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Dead Varmint Vision at Its Funniest


A ninth-century carving on an English church depicts a carnivorous dinosaur with breasts, verifying human contact with dinosaurs and corroborating a biblical passage on dinosaurs suckling their young. Or not. ccording to the young-Earth creationist (YEC) worldview, God created the Earth, humans, A and all other kinds of organisms independently during the same week about 6,000 years ago, as described in the book of Genesis. This worldview rejects the overwhelming physical evidence that the Earth is over 4.5 billion years old (Gradstein et al. 2004), that all organisms on it evolved from a common ancestor (Prothero 2007), that non-avian dinosaurs became extinct about 65 million years ago (Wicander and Monroe 2016), and that humans (Homo sapiens) did not arise until about 0.3 million years ago (Hublin et al. 2017) and therefore are separated from non-avian dinosaurs by millions of years. To support the YEC view that humans and non-avian dinosaurs were contemporaries, YEC authors frequently claim that ancient or medieval artwork depicts dinosaurs. Investigation of such claims shows that they are usually based on ludicrous misinterpretations of the artifacts in question (Senter 2012a; 2013; Senter et al. 2013; Senter and Klein 2014).

Previously I introduced the terms dead varmint vision and apnotheriopia (literally, “dead-beast vision”) to denote the tendency of YEC authors to erroneously see dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals (dead varmints) in ancient art (Senter 2013). Here, I report a case in which dead varmint vision has presented itself with a particularly entertaining twist: a claim that a medieval carving depicts a dinosaur with breasts and that breastfeeding dinosaurs are mentioned in the Bible. From melon-eating tyrannosaurs (Senter 2012b) to fire-breathing duckbills (Senter 2017), the absurd dinosaur-related claims that the YEC movement regularly spawns often have particularly high entertainment value, but the notion that dinosaurs had breasts surely takes the cake. It could aptly be dubbed the voluptuous varmint myth.

To fully appreciate the voluptuous varmint myth, it is necessary to first grasp the elements of its backstory. These include the Beowulf epic and a biblical passage that mentions an animal that the ancient Hebrews called a tannîn. Beowulf, a medieval English narrative, includes a scene in which the hero, Beowulf, kills a monster named Grendel and another scene in which Beowulf kills Grendel’s mother. Grendel and his mother are described in the epic as humanoid creatures (lines 1350–1355). Grendel has head hair (line 1647) and carries a patchwork pouch (lines 2085–2092). Grendel’s mother wields a knife (line 1545), keeps a fire burning in her home (line 15516–1517), and is a descendant of Cain (line 1258–1268) (Alexander 1973; Swanton 1997). These are all traits that are consistent with the human body form and human behavior, and they are inconsistent with dinosaurs. Even so, some YEC authors absurdly contend that Grendel and his mother were dinosaurs (see Siebert 2013), and that contention is an important part of the voluptuous varmint myth.

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