FOUND: Medieval Dinosaurs!

By Gemma Tarlach | June 1, 2016 1:32 pm
Carving on belfry window of Holy Trinity Church in the High Caucasus of Northern Georgia looks a little...odd. Credit: G Tarlach.

Carving on belfry window of Holy Trinity Church in the High Caucasus of Northern Georgia looks a little…odd. All images: G. Tarlach.

Feels like dinosaurs follow me wherever I go (note: not complaining). I’m on vacation here in the amazing Republic of Georgia and thus a little bit out of the loop on new sciencey stuff but HEY, would ya look at this?

After hiking up to the famous Church of Tsminda Sameba, sitting pretty at an altitude of nearly 2200m in the Great Caucasus, I couldn’t help but notice something a little odd about one of the carvings on the 15th century belfry.

A closer look at the beasties.

A closer look at the beasties.

The two critters scampering across the stonework bear an uncanny resemblance, in my opinion, to prosauropods, semi-quadrupedal herbivores that preceded the fully quadrupedal, longer-necked behemoths of the sauropod tribe. Or maybe they’re a rendering of Pulanesaura, one of the first sauropods.

The artist may have intended to represent one of the salamander species endemic to the region (I don’t know; no one seems to have the answer), but I prefer to believe they’re dinosaurs. What do you think?

Church of Tsminda Sameba and the Holy Dinosaurs, Republic of Georgia.

Church of Tsminda Sameba and the Holy Dinosaurs, Republic of Georgia. Yes, it was pouring rain. Weather happens.

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  • Billy Dennis

    The brick was replaced. The one above it has half of a circle on it. Fake.

    • GemmaTarlach

      It’s unclear what you mean by “fake.” Lots of stones were repurposed, especially for the belfry, which was built a century after the main church. If you saw how steep the trail up to the church was (only summit of site is shown), you’d want to repurpose as much material lying around as you could, too. The carving is medieval.

      • Billy Dennis

        Look, I would love to rewrite history and be the first to find advanced civilized life on another planet but this stone work is way too clean and clearly a patch. Nice try though!

        • GemmaTarlach

          Who’s rewriting history or finding advanced life on another planet? It’s a curious carving that, as I said, probably depicts some endemic salamander but looks like dinosaurs. That’s all. Just a quirky, funny thing I saw on vacation. Oh wait…I’m on vacation. That’s right. Peace out.

          • Billy Dennis

            Okay you are right, I take these things way too seriously and it is cool to see pics from places I have never been. Thanks for sharing and I hope you enjoy the rest of your vacation! Peace.

  • Dr. Manos PhD

    Check out Ica stones in Peru, 50000 stones carved with real dinosaurs and humans together. The proof that the stones are not a hoax is in their
    number. There are too many stones for a single farmer, or even a
    collective of hoaxers, to have scratched out. The locals
    have unearthed about 50,000 stones carved with various types of dinosaurs and other depictions.

  • http://experienceswiththephase.blogspot.com.au Phillip Gough

    Yep. Dinosaurs.

  • Blake Smith

    I think the problem is that as a writer for Discover, you are representing a magazine whose banner is allegedly “science.” Meanwhile there are people who do not understand evolution, who think the world is 6 – 10,000 years old, and look for any kind of endorsement they can find that their world view is correct. So for those of us who are vigilant against the perpetuation of nonsense find ourselves losing the ability to enjoy a joke because there are hundreds of thousands if not millions who see this not as a joke, but as a vindication of their blindered view of world history.

    • GemmaTarlach

      Posting a photo of, say, the 5th century fresco of an angel at another church I visited could not be construed as evidence that angels exist. Posting the photo I took of a restaurant menu offering “fruit moose” for dessert does not mean the dessert was made with moose. The carvings are just something curious and kinda funny that I came across on vacation. Speaking of vacations, maybe you should take one. You seem a bit tense.

    • Sardondi

      And then there are people who take some things – and themselves – entirely too seriously.

    • john8

      The more you read from those purportedly interested purely in “science”, the more you find mocking, belittling, ad hominem, misdirection, and unwillingness to even answer a simple question let alone engage in a discussion. Notice how any evidence (for example soft tissue up to 1/2 billion years old) that is difficult to fit into The Theory is tersely dismissed as error, or nonsense, or relegated to insignificant status, and attack mode ensues. #ModusOperandi

      One thing ‘Science’ evidently does not bring about is civility, courtesy, or respect. There is no need for such things when you are always right and you know it. There is no reason for morality when it doesn’t exist.

      • Blake Smith

        I wouldn’t conflate morality with civility. But people do seem to interpret contrary opinions with arrogance if the author is confident. Not sure why that is – but it’s a common interpretation. The weird thing is that I would posit arrogance implies intent – so how would a reader know if the author intended arrogance?

