Posts Tagged ‘dragon’s teeth’

Not far from where I live, there’s a geographic feature known as the Dragon’s Teeth. This is a series of stone markers erected during the late 1930s.

This was the era of the Civilian Conservation Corps, an employment program during the Great Depression. At the time, a gentleman named R. L. Rutter lived on an isolated property to the north of Spokane. The access road was little better than a wagon trail. It was so narrow that if two vehicles met each other, one would have to back up and let the other get through.

The crafty land holder devised a plan to improve the situation. Rutter volunteered as supervisor, and the CCC workers of Company 949 built an actual road. As a safety measure, they lined the sides with 400 or so large granite stones quarried from nearby hillsides. Work was completed in February of 1938. Because of their fang-like shapes, the installation was dubbed “The Dragon’s Teeth.” The road was named Rutter Parkway in honor of the land holder.

The Dragon’s Teeth have remained in place for 77 years, despite a few careless drivers and the occasional landslide. However, the County has recently determined that the route needs to be rebuilt to take modern vehicles into account. For this to happen, the Dragon’s Teeth will have to be removed.

Various proposals have been made to relocate or re-use the “teeth,” some of which are 5 feet tall. A nearby natural area might use some to mark its parking lot. City and county parks, museums, and historical societies have also been approached for ideas. So although the Dragon’s Teeth may be pulled and placed in storage, I hope they will be seen again — even if not all 400 stand together.

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In addition to the Greek legends of Spartoi (warriors who sprang full-grown from a dragon’s teeth), there is a separate kind of dragon teeth. These are a type of fortification first used in Europe during World War II. They consist of three- to four-foot tall pyramids or cones, made of concrete, that are massed in a line or field along a battle front.

The idea was to create a barrier that tanks couldn’t easily penetrate. Often there would be several consecutive formations that had to be overcome, while the defender’s line of fire would not be impeded.

Not only were the dragon’s teeth themselves installed, but the ground surface would be prepared with sunken concrete slabs, making it difficult to undermine the teeth. Many formations included additional barriers such as barbed wire and mines to stop infantry, or steel beams to foul tank treads. Sometimes the “teeth” had metal spikes on top, as well.

In practice, dragon’s teeth weren’t as effective as one might expect. Combat engineers found ways to remove them, and it was easy enough for bulldozers or dump trucks to cover these areas with earth, creating a surface that tanks could navigate. At the end of World War II, many of the installations were left in place. Historians and tourists are free to visit these former battle fronts.

Today, a few variations on dragon’s teeth are still employed around the world. Dragon’s teeth are part of the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. Similar devices, such as spike strips, are laid down by police to stop fleeing vehicles, and some parking lots use them to prevent people from leaving without payment.

Sometimes even dragons are useful!

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Cultures around the world have admired dragons and believed that even a small part of a dragon’s body held immense power. From Greece, we inherit two legends involving teeth of a dragon. When sown like grain, they sprouted a crop of warriors!

The older legend is that of Cadmus (or Kadmos) and the founding of Thebes. Cadmus was born into the royal family of Tyre. His father was King Aegnos, his mother Queen Telephassa, his brothers Phoenix, Cilix and Thasus, and his only sister was named Europa. Yes, that Europa, who was carried off by Zeus in the guise of a bull. After Europa disappeared, her whole family was distraught. King Aegnos ordered his four sons to go in search of Europa and never return without her. For whatever reason, Queen Telephassa journeyed with Cadmus.

Three of the four eventually gave up on finding Europa, and settled down to found a new civilization. Phoenix founded Phoenicia, Cilix a city called Cilicia, and Thasus settled the Aegean island of Thassos. On the island of Thrace, Telephassa died of grief and Cadmus buried her with honor. Then he sought out the Oracle at Delphi for advice.

The Oracle told Cadmus he must allow Europa her own fate (which was to found the nation of Crete) and follow a cow that he would find near the temple. Wherever the cow went, he must follow, until it stopped to rest. In that place, he should found his own great city. In sorrow, Cadmus did as the Oracle said. He found a cow, which wandered far into the land of Boetia and settled to rest on the banks of the Cephesis River.

Cadmus gathered his followers and prepared to sacrifice the cow to Athena, patroness of brave ventures. To do this, they needed clean water. Cadmus’s followers went to a nearby spring, where the water was exceptionally pure. Unfortunately, this was the home of a dragon, son of Ares the god of War. It didn’t like having its water stolen and killed them all in vengeance.

Eventually Cadmus wondered where his companions had gone. He confronted the dragon, which had a head like a crested helm and teeth of glittering gold. After a terrible battle, Cadmus slew the vicious beast and took water from the spring to complete the sacrifice. Athena herself had watched Cadmus’s deed and been pleased. She appeared to him and told him to gather all the dragon’s teeth. Half he should save, but he should plow the earth and plant the rest of the teeth like seeds.

The hero did as she advised. To his amazement, when he planted the teeth, a host of mighty warriors rose up fully grown! Cadmus named them Spartoi, or “sown men.” To test their vigor, he tossed a gem into their midst. Immediately the Spartoi began to fight over the prize. It was a bloody melee, and in the end only five were left alive.

Cadmus stopped the battle and took these fiercest fighters as his new companions. The city they founded was Thebes, one of the most powerful in all Greece. Even into historic times, the noble families of Thebes traced their lineage back to the five Spartoi.

And what about the other half of the dragon’s teeth? All shall be revealed on Tuesday!

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