Over the weekend I was able to visit the Ankor Wat temple complex for the third time. Since everyone in our class had seen the Big Four temples, we decided to go off the beaten path a little and see some that we hadn’t been to before. I was so happy to explore new places, and loved being able to finally see Banteay Srey, as well as Prasat Neak.
After all of our adventuring, we did hit some familiar territory. Ta Prohm, famous for the massive trees growing atop its walls, is an incredible sight. Although we had all seen this temple before, our Cambodian teachers had a secret for us: a tiny carving on a remote wall that appears to be a stegosaurus. I love dinosaurs, and have since I was a kid. I even had a small stegosaurus toy that I called “Steggie.” I’ve researched enough to know that dinosaurs died far before humans ever graced the face of the earth. So would an Angkorian temple have one carved into the walls?
I did some research, and it turns out there are three basic theories:
- Dinosaurs really did walk the earth alongside humans.
This theory is heavily used by creationist groups, many of whom believe that the planet is much younger than science says. This particular carving has even been cited as evidence that dinosaurs were around that recently.
Unlikely, I think. In addition to the mountains of evidence (fossil dating, rock layers, length of evolution, etc.) there is no other evidence to support the existence of dinosaurs in the relatively recent past.
- This carving was another animal, possibly a rhinoceros, surrounded by leaves.
This could be possible. The temples do feature a number of animals and animal-like gods adorning their walls, and I suppose that a rhinoceros could have been one of them. The carving does have what looks like horns protruding from its nose, and I’ll admit that the neck is longer than a real stegosaurus’s would have been.
My main argument against this is that the temples function under certain themes, and the same themes are replayed over and over again. Dancers, religious stories, naga, etc. are all repeated throughout the temple complex innumerable times. This is the only carving of its kind that has been discovered, which brings me to the third theory…
- Someone carved the dinosaur as a hoax.
This, in my opinion, is the likeliest of the three options. It’s very plausible that someone came in and chiseled this little dinosaur where a different figure once was, a humorous joke that’s been played on all visitors to the temple.