        Not sure what morality has to do with the lack of evidence for non-avian dinosaurs in human times, but bringing it up does suggest a religious motivation to your comments.

    • merlin3033

      Blake, there are plenty of other carvings of dinosaurs, stories of dinosaurs (dragons), not to mention carbon 14 and soft tissue in fossils so old, in Darwin years, that there should be none. There are also hundreds of legends of a massive flood found on all continents. All of these are scientific evidence that is best interpreted by a young age for the earth. On the other hand, you cannot give me one example of a mutation in humans that is both beneficial and an increase in the functionality of the organism, or provides a new active site in a protein or a new structure. This is what evolution is made of, but you have NO examples. Plenty of examples of mutations that cause disease. So be vigilant, but find some evidence that supports evolution.

      • Blake Smith

        Some people would say the mutation to process milk proteins is beneficial.

        • merlin3033

          When did that mutation happen, and who did it happen to? Or was the inability to process milk proteins the mutation?

          • Blake Smith

            You can read the fascinating details at Nature magazine. Google “Archaeology: The milk revolution” – it is really very interesting. I will try to post a direct link, but I’m not sure they’re allowed in the comments.
            http://www.nature.com/news/archaeology-the-milk-revolution-1.13471

          • merlin3033

            Good, you have a candidate for a beneficial mutation, but there is no increase in information here. Whatever shut down the lactose tolerance in children mutated, but no new process, just the trait persisting longer in an individual.
            Now, what about C-14 and soft tissue and flood legends? Do we just ignore them and all the other evidence, hoping it will just stay ignored?

          • Blake Smith

            The fascinating thing to me is that there is so much convergent evidence for evolution and natural selection, but the same old arguments against it never seem to be answered to the satisfaction of those who choose to not accept it as an explanation. As a theory, natural selection makes predictions possible. A great example is that based on evolutionary tendencies in the fossil record, it seemed like a transitional species would be found in rocks of a specific age and scientists went looking in such exposed rock and found exactly what they expected. That’s the story behind Tiktaalik. Genetic mutation rates also provide confirmatory support for the idea. Tree rings alone provide ample evidence that the earth is much older than thousands of years. BUT, all of that will not be compelling if your arguments are based on faith. I can’t help you there. Faith is based on belief despite evidence to the contrary and despite a lack of evidence – it has no place in science. Science is a methodology to filter out false ideas from true one, and necessarily has to work through mistakes now and again. It improves by comporting to the evidence. Faith based modalities don’t want to change based on evidence – they want to find evidence that supports their premise and disregard the rest. That is a completely understandable and human thing – and science has that problem too. It’s called bias, and it’s why there are thousands and thousands of scientists who can make their career by overturning popular theories. Neither you nor I will resolve anything on an internet forum, but if you feel like you’ve got the facts to overturn the theories surrounding natural selection I would urge you to get them published and change the world. (I suspect you’ll find it difficult – but I wish you good fortune in that effort.) For now, I’ll leave off answering your evolution questions. I’d recommend the site NCSE.com which has the answers to many of the points you’ve asked about and lots of references to back them up. As for surviving sauropods from a few thousand years ago, show me the body. The DNA will still be there if it is that young – that’ll settle it and I’ll be delighted to know of it because I love dinosaurs. :) Perhaps we have that in common.

          • merlin3033

            I have presented evidence, and said nothing about faith or the Bible, and everything I have mentioned has been published.
            Google dinosaur soft tissue. Do you really think it can persist for 68 million years? Yet in order to preserve the theory of evolution, you must assume that it can. THAT is not science, that is faith.

          • Blake Smith

            That’s the beauty of science. If the material really is soft tissue then it suggests ignorance about fossilization and tissue preservation. It does not suggest that all the convergent evidence of the age of the bones in question are wrong. First – for anyone not familiar with this, here is a story from Smithsonian about the soft tissue find:
            http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/dinosaur-shocker-115306469/?page=1
            Second, here is a briefer story about the current theory as to how this soft tissue was preserved:
            http://www.livescience.com/41537-t-rex-soft-tissue.html
            The latter story is quite brief, but suggests that a combination of iron-rich material in conjunction with the type of preserving material around the bones combined to leave the soft collagen intact. The circumstances that caused this find to happen were unusual because they involved cutting up the bones for transportation but now that this discovery has happened, my understanding is that further research into existing fossils will need to be done to find out how common such preservation is. The thing is, the age of the rock is not really in question. Science updates to meet the facts as they are found – and there is very little indeed to suggest the earth is anything but billions of years old, in a universe around 3 times older than that. Billions is a big set of numbers, and not something easily understood by anyone – it’s just too big of a concept mathematically. Anyway, I’ll respond once again that discussion forums aren’t really a place where this sort of thing will be resolved. Peer reviewed science journals are currently the best venue we have for pushing the (always tentative) knowledge we can rely on forward.

