Entrance to Ta Prohm
Among the hundreds of temples that make up the vast Angkor Wat complex in Cambodia, one of the must-see sites is ‘Ta Prohm.’ The 12th century Buddhist temple is famous for its incredible blending of ancient architecture and aggressive jungle growth. Giant fig trees weave through the crumbling stones, simultaneously destroying and holding the place together. A couple of million tourists a year stumble down a well-worn path. Most are awestruck by the scenery but far too many go to pose for selfies at film locations used by Angelina Jolie in her movie ‘Tombraider.’
What just about everyone skips by is a small sculpture that is far more intriguing than ‘Holy Jolie.’ Tucked away in a quiet corner is an 800-year old carving of a stegosaurus!
Last week, I spent some time looking for the obscure dinosaur sculpture. I searched the walls of the inner courtyard, trying not to get distracted by busty temple nymph carvings, multi-headed naga serpents, and countless ancient Buddhist deities. Some time later, I found what I was looking for. Just around the corner to the right of the entrance to the central courtyard, is a column with several strange creatures carved on it. One of the images is an incredible likeness of a 150 million year old Jurassic Era stegosaurus.
The round carving is roughly the size of a dinner plate. It depicts a creature with four short legs, a long, heavy tail, and a series of plates running along its high arched back. It also has a large horn or frill on its head. The carving is stylistically similar to other carvings in the vicinity but it’s the only one with a dinosaur-like creature on it.
There are plenty of skeptics who say it can’t possibly be a dinosaur. Some say it must be a rhino with a palm tree growing in the background. Rhinos don’t have long dinosaur-like tails. Where are the spikes on the tail, others ask? Maybe there wasn’t room in the circular design for that particular detail. It’s been suggested that if you had to draw a stegosaurus from memory, it would probably look much like this. Other detractors claim it’s a giant stylized chameleon or perhaps some other creature now extinct that lived much more recently.
To Creationists, the carving is exactly what it looks like; it’s a key piece of evidence that dinosaurs walked with man within the last few thousand years.
Could it be a fake? It’s unlikely as the glyph is clearly part of a structural column. It is somewhat paler than surrounding carvings but it was cleaned up a bit at some point to reveal further details. A lot of visitors touch it, as well. I admit that my fingers may have accidentally glanced across the carving!
My first reaction upon spotting the image was ‘stegosaurus!’ I show a picture to some friends and their first reaction is ‘stegosaurus.’ There’s something more to this than mere fanciful invention.
What inspiration did the sculptor draw on to create a likeness to such a unique dinosaur, over 800 years ago? If this really is a stegosaurus, either the artist had to have seen a reconstructed skeleton or had the creature described to him. But so far, no skeletons of this species have been unearthed in Asia. Perhaps here in the humid jungles of Southeast Asia, where the climate has remained largely unchanged since the dinosaurs’ days, a few giants survived into the human era – long enough to become part of Khmer folklore.
The ancient Khmers were no intellectual slouches. They managed to design a complex architectural and water management system spreading over several hundred square kilometers. I’d like to think there was some reason behind the design and placement of this fascinating glyph. For now, the riddle remains unsolved.
What do you think? What does it look like to you?