Memoirs of Ichthyosauri and Plesiosauri, Relfe and Fletcher, London, p. 41, 18349. Return to text.
  3. McGowan, C., The Dragon Seekers: How an extraordinary circle of fossils discovered the dinosaurs and paved the way for Darwin, Perseus Publishing, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 20019. Return to text.
  4. Transactions of the Geological Society (February 1829), in Emling, S., The Fossil Hunter, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 20099. Return to text.
  5. American Museum of Natural History, Happy Birthday Mary Anning! (2014); amnh.org .9. Return to text.
  6. Martill, D.M., Dimorphodon and the Reverend George Howman’s noctivageous flying dragon: the earliest restoration of a pterosaur in its natural habitat, Proc. Geol. Assoc. 125(1):120–130, 2014 | doi:10.1016/j.pgeola.2013.03.003. Return to text.
  7. Martill, ref. 6. Return to text.
  8. Emling, S., The Fossil Hunter, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2009. Return to text.
  9. Nelson, V., Dire Dragons, Untold Secrets of Planet Earth Publishing Company, Red Deer, Alberta, Canada, 2011. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Dire Dragons
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Readers’ comments

Stuart B.
A wonderful article showing the change in thinking that occurred after Darwin’s theory took hold in the scientific community and the notion of deep time placed dinosaurs and men tens of millions of years apart. What I find most telling is how the original reconstruction of the Dimorphodon resembled a medieval basilisk. If you look at the skeletal anatomy of a Dimorphodon it clearly has two legs, wings, and a long tail. How it actually looked in life is a point of speculation. Many reptiles have spines and other features on their skin that are not part of the skeleton, but are part of the external appearance. There is no reason not to think that Dimorphodon may have had similar features in life that were not preserved during fossilization - spines or frills which may have looked like a feathery covering to anyone observing the creature from a distance. Dimorphodon also has a very bird-shaped head, with a mouth that looks not unlike a parrot’s beak.

The artist is a product of the era they live in, and as a result their work reflects the cultural perception of the times. An artist needs to represent a subject in a manner that their audience can easily interpret when they view it. That might be why medieval basilisks took on more of a chimera-like appearance in art, despite the fact that they were probably more reptilian in nature. What I find most ironic is that if you showed a rendering of one of today’s “feathered” dinosaurs to someone from the Middle Ages, they would probably turn to you and tell you it’s a basilisk!
Chris M.
1. Soft tissue, red blood cells found in dinosaur bones.
2. Writings from people describing dinosaurs, dragons, whatever you want to call them.
3. The book of Job that describes one in pretty great detail.

Three pretty compelling pieces of evidence that dinosaurs lived with humans in the not so distant past. Not to mention when you take the fact that scientists from the 19th century, such as Lyell, set out to separate science from Moses and thus created this old earth time frame, it's pretty clear these things didn't live millions of years.

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