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Thursday, 27 October 2011

Water Pigs and Pig-Dragons

Han Dynasty Jade Pig-Dragon or Makara

While I was on the same photosearch that turned up the "Little Jade Yeti" earlier, I also turned up a common type of unidentified jade artefact from the same cultutre:

A pig dragon or zhulong (Chinese 猪龍) is a type of jade artifact from neolithic China. Zhulong are zoomorphic forms with a pig-like head and elongated limbless body coiled around to the head and described as "suggestively fetal". [1] Early pig dragons are thick and stubby; later examples have more graceful, snakelike bodies.
Pig dragons were produced by the Hongshan culture, and often featured as grave goods.[2] For example see [1]. Pig bones have been found interred alongside humans at Hongshan burial sites, suggesting that the animal had some ritual significance.
There is some speculation that the pig dragon is the first representation of the Chinese dragon. The character for "dragon" in the earliest Chinese writing has a similar coiled form, as do later jade dragon amulets from the Shang period.[3]


  1. ^ Childs-Johnson, Elizabeth (1991). "Jades of the Hongshan culture: the dragon and fertility cult worship". Arts asiatiques 46: 82–95. Retrieved 14 July 2011. 
  2. ^ Howard, Angela Falco, et al. (2006). Chinese Sculpture, pp. 21-22. Yale University Press. ISBN 0300100655.
  3. ^ Salviati, Filippo (2002). The Language of Adornment: Chinese Ornaments of Jade, Crystal, Amber and Glass, Fig. 17. Ten Speed Press. ISBN 1580085873.
"Ouroboros has Origins With Hongshan"


Some Commentators have remarked that the most obvious forerunner for the Pig-Dragon is the foetal pig, something which would be a well-known object in a pig-slaughtering society, and probably with some superstitious import.
A Shang Dynasty Closed Pig-Dragon loop, with continuous backfin.

The more fully developed "C-Dragon" is more common later and I have previously compared the design to the Celtic Horse-eels. I am not really certain of that because there is a flip up at the base of the mane which could easily indicate where a Longneck's foreflipper would be. However, I prefer to deal with Longnecked-WaterMonster-Oriental Dragons separately (there is another blog following this one to deal with the subject)

However, other jade objects from the same culture and showing a similar creature in a different posture tell a different story. The stumpy-ended, big-headed Pig Dragons turn out to correspond to a legendary creature known throught the Orient as a Water Pig, and which is more than likely a kind of seal. Some of the water-monsters still being reported in Northern China are apparently seals, and there are comparable land-locked freshwater seals in bothnearby Siberia and Central Asia, and in Alaska as well.. This small jade for sale on ebay is not only seal-shaped but also seems to even have whiskers on its snout.
Seals and sea lions are infrequently seen off of Japan and China and described in the same tone as if they were legendary monsters (Yokai). This is from the Pink Tentacle site:
Bizarre creature at Kanezaki Inlet
Many Edo-period scrolls featured illustrations of unfamiliar creatures -- animals that actually existed but were rarely seen in Japan (such as fur seals and sea lions), along with creatures generally regarded as imaginary (mermaids and kappa). This illustration shows a 3-meter-long seal that was captured in the early 19th century at Kanezaki Inlet. [from ‘Kaikidan Ekotoba’ monster scroll posted on 07 Apr 2010]

Young Male Elephant Seal

at three meters (9-10 feet) long, this could be a very large medium-sized seal or a subadult elephant seal. I think Elephant seal is more likely because of the very long belly area: the foreflippers would not be correct in any seal and I presume they are drawn that long to emphasize that they are dangerous. The size and the shape of the head depicted makes me think it was a female (like the ones here and below)Elephant seals from California do occasionally wind up on the shores of Japan, on the opposite side of the Pacific ocean. there are also the rare reports of the 3-toed monster tracks on Japanese beaches but these are generally thought to have been hoaxes.

Elephant seal showing trackway: at extreme magnification, the foreflipper tracks can be seen to look as if they were 3-toed. This is just as general information since there are no really good allegations of 3-toed "Monster" tracks found off of Japan. When the sand is packed very hard, the body drag marks in the center tend to disappear.

More to the point, the first (later) Chinese jade Zhoulong from Wikipedia has also been compared to the Makara of Southern India and Indonesia, and there are also the occasional reports of seals as "Water Pigs" in the Indian Ocean far from the more arctic realms where they would be more usually expected.

Lake Tianchi Creature as possibly a Freshwater Seal:

Water Pig

At the Frontiers of Zoology Yahoo group we are aware of very rare sightings and captures of (Harbour) seals in Vietnam and Hong Kong(We also have photos of the same). Ivan Sanderson spoke of an as-yet-unclassified species on Monk Seal that inhabited the Indian Ocean, in particular the Maldive and Lacadive islands and the South of India. It seems these were also called Water Pigs or Water Boars.Literature on any of these things is very sparse and no sources other than Sanderson even seem aware there was supposed to be such a thing as a seal native to the Indian Ocean.
Chinese Makara

Makara Head From Java

However, comparing artwork from Southern India and Indonesia to photographs of the living animal, it is fairly easy to believe that the stories of Makaras were originally inspired by sightings of Antarctic elephant seals strayed far to the North of their usual territories.
Male Elephant Seal

Best Wishes, Dale D.

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