The dinosaur carving at Ta Prohm temple in Cambodia.

Is the Creature Carved Into Angkor Temple Wall a ‘Domestic’ Dinosaur?

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It Could be a Dinosaur, Or a Rhinceros or Boar…

In light of this, it is more likely that the creature depicted on the temple is meant to represent a creature more well-known to the ancient Khmers. Scholars have noted that the creature bears resemblance to a boar, rhinoceros, or stylized chameleon, among other animals. It does not exactly resemble these animals either, but there are just as many reasons to suggest that it is a rhinoceros, its ears and the shape of its head, as there are to suggest that it is a stegosaurus, the protrusions resembling dorsal plates. The creature’s identity is ambiguous at best. We cannot say for certain that it is not a dinosaur, but since we do have definitive evidence that the Khmers encountered rhinoceroses, boars, and chameleons but not living dinosaurs, it is more likely in light of the evidence and Occam’s razor, that it is one of the more mundane animals suggested and not a relict population of stegosaurus.

Others believe the Ta Prohm dinosaur is actually a rhinoceros.

Others believe the Ta Prohm dinosaur is actually a rhinoceros. ( CC0)

Another issue has to do with the environment itself. Since we have no indisputable evidence of recent dinosaur remains that are not fossilized and encased in solid rock that is millions of years old, any living dinosaurs would have to be extremely rare and most likely restricted to a remote area where they would be safe from predators, such as humans, and abrupt changes in their environment. As a comparison, the Wollemi pine tree, a relict population of a tree that was widespread in the Mesozoic, exists only in a very isolated part of Australia which has probably changed little over many millennia.

Kew Gardens Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis), London.

Kew Gardens Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis), London. ( CC BY SA 3.0 )

At the time the temple was built, Cambodia was the home of a major urban civilization, the Khmer Empire and has been continually inhabited by humans since at least the Lower Paleolithic. Humans have definitely disturbed the environment in southeast Asia, felling forests and establishing farmland, towns, and cities. As a result, it is by no means isolated from influences which could upset the environment and drive a vulnerable relict population into extinction. While this doesn’t make it impossible that there was a population of dinosaurs in the area to be detected by humans so late in history, it does make it less likely.

Some Conclusions on the ‘Dinosaur’

The only reason to conclude that it is a dinosaur is because it fits into some people’s preferred explanations, such as young earth creationists who believe that dinosaurs and humans coexisted or fringe thinkers who believe in a surviving relict population of dinosaurs that didn’t go extinct, which are valid, logically coherent positions, but ones that are not currently supported by any indisputable evidence.

Currently we have no unambiguous evidence from the fossil record or historical records that humans and dinosaurs coexisted; as a result, the explanation that the creature is a stegosaurus is a less likely position than the position that it is a rhinoceros, chameleon, boar, some other modern animal, or even a mythical creature. We have definite evidence that the rhinoceros, boar, or chameleon coexisted with humans and could have been encountered by humans and described by artists. On the other hand, we do not have any evidence that dinosaurs were in the region at the same time as humans or that humans would ever have encountered them. Also, the densely populated Khmer Empire is an unlikely place to find a relict population of large prehistoric reptiles. More likely explanations need to be ruled out before the less likely explanation that the artist encountered a live dinosaur can be considered preferable.

The Ta Prohm ‘dinosaur’ amongst other carvings.

The Ta Prohm ‘dinosaur’ amongst other carvings. (Uwe Schwarzbach/ CC BY NC SA 2.0 )

Top Image: The dinosaur carving at Ta Prohm temple in Cambodia. Source: Harald Hoyer/ CC BY SA 2.0

By Caleb Strom


Higham, Charles.  The civilization of Angkor . Univ of California Press, 2001.

Boddy, Janice, and Michael Lambek, eds.  A Companion to the Anthropology of Religion . Vol. 25. John

Wiley & Sons, 2015.

Higham, Charles.  The archaeology of mainland Southeast Asia: from 10,000 BC to the fall of Angkor .

Cambridge University Press, 1989. 

“The Stegosaur Engravings at Ta Prohm” by David Woetzel (2017). Answers Research Journal . Available at:


Just a thought here... Has anyone considered that the people at the time may have discovered Stegosaur fossils and just reimaged them into the temple? Stegosaurus' have been found in Southern India, so it isn't so huge a leap to come to that conclusion.
IMO - It is a much more fitting explanation than either living descendants of the animal or that they could have been rhinos or boars. The image looks unmistakably like a Stegosaurus and does not look at all like it is a representation of a boar or rhino. The people that built those temples were incredible artists, as such, if they wanted to depict a rhino... They would have, and we would be able to tell.

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