Robert Blust (+): Tylor Strikes Back. The Dragon as Survival


The notion of a “survival” in culture, first proposed by E. B. Tylor in 1871, was used extensively for perhaps three decades, and then fell into disfavor, and came to be regarded by many anthropologists as unworthy of further consideration. Yet the concept of a survival is logically coherent and is strongly supported in sister disciplines such as linguistics. This paper maintains that – despite whatever excesses may have given it a bad name – the concept of a survival has a legitimate place in cultural anthropology. Beyond that, I maintain that Tylor missed what is surely the most dramatic example of a cultural survival that he might have used to make his case, namely the idea of the dragon, which has baffled anthropologists, folklorists, and others for generations, but which emerges from basic application of scientific method, as a survival of the rainbow serpent in post-animist societies.

[Tylor’s legacy, concept of survival, comparative method, rainbow, serpent, dragon]