Dinosaur Fossils Part of Longtime Chinese Tonic

Kevin Holden Platt in Beijing, China
for National Geographic News
July 13, 2007

When Chinese villagers were recently discovered grinding dinosaur fossils into traditional elixirs, the incident was reported worldwide as a time-bending oddity of modern-day China.

Yet such fossils have probably been key ingredients in Chinese "dragon bone" medicines for the past 25 centuries.

(Related: "Dino-Era Fossils Inspired Monster Myths, Author Says" [June 17, 2005].)

The practice came to light for Dong Zhiming, a paleontologist at Beijing's Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, during his latest research dig in the central Chinese province of Henan.

Dong was drawn to the site after stories started circulating across China about villagers in Henan who had discovered massive dragon bones and were mixing them into homeopathic tonics, he told the Associated Press.

When Dong arrived, the villagers told him they believed that the bones were from dragons flying in the sky, the AP reported.

What he actually found was the hundred-million-year-old remains of a plant-eating dinosaur.

For decades, peasants in Henan have been giving dinosaur-powder drinks to children to cure cramps or dizziness, as well as applying a fossil-based paste to fractures and wounds.

A Mythical Twist to Modern-Day

Dong's dig has uncovered a curious mix of findings on dinosaurs and on ancient Chinese beliefs surrounding dragons.

Dragons appeared in Chinese mythology more than 3,000 years ago and are worshiped as guardians of waterways, mountains, or skies.

Xu Xing, arguably China's top "dinosaur hunter," said many villagers—and even some people in Chinese cities—still believe in dragons. The Chinese characters for dinosaur even combine the words for "terror" and "dragon."

Continued on Next Page >>


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