The stegosaurus on the temple

A carving on the ancient Ta Prohm temple in Cambodia has become a favorite of creationists, because it looks kinda like a stegosaurus. And, of course, if there's a carving of a stegosaurus on an ancient temple, that supports their belief that dinosaurs and humans once lived together.

However, as Brian Switek points out on the Smithsonian blog, two other explanations are more likely:

a) The carving is something other than a stegosaurus:
If viewed directly, the carving hardly looks Stegosaurus-like at all. The head is large and appears to have large ears and a horn. The “plates” along the back more closely resemble leaves, and the sculpture is a better match for a boar or rhinoceros against a leafy background.

b) The carving may be a stegosaurus, but it's not an ancient carving:
There are rumors that it was created recently, perhaps by a visiting movie crew (the temple is a favorite locale for filmmakers), and it is possible that someone created something Stegosaurus-like during the past few years as a joke.

History Religion

Posted on Fri Mar 13, 2009


I think it highly unlikely that there were boars or rhinos around with plates along their backs.

The second option sounds a lot more likely.
Posted by Sharruma  in  capable of finishing a coherent  on  Fri Mar 13, 2009  at  10:45 AM
The argument is self-defeating.

Creationists claim it is a stegosaurus because it reasonably resembles one. Which means we know what a stegosaurus must have looked like. Since no-one has discovered a live stegosaurus, knowing what a stegosaurus looks like does not appear to require that we live alongside them. Hence that the person who carved the relief knew what a stegosaurus looked like (presuming it is one) need not have lived alongside them either.

Posted by David B.  on  Fri Mar 13, 2009  at  11:52 AM
How old is this temple? Creationists put the era of the dinosaur several thousand years in the past, right? If the temple is of more recent vintage, then this depiction of a stegosaurus (assuming that is what that carving is supposed to be), was NOT based on the sculptor having actually seen one.
Posted by Cranky Media Guy  on  Fri Mar 13, 2009  at  06:01 PM
And if you look at any Byzantine church, you'll see clear and irrefutable evidence that not only did the people there see Jesus walking around every day, but that he also sported an impressive afro hairstyle that often takes up the entire upper half of the painting.

Posted by Accipiter  on  Fri Mar 13, 2009  at  06:55 PM
I think it could be some other animal with leaves behind it...I would think if the 'leaves' were stego spikes, they would not have the line in them sperating them from the back of the animal.
Posted by Maegan  in  Tampa, FL - USA  on  Fri Mar 13, 2009  at  10:17 PM
The 'plates' closely resemble the lotus petals which are a frequent motif in Hindu and Buddhist sacred art.
Posted by Mr Henderson  on  Sat Mar 14, 2009  at  07:01 AM fact if you look at a less closely-cropped version of the picture, you can see pointy-petal things on the left, outside the roundel. See, for instance, In fact that site has a good discussion of the image, written by a Christian (but hurry, as it's a blog and the URL may not link straight to that page for long).
Posted by Mr Henderson  on  Sat Mar 14, 2009  at  07:16 AM
Of course, if some viable population of stegosaurids did survive into recent history, it would be only reasonable to assume that they would look much different than they did 65 million years ago. They could very well have become smaller, changed the shape of their heads. . .grown feathers. . .developed wings. . .
Posted by Accipiter  on  Sat Mar 14, 2009  at  09:21 PM
Or maybe someone found a stego skeleton and they were able to make a wild guess
Posted by Manga Bottle  on  Tue Mar 17, 2009  at  05:06 AM
If the temple is of more recent vintage, then this depiction of a stegosaurus (assuming that is what that carving is supposed to be), was NOT based on the sculptor having actually seen one.

To be fair (though I'm not sure why I'd want to be), it would not be necessary for the sculptor to have lived contemporaneously with dinos - only for dinosaurs to have been alive recently enough for stego still to have a place in oral history. Equally, the things like incorrectly-shaped plates and horns are not worth much as evidence on the identity of our temple stego - if you look at engravings of giraffes etc from the middle ages and before you'll see some pretty wacky stuff. Word of mouth does odd things... as does carving in stone when you're basically a mason, not a sculptor.

By the way, here's the direct link to the post which Mr Henderson referenced above. Again, I think that the arguments from anatomical inaccuracy are worthless (this guy hangs a big part of his argument on minor inaccuracies like the curvature of the spine, then suggests it was actually meant to be a chameleon!) but the image of another animal with leaves in the background seems to support the pareidolia hypothesis... The poster also suggests it could have been a mythical beast like a makara, which is plausible.
Posted by outeast  on  Tue Mar 17, 2009  at  08:47 AM

Thanks for linking to my blog post about Stegosaurus. I merely suggested a chameleon as a much better possibility than a dinosaur. I could be wrong, but better to go with a creature that the temple builders may have been familiar with than one that has been extinct for 140 million years.

Chameleons are not native to Cambodia, as far as I know, but they do live in India, and the builders of the Angkor Wat temple complex were Hindus.
Posted by Kevin N  on  Tue Mar 17, 2009  at  01:09 PM
Kevin N, I wasn't actually dissing you for the chameleon suggestion per se - just saying that it is inconsistent to reject a stego hypothesis on the basis of anatomical inaccuracies but then suggest that the animal is it depicting is one that is far less like the image.

The whole line of discussion is plain silly in any case: dinosaurs have been extinct for millions of years, so there is no very plausible way that a stego could possibly have a place in the culture's consciousness. Whatever the image is, it's not a stegosaurus.
Posted by outeast  on  Wed Mar 18, 2009  at  02:35 AM
Unless it's a modern fake, that is:)
Posted by outeast  on  Wed Mar 18, 2009  at  02:36 AM
It could be almost anything I suppose, but if someone were trying to create a fake, why would they use a stegosaurus? Why not a T Rex?
Posted by Kitchen Remodeling Bucks County  on  Fri Apr 10, 2009  at  06:48 PM
This stegosaurus depiction (or so it seems to be) has been debunked in the mind of skeptics by the fairly simple measure of drawing a line through the depiction
Posted by John  on  Thu Jun 25, 2009  at  05:08 AM
if it is a rhino why does it have a bulky tail
Posted by mohammed  on  Fri May 07, 2010  at  04:57 AM
if it is leaves around it why do they start from the shoulders and move down to the tail if they were leaves they would go around the whole thing or half and it even seems to follow its back if someone had carved it there later with the technology today they would pick that up it is still aged and everything
Posted by hi  on  Fri May 07, 2010  at  05:00 AM
I've written a detailed review of the case which can be found at my Paluxy controversy website (which also has many other articles on alleged out-of-order artifacts, fossils, and tracks, at:
Or you can go directly to the article at:
Posted by Glen  on  Fri Dec 03, 2010  at  07:31 PM
Woooow. Creationists? At what point in the bible does it say anything about dinosaurs let alone anything about us living alongside dinosaurs?

I mean wooooow. Atheists will say anything to get a crack at us these days.
Posted by Craig  on  Tue Sep 10, 2013  at  01:01 AM
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