Scientists debunk creationist arguments that dinosaurs and humans coexisted


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An ancient cave drawing high on a rock formation in southeastern Utah has stirred a skirmish of sorts between creationists and scientists. 

This petroglyph has been adopted by creationist groups as proof that the human artist coexisted with dinosaurs [Credit: Professor Andy McIntosh]

A new research paper out on the subject probably won’t change too many minds, but it is giving food for thought to those who wonder what the fuss is about. 

The petroglyph at the Kachina Bridge formation in Natural Bridges Natural Monument has drawn curious visitors for years. By many accounts, it appears to be a hand-drawn plant-eating dinosaur. 

Professor Phil Senter, a biologist at Fayetteville State University, hiked the region with his fiancé two summers ago. “We got there and I couldn’t believe it,” says Senter. “It looked just like a sauropod.” 

Petroglyphs are common throughout parts of Colorado, Utah and New Mexico, drawn several thousand years ago by early Native Americans. The drawings represent deer and many other animals, but this was one of a few depicting prehistoric animals. 

Senter found that the petroglyph had been adopted by creationist groups as proof that the human artist coexisted with dinosaurs. The image can be found on several creationist websites and is part of an exhibit at the Creation Museum in Kentucky. 

Intrigued by the drawing, Senter contacted Sally J Cole, an author and archaeologist who has written extensively on petroglyphs of the west. Cole examined the drawing and declared that it was actually a composite of two separate petroglyphs, one being a snake or serpent. The dinosaur ‘legs’ were actually natural mineral or mud stains. 

Senter and Cole published their findings in Palaeontologia Electronica, a peer-reviewed online journal. But that’s not likely the end of the story. 

Contacted by Discovery News, officials at the Creationist Museum criticised the report. They noted that Cole examined the drawing with binoculars rather than getting close up. 

‘Nothing’ conclusion 

“I’m prepared to accept that the petroglyph as being a dinosaur,” says David Menton, a biologist at the Creation Museum. “I’m prepared that it is some other creature. What I’m not prepared to accept is that the artist climbed up there but the authors didn’t climb up. They came to the conclusion that it was nothing.” 

Cole was not available for comment, but the paper states that the area is too rugged to bring in a ladder. Senter and Cole say the dinosaur drawing is a form of “paraeidolia, the psychological phenomenon of perceiving significance in vague or random stimuli, e.g., seeing animals in clouds or the face of a religious figure in a food item.” 

But Menton says he wishes the paper’s authors would have provided a better explanation of what they found. 

“I would say the illustration is consistent with a sauropod in general appearance,” says Menton. “I reject the hypothesis that it has no meaning at all. I’d rather hear the authors say: ‘Here’s a better possibility.'” 

There are several dino-looking drawings at Kachina Bridge, including one that some say resembles a three-horned Triceratops and another of a one-horned Monoclonius. The paper says they, too, are either composite drawings or resemble “no specifically identifiable quadrupedal animal.” 

Author: Eric Niiler | Source: Discovery News [March 25, 2011]


  1. I'm not a creationist but the authors fail to realise that the ancients used naturally occurring pigmentation to add to, so the 'dinosaur legs' were already there for them to add on any other features they wanted to for whatever purpose. This was a very common practice and goes right to the heart of the geofact versus artifact debate. Many of the ancients would see simulacra in naturally occurring phenomena, and then just elaborate on it. So this is far from debunked.



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