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27 February 2004
The evolution of dragons

Recent finds by Chinese archaeologists may explain the ancient belief that “Chinese people are descended from dragons”. The conclusion is based on jade dragons unearthed at Niuheliang in the northeastern province of Liaoning, a Hongshan Culture site dating back 5,500 to 6,000 years. The Niuheliang ruins comprise 50 square kilometres of altars, temples and tombs. Their discovery in 1984 startled the world and the site has yielded prehistoric pottery, jade ware and the head of a ‘goddess of Hongshan’.
     A third piece of jade dragon was found last year during the final excavation at the 16th site of the remains. This dragon was light green in colour, and took the same form as the two dragons previously found in 1984. All three dragons resemble the Chinese character "dragon" in ancient inscriptions on bones and turtle shields. A total of 21 dragons have been found in the Liaohe River valley.
     Painted dragons and dragon statues have been found at Zhaobaogou and Chahai, sites of ancient settlement  which are 6,000 and 8,000 years old respectively, leading archaeologists to conclude that the Liaohe River was the origin of the Chinese dragon. In the 1970s, a similar jade dragon - the earliest Chinese traditional dragon-shaped jade article ever found - was discovered in Sanxingtala village, Wengniute Banner of Chifeng City, Inner Mongolia.
     Guo Dashun, a leading member of the Archaeological Society of China, has highlighted similarities of the jade dragons with each other and with the pictographic character ‘long’ (dragon) used in ancient China. Guo says that the jade dragons show that the dragon worshipped by the ancient Chinese was a combination of several animals, with is original shape coming from pig, deer, bear and bird. The final shape is the result of long-term artistic evolution. Guo Dashun believes that this evolution of the dragon is closely linked to the dawn and development of Chinese civilization, in one of its principal regions of origin.

Source: People's Daily (26 February 2004)

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