That is not a stegosaurus

Curmudgeon month continues here as I take another myth about Angkor to task. This time it’s the silly “Stegosaurus at Ta Prohm” rumor.  This myth has been popularized by young earth creationists*, who’ve argued that one particular small carving on a doorway at Ta Prohm depicts a Stegosaurus.  Never mind that the entire temple is covered with carvings of fantastic and mythical creatures, this one carving is evidence that humans and dinosaurs co-existed.

Carving on Ta Prohm.  This is not a stegosaurus.

Carving on Ta Prohm. This is not a stegosaurus.

The carving is found within a series of other carvings depicting non-mythological creatures, such as monkeys, deer, birds, and water buffalo, and other scenes.

"Stegosaurus" carving in context. Photo by Dennis Jarvis (https://secure.flickr.com/photos/archer10/3611822930/)

“Stegosaurus” carving in context. Photo by Dennis Jarvis (https://secure.flickr.com/photos/archer10/3611822930/)

Several people have offered alternative hypotheses about what animal this carving is meant to depict. Some of the most popular include a Rhinoceros or a lizard.

I’m going to throw my hat in the ring and offer another possibility. What if the carving is meant to depict a Pangolin?

Pangolins are native to Cambodia, although endangered, due to being hunted for traditional medicine. They also have scales, which could be what is being depicted on the carving.  This blog post, by geneticist Dr. Gene McCarthy, even discusses the similarities between pangolins and the Stegosaurus.

Giant Pangolin (Smutsia gigantes). Inset: A typical reconstruction of the familiar Stegosaurus. Note the similarity? From: http://www.macroevolution.net/pangolins.html#.VDwz61jqYlB

So, what we would have in this doorway is a series of carvings of wild animals (with the exception of a domesticated water buffalo) that are frequently found in the forests of Cambodia. Maybe it’s a lizard, or a rhino, or a pangolin.  But it is not a dinosaur.

*I’m not linking to these sites, but you can find them with a quick Google Search of Ta Prohm + stegosaurous.

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