I have many destinations that I would love to travel to. But I have always been interested in ancient sites with mysterious histories over any tourist sites that may capture the attention for some people. I am not the type to go to 5 star hotel resort vacations, I would rather hike into dense forested areas, mountains, deserts, or other difficult places with the intent to explore and learn from these ancient mystic sites. Traditionally I have always wanted to see the Giza Plateau and visit the Sphinx and The Great Pyramid. Then I wanted to travel to India and visit some of the mystic domains in that country such as the Bodhi Tree, Bodh Gaya. Bodh Gaya, located 100 km (62 mi) south of Patna in the Indian state of Bihar, is the most venerated sacred place in Buddhism. It is the place where Prince Siddhartha Guatama, while meditating beneath the Bodhi Tree, attained enlightenment and became the Buddha. A visit to Nepal would have to come next. I have also wanted to visit a Zen Buddhist monastery in Japan. The list goes on from Easter Island (Rapa Nui), to, and Nazca to anywhere there remains an ancient megalith site on this planet.
But I’ve recently thought that there is also another place I would like to visit. That would be in the Country of Cambodia, a site of the ancient Khmer civilization and one of the world’s largest religious mystical sites: the mysterious Angkor Wat. This was once a place heavily influenced by India, and many of these temples were dedicated to the Hindu gods. Later on the influence was replaced by Buddhism.
Ta Prohm Mystery
Hordes of tourists descend on Cambodia every year for the sole purpose of visiting the temples at Angkor. This magnificent series of temples, carved out of the jungle in the 12th and 13th centuries by Khmer devaraja, or god-kings, is still the largest group of religious complexes ever created. Yet most visitors miss one of its more intriguing mysteries.
At Ta Prohm, near Angkor Wat and built by the epic builder king Jayavarman VII in the late 1100s, a small carving on a crumbling temple wall seems to show a dinosaur – a stegosaurus, to be exact. The hand-sized carving can be found in a quiet corner of the complex, a stone temple engulfed in jungle vegetation where the roots of centuries-old banyan trees snake through broken walls.
After parts of Tomb Raider were shot here, the temple got a PR lift and has become one of the site’s top tourist draws. But many of the package tours are still ushered in and out without spotting the enigmatic dinosaur carving.
Several different theories have been advanced to explain its presence. Some maintain it’s a recently-carved hoax, while others say that the ancient Khmers could have unearthed a fossil and figured out what kind of creature it belonged to. One theory has it that the image actually shows a cow or rhino with a palm tree in the background – the palm’s fronds being easily mistaken for the fin-like blades running down a stegosaurus’ back.
Or maybe the carving is evidence that dinosaurs really did live on until much later than previously thought. (Creationists would certainly like to believe so.) 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. If only these walls could talk, we might have a clue.
The ancient and elaborate temple at Angkor Wat is not the only interesting site to see when visiting Cambodia. Archaeologists have been discovering hundreds of temples, many still buried beneath thick jungle growth, strewn across the whole surrounding area. A picture is emerging of buildings that connected a thriving society across a broad region. Could soon-to-be uncovered stone carvings somehow intersect with biblical history?
Australian archaeologist Damian Evans employed “lidar” technology to find new temples far faster than the old way—that of hacking through jungle and hoping to hit some valuable hint. Lidar uses reflected laser light to measure fine elevation details. Dr. Evans had focused on a mountainous area northeast of Angkor Wat named Phnom Kulen and found that roads and canals once connected temples and houses probably even beyond his mapped area in Cambodia’s interior. Lidar revealed Mahendraparvata and two dozen additional hidden temples, mostly buried and untouched by looters.
Evans told Australian news source The Age that with lidar, “all of a sudden we saw an immediate picture of an entire city that no one knew existed.” Even the local villagers had no idea that an ancient temple lay virtually beneath their feet.
The temple at Ta Prohm—with its tree root-draped stones providing a picturesque scene for visitors—lies fewer than three miles from the oft-visited major Angkor Wat complex. The Khmer people built it and the many surrounding temples during Europe’s Middle Ages.
Ta Prohm is increasingly famous for its bas-relief of what appears to be a stegosaurus, expertly carved into the temple stone many centuries ago—long before paleontological dinosaur reconstructions. Ta Prohm’s central stele carving shows a date, translated onto the A.D. calendar, as 1186. Parrot, swan, water buffalo, and monkey carvings adorn the same structure, showing the ancient artist’s expertise at reproducing known animals.
The nearest stegosaur fossils come from faraway China. It is therefore very unlikely that the ancients carved a stegosaur likeness based on fossils.
Dinosaur carvings, sculptures, and paintings within ancient ruins confront the view that dinosaurs lived and died millions of years before man. But they are just what one would expect within the context of biblical history. Genesis says that God created man and animals, including dinosaurs, on the same day of creation week.
Did the ancient Khmer people personally observe stegosaurus, as the anatomically-correct rendering at Ta Prohm clearly suggests? If so, then those dinosaurs represent descendants of their kind that traveled on board Noah’s Ark. This implies that later generations of stegosaurs migrated from the Ark landing site in the Middle East to Southeast Asia. They may have gone extinct from Cambodia through human interactions similar to those causing the 2010 extinction of the Javan Rhino from neighboring Vietnam.
The next task for archaeologists will involve carefully removing the covering jungle from Mahendraparvata’s ancient stone walls. Erected centuries before Angkor Wat, will its temple carvings reveal more dinosaur-looking creatures? And if so, will secular researchers choose to show findings that challenge their basic beliefs, or will they suppress evidence as they cling to secularized history?