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A Stegosaur Carving on the Ruins of Ta Prohm? Think Again

An ancient Khmer carving has been interpreted as a stegosaur, leading some to conclude that dinosaurs and humans lived together. An investigation of the claim and other carvings suggest otherwise.

Did dinosaurs live alongside humans within the past 10,000 years? Human footprints alongside dinosaur tracks at Paluxy near Glen Rose (Texas) and dinosaur figurines in archaeological contexts at Acambaro (Mexico) are among the evidence suggested to indicate so. Once properly studied, investigations revealed the Paluxy claims to be misinterpreted eroding features and dinosaur tracks, alongside outright hoaxes (Cole and Godfrey 1985; Kuban 1986). The Acambaro figurines were found to be modern manufactures subsequently planted in legitimate archaeological contexts (Di Peso 1953). Regrettably, the misinterpretation of paleontological and archaeological evidence continues (e.g., Butt 2008; Butt and Lyons 2008), requiring new analyses of the evidence and the claims themselves. Fortunately, there has been renewed skeptical attention in recent years, includ- ing effective examinations of ancient art purportedly depicting dinosaurs (e.g., Senter and Cole 2011; Senter 2012; Senter 2013; Le Quellec et al. 2015).

Figure 1. The Ta Prohm carving some contend to represent a stegosaur based largely on the interpretation of dermal plates along the back.

However, an ancient temple carving in Cambodia interpreted by some to represent a stegosaur has received little interest from the skeptical or scientific communities other than limited treatment online (e.g., Switec 2009; Nelstead 2009; Carter 2014; Kuban 2014). Here I will provide some critical thinking and anthropological insights regarding the “stegosaur” of Ta Prohm, including new evidence gained by an inspection of the location and surrounding sites in the Angkor Archaeological Park.

Ta Prohm is one of many ruins associated with the Khmer civilization of Southeast Asia, which spanned the ninth to fifteenth centuries AD. Originally known as Rajavihara, Ta Prohm is the modern name for a Buddhist monastery constructed by Jayavarman VII who reigned for several decades beginning in 1181 AD (Kapur and Sahai 2007). His reign is noted for the increased prominence of Mahayana Buddhism, though both Hinduism and Buddhism are represented among sites in the region (Kapur and Sahai 2007). Many readers may have actually seen Ta Prohm, at least in part. The 2001 film Lara Croft: Tomb Raider used the picturesque ruins and nearby sites as part of the backdrop for the film, pitting the fictional archaeologist (played by Angelina Jolie) against the Illuminati. What viewers did not see is the reason for more recent attention on Ta Prohm: a bas-relief carving that some interpret as representing a dinosaur that is found among the tree-covered walls and tumbled sandstone blocks.

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TEAM SCIENCE: Building Better Science Activists with Insights from Disney, Marketing Conspiring for the Common Good A Stegosaur Carving on the Ruins of Ta Prohm? Think Again