Sunday, June 22, 2008

Perfectly Preserved Baby Dragon

Pickled Dragon

With tiny teeth and claws, a little tail and soft-looking white skin, could this really be what it seems - a baby dragon?

Highly unlikely of course, but this disturbingly realistic model almost had the experts fooled.

The dragon, suspended in a jar of what is thought to be formaldehyde, is believed to be the brainchild of German scientists who wanted to humiliate their English counterparts in the 1890s, when the rivalry between the two countries was intense.

Had they pulled it off it would have been one of the greatest hoaxes of all time.

However, according to documents found with it, the Natural History Museum turned the dragon away, possibly because they suspected it was a trick.

It was then sent to be destroyed. But it appears a porter intercepted the 2 1/2 ft-high jar and took it home. Now the dragon has surfaced in an Oxfordshire garage.

The papers say the porter was either a man known only as Moredun, or a Frederick Hart - whose grandson David found the jar containing the dragon in his garage last month.

Mr Hart, 58 , from Sutton Courtenay, said: 'My father, George, who is dead now, left it at my house when he moved away from London about 20 years ago.

'I was not there when he put it in my garage so I never really looked at it. It was just in the corner with a load of other junk and I found it when I was having a clear-out.

'I had never looked at it so when I saw the dragon it was a huge shock. I remember the crate it was in from when I was a kid because it was in my dad's workshop.

He just used to say the crate was fragile because it had a glass container in it. But I never saw what was in it.

I didn't know until recently and when I first saw it I didn't know what to make of it. Such things don't exist do they? It is very odd-looking.'

Mr Hart, who runs a marketing services company, asked his friend Allistair Mitchell to help him investigate the dragon's background.

Mr Mitchell, 42, who runs a marketing company in Oxford, said: 'The late 1800s were a time of intense rivalry between Britain, Germany and France over who was the world's leading nation.

'It would appear that this was an effort on the part of interested parties in Germany to discredit the British scientific community.

'At the time, scientists were the equivalent of today's pop stars and their achievements were heavily reported in newspapers.

'It would have been a great propaganda coup for the Germans if it had come off. Some of the documents are in German and date back to the 1890s.

'I've shown the photos of the dragon to someone from Oxford University and, like everyone who sees it for the first time, he thought it was amazing.

Obviously he could not say if it was real or not but he wanted to come and take a biopsy of it.

'It is a truly amazing thing. It stands about 30 centimetres but if you were to take it out of the jar and lie it flat with the tail extended, it's probably about a metre long.

'The dragon is flawless, from the tiny teeth to the umbilical cord. No matter how closely you look, you cannot tell if it is real.

It could be made from India rubber, because Germany was the world's leading manufacturer of it at the time, or it could be made of wax.

'Or, of course, it might be real.'