Ta Prohm’s Bas-Relief: The Cambodian Stegosaurus

Extraordinary bas-reliefs in Cambodia

Located in Angkor (Cambodia), Ta Prohm is a temple built between the late twelfth and early thirteenth century by King Jayavarman VII as a Mahayana Buddhist monastery and as a university.
Unlike most of the temples in the area, it has remained in the same condition in which it was found and the combination of the vegetation growing on the ruins and the surrounding jungle made it one of the most popular temples in Angkor but what has definitively made headlines was the discovery of a singular sculpture among the various images depicting animals, found on the building walls.

The Cambodian Stegosaurus_Ta_Prohm_Courtyard

At the corner formed by the elaborate front entrance and the front wall is a ten-foot column covered with decorative circles: one of the animals enclosed in these circles, together with monkeys, deer, water buffalo, parrots, bears a striking resemblance to a stegosaurus. This sculpture has been reported in two books by Claude Jacques and Michael Freeman (1997, 1999), who argue that it is precisely the dinosaur that, according to academic dictates, would have become extinct over 60 million years ago.

In recent years, Don Patton, Carl Baugh, Dennis Swift and others, have claimed that the sculpture demonstrates the coexistence of dinosaurs and humans less than a thousand years ago, supporting creationist theories that the origin of the Earth and all life forms would be relatively young.
These theories have prompted the emergence of various discussions on blogs and websites dedicated to evolutionism vs creationism debate, cryptozoology and related topics, so that even the major creationist organization AIG ("Answers in Genesis"), which is usually more cautious about out of place artifacts, strongly encourages the interpretation of the stegosaurus.

The Cambodian Stegosaurus-stegosaurus_silohuette

Creationists in favor of stegosaurus

According to believers, this finding, together with other similar ones such as the Acambaro figurines, the ancient depictions of dinosaurs on mosaic at Palestrina or graffito by the Anasazi Indians in America, would open the way to three possible explanations and, of course, extremely indigest for orthodox science:

  1. the artist drew a series of animals that he had the opportunity to see live, and among these the stegosaurus.

  2. a previous and very advanced civilization had already unearthed the bones of dinosaurs and had reconstructed their appearance, making this description become part of the collective imagination and be handed down in the centuries to come.

  3. the representation of an animal so similar to a stegosaurus depends on the fact that the artist had an extrasensory perception relating to an event from the distant past.

The Cambodian Stegosaurus-a_dragon_in_a_scene_from_the_Book_of_Revelation

We also find traces of stegosauroids in ancient writings as well as in ancient figurative art: in the ancient chronicles we find many descriptions of encounters between men and monstrous reptiles, generally called "dragons" and even in the Bible there is talk of large reptile beings.

The Cambodian stegosaurus is a misinterpretation

Does Ta Prohm's bas-relief really depict a stegosaurus? According to the debunkers, the apparent similarity is linked to a series of erroneous considerations:

  1. Some have suggested the possibility that "Stegosaurus" may have been sculpted or altered by a modern mystifier. In support of this, some critics point out that the appearance of the image is clearer than the surrounding sculptures, a thesis immediately dismantled by the following considerations:
    • Patina is still obvious in the recesses and in any case its absence could be due to the cleaning done by visitors and the press
    • Removing the imagined "original" carving would have left a recessed surface. The photographic evidence clearly demonstrates that the carving is not recessed. It is flush with the other carvings.
    • Since the plates on the back of the stegosaur protrude from the recessed background at least half an inch, it would not be possible to add them to the background by subsequent carving. The plates are an integral part of the rock surrounded by a recessed, patina covered background.
    • The blocks are held together, not with mortar, but with iron "staples" in the shape of a capital "I" with a method of construction very similar to the one used in Tiwanaku, near Lake Titicaca in Bolivia.

The Cambodian Stegosaurus-Ta_Prohm’s_Bas_Relief

  1. Those who claim that the bas-relief is the depiction of a stegosaurus is mainly based on the presence of bone scales on the back of the animal which make it compatible with current iconographic reconstructions.
    However, there are other possible explanations: first, the lobes could represent exaggerated spines or crests of chameleons or other lizards.
    The plates may have been stylized or have a purely decorative function and therefore not related to the anatomy of the animal.
    The interpretation of the vegetative or decorative function is particularly plausible in light of the numerous similar features at the margins and edges of many other temple sculptures.
  1. Most other aspects of the creature are not very similar to those of the stegosaurus and are actually more compatible with a rhino or a chameleon.
    In particular, the stegosaurs had small pointed heads, with narrow and rather long snouts, tapered necks that have nothing to do with the large head, broad muzzle and short neck of the sculpture.
    The sculpture does not have the typical quills on the tail which, being among the most particular characteristics of the stegosaurus, could not have been overlooked by the artist.
    The front and hind legs are similar in size but the stegosaurus had much larger hind legs than the front legs. Additionally, two large growths are present at the back of the head which could easily represent the ears of a rhino or the folds or grooves of a chameleon neck.

  2. Another possibility is that the creature is largely fanciful or religiously symbolic: some sculptures on the temple depict real creatures but this does not necessarily mean that all are.
    Hindu tradition and many temple sculptures represent entities endowed with combinations of different animals and deities. Some of these could have been the inspiration or the basis for that of the stegosaurus sculpture.
    While the point is often overlooked or downplayed by creationist advocates of living dinosaurs, most archaeologists and historians believe that a number of mythical creatures are likely based at least in part on fossil records discovered by ancient peoples.

  3. Stegosaurs lived in China and Mongolia but there is no evidence that they were present in Cambodia, but even admitting this possibility, how is it possible that a small depiction in a temple is the only proof of the presence of a dinosaur on average of about 5 tons and about 9 meters in length?

“An Allosaurus backbone had a hole in which a Stegosaurus thagomizer fitted perfectly. Over the years, many of the fossil thagomizers that have been dug up have had broken tips.”

― Gary Jeffrey, Stegosaurus: The Plated Dinosaur

Resources related to Ta Prohm’s Bas-Relief: The Cambodian Stegosaurus

Cover image by Harald Hoyer from Schwerin, Germany

Article image by Anandajoti

Article image2 by Clker-Free-Vector-Images

Article image3 by Laurom

Article image4 by Kolibri5

Search in the archive:
acambaro figurines
answer in genesis
cambodian stegosaurus
claude jacques
don patton
michael freeman
ta prohm