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RC Professor Organizes Dragon Festival at Virginia Museum of Natural History

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Written by Emily Leclerc

Last weekend, the Virginia Museum of Natural History held their annual Dragon Festival. Along with exhibits based on dragons and presentations by authors like Sharyn McCrumb, the event strove to create a renaissance fair atmosphere with blacksmith presentations, Vikings, stilt walkers and much more.

While serving as a fun and engaging exploration of these mythical beasts, the festival also strove to be educational. The main purpose of the festival is to explore the impact of dragon lore on societies around the world. Dragon myths and folklore have influenced civilizations for centuries, and the events at the Dragon Festival hope to teach the science behind why these myths have become so prevalent.

The Dragon Festival was originally created by one of our own professors. Dr. DorothyBelle Poli, associate professor of biology, organizes and runs the event. Poli and Dr. Lisa Stoneman, assistant professor of education, have been conducting research since 2013 on the scientific origins of dragon lore across the globe and created the festival in the hopes to bring that research to the public eye.

The research group that inspired the event is the Dragon Research Collective, and their aim is to use a transdisciplinary approach in order to better understand scientifically how cultures across the world developed with similar myths and stories about lizard-like, fire-breathing beasts.

In November 2017, Poli and Stoneman published a paper on their findings to the MIT Press Journals. Their central thesis is that specific carboniferous plant fossils may have contributed to these stories.

“The hypothesis is that early humans came across these fossils, constructed meaning for them contextualized by current knowledge of the natural world, and created or enhanced dragon lore narratives,” the abstract of the paper states.

This is simply one angle of their research. In the future they hope to garner a more complete understanding of the origins of dragon lore. In the meantime, the Dragon Research Collective will conduct the Dragon Festival each year to entertain and engage the public in these well loved myths and stories.