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DINOSAURS: From Cultural to Pop Culture - 1696: Cornelius Meyer's Dragon
DINOSAURS! From Cultural to Pop Culture
Cornelius Meyer's Dragon
Towards the end of the 1600's, Europe was still enmeshed is dragon fever, with dragons still commonly being thought of as real life animals. Nothing portrays that better than the case of Cornelius Meyer's dragon (or Cornelio Meyer as it is inscribed on the skeleton placard). The case of the dragon was excellently laid out in a 2013 publication by Phil Senter and Pondanesa D. Wilkins (Senter and Wilkins, 2013). Skeletal display of the dragon as presented by Meyer in his 1696 book. In 1691, Cornelius Meyer "discovered" a dragon skeleton while excavating for a dike in the vicinity of Rome. The dragon had apparently plagued the landscape, being the blamed as the cause for much of the flooding that Rome was experiencing. The dragon was assumed to have been killed in 1660, however there was debate about the issue, and the dragon was re-assumed to be alive. The locals were skeptical of pissing off the dragon by constructing the dikes, so the dragon needed to be dealt with first.
In order to allay the fears of the local populace, Cornelius Meyer went out to "take care of" the dragon, which he so conveniently produced the body of for public display. The image above is an illustration of the skeleton that was put on display with the caption "Drago come si ritrova nelle mani dell' Ingegniero Cornelio Meyer" (“Dragon as it was recovered in the hands of the engineer Cornelius Meyer”). Reconstruction of the dragon based on the associated skeleton from Meyer's 1696 book. The image of the skeleton, as well as the reconstruction drawings were reproduced for a book authored by Meyer,
Nuovi ritrovamenti Divisi in Due Parti
(New Findings Divided in Two Parts), which was published in 1696. The book is mostly a description of dike construction projects in the vicinity of Rome with just a few brief images of the dragon and its reconstruction. Very little information is given in the text about the dragon itself. Another reconstruction as presented by Meyer in his 1696 book. This particular dragon was recently brought back into the public conscious as evidence that pterosaurs and humans once coexisted. To quell that idea, Senter and Wilkins went about to describe the specimen as it is presented by Meyer in the skeletal reconstruction. Based on comparative anatomy, they were able to deduce that the skeleton was indeed a hoax (assuming a real skeleton was ever actually presented as it is illustrated). From their scientific analysis they determined (pretty conclusively in my opinion) that the skull was that of a dog, the mandible a smaller dog, the hind limbs were of a juvenile bear's forelimbs, the ribs were from a large fish, and the tail, wings, and nose horn were all fake additions. The skeleton was also presented with "advantageous" skin coverings which hid the joints between the disparate parts.
I find that the most interesting aspect of the dragon is the continuation of the medieval body plan of the dragon being dragged almost into modern day society. We still continue to see the prevalence of two hind limbs, leathery wings, an elongated fat leathery body, long tail, and a dog-like face. So much dog-like that the skull was determined to be an actual dog! The body itself also appears to be rather small, given that the skull was of a dog. I would estimate that the entire body would only likely be about 10 feet from snout to tail tip and a few feet high standing upright. In general, although they somehow reigned terror in the Middle Ages, they were only about the size of a large lion at the most.
Senter, Phil and Wilkins, Pondanesa D.. 2013. Investigation of a claim of a late-surviving pterosaur and exposure of a taxidemic hoax: the case of Cornelius Meyer’s dragon, Palaeontologia Electronica Vol. 16, Issue 1; 6A 11p; palaeo-electronica.org/content/2013/384-late-surviving-pterosaur