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Monday, 15 August 2011

Taotie (Tao T'ieh) Dragon Faces

[Taotie on a ding bronze vessel from late Shang era]

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Taotie (Chinese: 饕餮; pinyin: tāotiè; Japanese: tōtetsu, sometimes translated as a gluttonous ogre mask) is a motif commonly found on ritual bronze vessels from the Shang and Zhou Dynasty. The design typically consists of a zoomorphic mask, described as being frontal, bilaterally symmetrical, with a pair of raised eyes and typically no lower jaw area. Some argue that the design can be traced back to Neolithic jades of the ancient Yangtze River Liangzhu culture (3310–2250 BCE).

Taotie (Or Tao-T'ieh as it used to be commonly spelled) was an important symbol back at the beginning of Chinese civilisation but as time went by the opriginal meaning got lost. different interpretations of the mask were done artistically and different stories were attached to it It was said to be a glutton and to try to eat people, to do them great harm by trying to eat them but afterwards the bodies were passed through intact. Some versions of the Dragon or Ogre face are shown holding a human head in the mouth. The Taotie is said to be one of the "Children of the Dragon" and to have an affinity to water (All mentioned in the Wikipedia entry)

Taotie jug with Dragon handle.

Muraenosaurus, a well-preserved long-necked Plesiosaur, from a Chinese-language site (Pasteup with views of its skull as arranged by me)

Jade Taotie rubbed with red cinnabar for colouring. My interpretation is that the Taotie mask basically shows the top of a short-snouted longnecked Plesiosaur's skull, with the eye sockets in the appropriate place and the Euryapsid openings in the back of the skull behind the eyes.

Muraenosaurus skull in a different orientation for a better comparison. The Taoties also sometimes exaggerate "Horns" at the back of the skull and some later versions can look like tigers with water buffalo horns. I am fairly certain after looking over several of the older designs that the back of the head means ONLY to show the Euryapsid openings. Some Taoties do also seem to indicate the "Third eye" opening as well (between the eye sockets and the Euryapsid openings on the diagram)

And of course the lower jaw is not seen in this position and can rightly be left off: some of the older designs also show the sides of the head "Unrolled" to the sides and thus making a broader mask area, including the sides and two views of the lower jaw in that way. The illustration which begins this entry is of such a type. The design is similar to several Northwest-coast American designs and particularly to depictions of the Sea-serpent Sisutl (suspected separately as representing a Plesiosaur-shaped creature) Some rather basic "Dragon" designs are associated with Taoties (as an example in the bronze jug handle above, top images on this page from Wikipedia) and sometimes incorporated into the design.

The later Chinese dragons are basically composite creatures based on a typically lizardlike design (see "The Real Dragons", one of the first entries on the Frontiers of Zoology blog) However, one recognisable component has always been a Longnecked lake (River) monster with a mane and a jagged crest all the way down the middle of its back. The Dragon's face still retains features of a Taotie mask and the representations are probably related (see at bottom)

As it is, there is probably still too strong an influence of swimming moose (red deer stag) in the depiction of the head, probably from Chinese chroniclers including those "Water Horse" reports in with the others in the database (Most Cryptozoologists are still doing that with most Water Monster reports worldwide) However in this Lung depiction, the body proportions can be seen as head and neck, body, and tail assumed to be about equal thirds of the long "Sea-serpent" body (There should actually be a central thickened part to the body and some "Dragon turtle" reports provide that) The limbs at first look nothing like Plesiosaur flippers but the description provides the detail that there are "Tiger Paws" in the middle (red here) before going on to the long "Claws" [=digits or fingers] of the limb skeleton. Astonishingly, this matches the description of a Plesiosaur's limb bones although the artists could never figure out what this meant. See the earlier FOZ Blog entry from April:

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