Monday, February 06, 2012

Look Back in Angkor

The Ta Prohm temple of Cambodia is a popular destination in the ancient city of Angkor. Originally known as Rajavihara, the temple was constructed by the mighty Khmer empire during the twelfth century. After the empire crumbled, the jungle moved in and tightly embraced the temple. Tree roots and vines coil around the massive stone structure, and the seamless synthesis of architecture and nature is breathtaking.

Once a center of Buddhist meditation and education, the temple has numerous bas-reliefs depicting dancing spirits, monks in prayer, temple guards, and (naturally) Buddha. One distinct carving has an anomalous subject matter that has garnered great interest in recent years.

Now what would you say that this looks like?

If you said that it resembled a dinosaur (specifically a stegosaurus) then you're not alone. We've all been there; especially the adherents of a movement known as Young Earth Creationism. After cherry-picking ambiguous and esoteric quotes from the Bible, these folks became convinced that man and dinosaurs rubbed elbows only a few thousand years ago. The carving (along with other archaeological oddities) is frequently heralded by the group as a confirmation of their belief. Apparently the stegosaurus, along with the rest of the thunder-lizards, lounged around in Eden before ultimately drowning in the Great Flood.

Another triumph of rational thinking.

Putting aside that theory for obvious reasons, the question remains: what does this carving depict? Some have said that the creature is meant to be a bull or boar wading in front of some large tropical leaves. Others have postulated that it's a bad likeness of a chameleon. A third group believes the carving is modern day vandalism, but it does appear to be neatly integrated into the surrounding tableau. Barring some kind of invasive investigation, no one can know for certain. We actually prefer it that way. Some mysteries are more fun when left unsolved.

Would you like to know more?
-Read this article from the Smithsonian Institution
-Read this article from Skeptoid


  1. I read the article on skeptoid... I must say, I wasn't completely convinced of his "debunking" of the idea that it might be a dinosaur in the carving. For instance, he calls the spikes on the stegosaurus's tail its "most definitive feature." I hardly think I'm alone in believing that the plates on its back are more definitive. Furthermore, the plate like structures in the carving look nothing like foliage to me. I think he is simply determined to be cynical. So there.


  2. The whole deal sort've reminds me of the Hopkinsville Goblins case. The trailer-park obviously wasn't tormented by little green men from space, but the alternative explanations of people being driven to hysteria by horned-owls or escaped circus monkeys are too..well, too feeble for me to accept. So while I cannot for a moment believe that this is a carving of a dinosaur, I can't really see how people would think the thing is supposed to be a boar either. Let's face it, it's one weirdo carving and ultimately it's impossible to tell what they intended.

    Maybe the Khmer temple-builders had the uncommon foresight to play an elaborate practical joke on 21st century archeologists.