For years a debate has waged about whether certain bas relief carvings at the 12th-century To Prohm Temple, one of the most popular attractions at the Angkor Wat Temple Complex in Siem Reap province, depicted dinosaurs or some rather less exotic and more contemporary animal, such as a rhino or a croc. But if they are of the dinosaur – the kind with broad plates on its backs and spiked tails – one thing scientists do agree on: It is not proof that the giant creature – which paleontologists believe became extinct 65 million years ago – and humans lived together simultaneously.
However, the opinion of experts is unlikely to change the mind of proponents of Creationism, the religious belief that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old. According to a recent story in the British tabloid the Daily Star, Creationists have jumped on the theory that the bas relief carvings depict the prehistoric giants and point to it as proof that dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time, thus confirming their theory of the Earth’s age.
The Daily Star cited an excerpt from an article in UFO Sighting Footage, a periodical popular with Creationists, saying that “anything before 1800 AD that depicts a dinosaur or what we consider a dinosaur to look like shouldn’t exist.”
Atlas Obscura, an American online magazine that writes about curious travel destinations, was willing to at least entertain the Creationists’ theory.
“Maybe the carving is evidence that dinosaurs really did live on until much later than previously thought. (Creationists would certainly like to believe so),” the outlet wrote in an article on the carvings.
“Perhaps here in the humid, ancient jungles of Southeast Asia, where the climate has remained largely unchanged since the dinosaurs’ days, giant reptiles lived on well into the human era – long enough to persist in the Khmer folk-memory.”
Meanwhile, Long Kosal, Apsara Authority spokesman, did not know exactly what the mysterious carvings depict.
“I really don’t know,” Kosal said. “There is no evidence that they were dinosaurs. They could be crocodiles or iguanas.”
However, Thuy Chanthoul, a professor of archaeologist at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said he believes they are depictions of dinosaurs, but not for the reasons Creationists have clung to the belief.
“We’ve known about [the carvings] for a very long time,” he said. “They were Stegosaurusi, an herbivore dinosaur, with faces similar to rhinoceroses’. From what I know, they were the only carving to be found so far.”
This carving, he added, proved that the people who built the temple understood the natural world and evolution.
“The builders of Angkor Wat were also scientists,” Chanthoul said. “Obviously, they knew how to cut stones and melt the steel … The ancient Khmer engineers practised real science.”