Krong Siem Reap, CAMBODIA
VIJAY SHAH via Hawkfeed
If you visit the 800-year-old Hindu temple complex of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, you will be immediately be taken aback by the immense building and intricate carvings of deities and old Khmer kings of was once one of the most powerful and expansive empires in south-east Asia. However take a closer look, and you will notice something very peculiar among the images of soldiers, local wildlife, royalty and apsaras (sacred nymphs).
On one of the walls of the main temple at Ta Prohm, there is a carving of a lizard-like creature, stockily-built and four-legged with a series of small sails running along its back. To many modern observers, it resembles a stegosaurus, a herbivorous dinosaur that lived during the late Jurassic period, some 155 to 150 million years ago in what is now the western United States and Portugal. Eight centuries later, it would be impossible to interview the carver of the main temple wall with its prehistoric embellishment, but this may be a sign that the ancient Khmer Hindus knew of the existence of dinosaurs, which were not fully understood in Europe until the archaeological discovery of dinosaur fossils that began in the 19th century. It is possible that they may have unearthed a dinosaur skeleton while constructing the temple and figured out what kind of dinosaur it was, before carving its supposed likeness into the temple wall of Ta Prohm as a sort of homage.
The story of the Khmer stone dinosaur has been noticed by various scientific, obscure discovery and religious websites, including Hawkfeed, which specialises in Indian and Hindu news stories and features and is the source for this article. The dinosaur has also attracted attention across the religious divide from Biblical proponents.
The Angkor Wat temple complex was built around 1140 CE by the emperor Suryavarman II and dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The Khmer people has previously come into with Indian traders who introduced them to Hinduism. The temple was also built as a show of imperial strength as the Khmer empire was making inroads against the neighbouring Thais. The Ta Prohm temple, where the carving is said to be found, was built by later king Jayavarman VII sometime in the late 12th century. The complex eventually fell into disrepair and was swallowed up by the surrounding jungle until, ironically, French archaeologists rediscovered it and it is now the world’s largest surviving religious monument and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Yet, at least judging by the mysterious stegosaurus carving, the Khmers may have themselves possessed advanced archaeological knowledge at the time.
While many have cited this as evidence that the ancients were far more advanced in scientific understanding than they are usually given credit for, and some Christian creationists have clung onto the idea that the Angkor Wat stegosaurus is proof that humanity and dinosaurs co-existed, therefore invalidating the theory of evolution, opponents say that in fact the stegosaurus is probably more likely a depiction of a rhinoceros or a chameleon with exaggerated features. A report by the Smithsonian Institute suggests that if viewed head-on, the carving does not appear prehistoric at all. As the report itself states “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.” Leaves are a common motif as a background design on many of Angkor Wat’s stone carvings.
The Smithsonian also suggests that the carving may be have been added much more recently, perhaps by a visiting film crew or a local artisan with a strange sense of humour. Others have compared the carving to a baby Asian rhino or a local species of mountain lizard which both bear a strong resemblance to the carving. Nevertheless, the temple has become a source of pride for Cambodians, Hindus and humanity the world over, regardless of whether it was a stegosaurus on that wall or not.