East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Dragon bones


And talking about China and fossils… 50 cents per kg is the price of dinosaur bones used as medicine in central China.

I was researching Gustav Heinrich Ralph von Koenigswald, a German paleontologist that in the 1930s found a tooth belonging to a Gigantopithecus in an Hong Kong pharmacy, and I collected a few factoids about the practice of consuming “long gu” (“dragon bones”) for medical purposes – which is still is still going strong in China today.


The most common afflictions cured by boiling or grinding into powder the fossil bones are cramps and dizziness, but the list of possible applications is long and varied.

“… “dragon bones” are crushed to a fine powder, boiled, and mixed with other ingredients to make healing concoctions. According to an ancient Chinese medical text (dating back around 2000 years) pulverized fossils have been used to treat conditions ranging from diarrhea to epilepsy to “manic running about.” Some ancient “medical” conditions were mystical ailments. For example, dragon bone “mainly treats heart and abdominal demonic influx, spiritual miasma, and old ghosts.”

In 2007, the BBC revealed that one enterprising bone collector had found, dug out and sold about 8.000 kilos of old bones.
According to online sources, today, more than 100 tons of “dragon bones” are consumed each year in China and Southeast Asia.

All of which is great news not only for my Silk Road book (updates, updates!), but is also excellent fodder for stories.


Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

6 thoughts on “Dragon bones

  1. I wonder– if they come so cheap– why don’t institutions just buy the bones from those who collect them? Aren’t they priceless source of info for paleontologists?


    • It used to happen – there’s a huge collection of pleistocene mammal fossils, in Munich, which comes straight from a Peking pharmacy, where they bought the lot in 1901.
      Today the problem is one of permits and certifications – most of the bone hunters collecting fossils for medical purposes do so without authorization, and are therefore outlaws.
      Selling their stuff to institutions and researchers would not be so easy – they’d face arrest…


  2. Very interesting. Don’t know what to think about the legality and ethics of it all.


  3. Hi David, I teach The Literature and Culture of Dreams as well as The … of nature at Yonsei University in Seoul. I am nearly finished writing a book on Korean Dragon Dreams. I wonder if you are willing to allow me to print the above picture of a man (is it you?) standing with dragon Bones in China.

    Thanks and Best Wishes,
    Fred Jeremy Seligson


  4. Pingback: The Chinese Lung – Darrah Steffen

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.