Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Ta Prohm's "Stegosaurus"

The most recent episode of Brian Dunning's Skeptoid podcast deals with myths of contemporary dinosaurs or prehistoric beasts, from the famous "sauropod" Mokele Mbembe to widespread accounts of mysterious "lake monsters." There are plenty of anecdotal accounts of these beasts, either from people who believe they've seen them themselves or people interpreting local legends. As in other examples of cryptozoological beasties, good evidence seems stubborn to present itself. This isn't very meaty stuff, so Dunning focuses instead on purported evidence of dinosaurs living among people left behind by ancient artists. Despite the incredible burden of proof that would be required to overturn the volumes of solid evidence supporting the accepted story of Earth's history built by generations of scientists, these artworks are touted as fatal cracks. Dunning picks this "evidence" apart, not by dismissing it a priori, but by demonstrating how weak it is.

Ta Prohm Cambodia, carvings dinosaur!!
Photo by divemasterking2000, via flickr.

For instance, the "Stegosaurus" of the Cambodian temple Ta Prohm. Dunning points out that it really doesn't look like a Stegosaurus - that head is way too large, really, and that the "plates" are most likely background foliage. The other animals accompanying it all have foliage in the background. "If the Ta Prohm carving did indeed use a living Stegosaurus as its model," he concludes, "then its quality is grossly out of step with that of all the other animals carved at Ta Prohm, which are quite accurate and beautifully done."

Too bad Dunning neglects to mention that while the legends as told are extremely implausible, there is a grain of truth to the idea of living dinosaurs. For instance, there's the one I suspect of crapping on my windshield. He does get points for using the term "thagomizer," though...

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