One of the many claims of creationists is that human beings coexisted with dinosaurs, but the fossil record does not back this claim. Dinosaurs became extinct around 65 million years ago, whereas the oldest modern human fossils are less than a million years old. So how do creationists reply to this? Creationists have pointed to alleged evidence which suggested that human and dinosaurs were contemporaries such as fossil footprints of human and dinosaurs found side by side. However, this evidence has turned up to be either the result of misinterpretations or hoaxes. Never to be discouraged by negative evidence, creationists have turned to another source of evidence: art!
Ancient humans throughout the world have left a large number of inscriptions, paintings, sculptures, and other forms of art in their caves, dwellings, and artifacts such as pottery. In these, ancient humans depicted some of the animals that were in their vicinity and which they often hunted. The idea is that, if humans and dinosaurs were living side by side, dinosaurs would be represented in ancient art. Is this the case?
Creationists claim that this is indeed the case, and they point to many examples of ancient art throughout the world that seem to show large animals that in some cases bear resemblance to dinosaurs. Unfortunately there are many problems with this claim.
To begin with, some of these pieces of ancient art have been exposed as hoaxes. Among these are the Ica Stones and the Acambaro Figurines that depict dinosaurs or humans interacting with dinosaurs.
Other instances of ancient art that were claimed to be dinosaurs, such as those at the Kachina Bridge site and at various other sites, have been reinterpreted as symbolizing other animals or mythical creatures, or to be the product of the blending of several weathered figures plus mud or mineral stains. Finally, other claims that paintings or figures of dragons represent dinosaurs are clearly a stretch of the imagination.
There are some genuine depictions of animals in ancient art that bear a resemblance to dinosaurs. One of the most famous is a carving in the Temple Ta Prohm in Cambodia, which looks like a dinosaur called a stegosaurus.
However upon careful analysis, this resemblance turns out to be superficial. For example, the spikes in the tail are missing, the proportion of the head to the rest of the body is all wrong, and the carving seems to show the presence of horns or ears in the animal’s head which do not occur in stegosaurs. Skeptics believe that this carving represents another animal such as a rhinoceros, and that the alleged plates on its back, which are found in other carvings in the same temple, may represent leaves. This disagreement exposes the central problem of taking ancient art as proof for the existence of something: interpretation.
Even in these modern times of science, technology, and urbanization, human populations develop a cultural mythology that gives rise to fantastic beliefs in notions, characters, or entities that often end up being represented in art. This process has been probably taking place since the dawn of humanity. Even when we see an ancient carving, painting, or sculpture that bears an unambiguous resemblance to something modern, how do we know that the resemblance is not a coincidence? How do we know that what the author actually saw is what he or she depicted in the art as opposed to it being a representation of a dream, a belief, an embellished story, or something that was misperceived? To show you how problematic the interpretation of ancient art is, let me tell you about ancient astronauts.
There is a group of people that claims that ancient art shows that primitive cultures had contacts with ancient astronauts and their machines. They point out to art all over the world that seems to depict images that bear resemblance to people wearing helmets and different types of crafts. For example, the lid of the tomb of the Maya ruler Pacal the Great depicts a human figure manipulating the controls of what seems to be a space vessel which even has flames coming out of one end.
Egyptian hieroglyphics from the temple of Seti I at Abydos contain images of what appear to be a helicopter and other types of modern looking crafts.
Petroglyphs from the Camonica Valley in Italy seem to depict figures wearing helmets.
This post is not the place to deal with these claims, but let me just mention that they are all based on misinterpretations of what these figures represent.
Ironically, some creationists have been among the most vocal critics of ancient astronaut proponents. However, how is using ancient art to argue for the existence of ancient astronauts different from the argument championed by creationists that humans coexisted with dinosaurs? How do we tell what is real? The answer is we can’t. Ancient art alone cannot be taken as proof of the existence of the entities represented in the art. Additional evidence is required. Consider the case of mammoths.
There are hundreds of representations of mammoths in cave and other forms of art in areas of Europe and Russia, but there is also abundant evidence that ancient humans hunted mammoths or scavenged their corpses for food, and used their tusks to construct dwellings, to produce tools, and to carve and make art. The dating of mammoth and human remains and tools found in these areas also show a degree of overlap in the geological age indicating that these two species were contemporaneous. Why is there no such evidence for dinosaurs and humans?
Creationists often complain that scientists are biased against their ideas, but how do they expect to be taken seriously when they demand that science upend well-established scientific theories backed by vast amounts of solid evidence based solely on a few carved or painted figures? We might as well accept that ancient astronauts visited the Earth!
Photograph of Ica Stone Brattarb used here under an Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
Photograph of Acambaro figurines by Fchavez2000 is used here under a GNU Free Documentation License, version 1.2.
A drawing of the lid of the tomb of Maya ruler Pacal the Great by Madman2001 is used here under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license.
Image of the so called helicopter hieroglyphs by Olek95 are in the public domain.
Photograph of petroglyphs in Italy by Luca Giarelli used here under an Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0) license.
Image of alleged stegosaur carving at Ta Prohm Temple by Harald Hoyer is used here under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license.
Photograph of a cast of a Stegosaurus stenops skeleton (AMNH 650) in the Senckenberg Museum in Frankfurt am Main by Evak is used here under a GNU Free Documentation License, version 1.2.
Mammoth hunt image used here under an Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0) license.