            Anyway, it is not easy to accept evolution unless you have a good understanding of just how old the earth is. And because of that there is a tremendous effort by people motivated by vested faith in their creation-myths to reject the science. I can certainly sympathize with the mental discomfort of trying to believe in a divine creation story and also trying to understand the evidence that things took a long time and were undirected by cosmic intelligence. In the end, I decided to follow the evidence rather than what I wished was true – but it certainly is more comforting to believe the other story. It just happens to be unverifiable, and at odds with vast amounts of contradictory evidence.

          • merlin3033


            I agree that this is not the place these issues will be resolved.

            The age of the earth? Any determination of that come from assumptions, which may or may not be correct. There is plenty of evidence that the earth is not very old. No cosmic intelligence? Do you understand the arguments by Michael Behe and others at Discovery Institute? Random mutation and natural selection? John Sanford will disabuse you of your faith in that. Even Michael Denton, an evolutionist, and other evolutionist realize that RMNS doesn’t get the job done. They are looking for some sort of self organizing principle in a universe very friendly toward life. Good luck with that.
            The fossil record does not support evolution. That is why Gould and Ethridge (?) came up the theory of punctuated equilibrium. I could go on, but I won’t.
            Maybe it is you with the closed mind, unwilling to follow the evidence where it leads.
            “…a tremendous effort by people motivated by vested faith in their creation-myths to reject the science.” You got this backwards. Evolutionist refuse to question their basic assumptions – evolution and the age of the earth, even when there is evidence to the contrary. So much so that a scientist that questions evolution may likely lose his job.

            http://crev.info/2016/09/saturnews-and-titanews/

  • David Morris

    Those engravings look rather recent. There are millions of young earth advocates who will take this fake engraving as gospel of man and dinosaurs living together. Which, probably wasn’t the intention of the engraver.

  • Iq195

    My humble opinion is that these are chameleons, in reference to the different color patterns seen!

  • Erik Bosma

    It can be whatever it is… I still know what the facts are and am confident in them and will not be swayed by any of this ‘evidence’.

  • Inimical Jim

    Those are obviously dragons.

  • Mike Richardson

    Medieval period, probably dragons or basilisks, but the rendering does resemble more modern depictions of an upright tyrannosaur and a four-legged prosauropod. Of course, it’s possible those legendary creatures may have been inspired by early fossil finds.

    • GemmaTarlach

      Dinosaur footprints have been found in Georgia, as well as some fossils (though in this area I think it’s been mostly molluscs and other marine critters). It would be pretty impressive (as in ridiculously impressive) if some medieval diggers found even a partially articulated skeleton and were able to reassemble the bones and sort out what the animal was. I suspect the real answer, lost now to time, is that they’re supposed to be salamanders or fantastical beasts of some variety. In my heart, though, they’re dinosaurs.

      • Mike Richardson

        But what inspired salamanders, dragons, and other saurian beasties in the first place, in Europe, Asia, and other places? I was just wondering if the inspiration, if not locally based, could have been based on prior fossil finds that storytellers and mythmakers interpreted as ancient monsters, adding fantastic and supernatural abilities filtered through local customs or religion, and spreading far and wide. The striking similarity to a particular type of dinosaur in this particular case is almost surely coincidental, but fossils have been unearthed and discovered by humans for thousands of years, just without any evolutionary or geologic context until approximately the past two centuries. What kind of creatures would these early discoverers surmise when stumbling upon a sauropod femur, teeth from a carnosaur, or a pterosaur with wing bones intact? The scale, specialized form, or unique anatomical location of features in a more intact fossil would at least suggest creatures unlike those familiar to people of the pre-scientific past, and perhaps inspire myth and legend of creatures never seen.

  • Jenny H

    Ermines or weasels? Pangolins? Mongoose? Binturong? Fossa? Goannas?

    • GemmaTarlach

      Ooh, pangolins! I don’t think they look much like pangolins, but I do love a good pangolin reference!

      • Jenny H

        For a fun half hour surf through Medieval Bestiaries. Many weird and wonderful things appoarently existed in the old days.

  • Victor Petrucci

    I think they are salamanders… because their tails are curled and this does not occur with dinosaurs

    • bobgeezer

      And your evidence about dinosaurs’ tails not being curled is . . . ??
      Never mind: the answer is “nonexistent” as we all know.
      Typical science- hater.

  • Jenny H

    Or try a Fat-tailed dwarf Lemur

  • Rob Norton

    Well, I’m sure I’ll be seeing this again after some young Earth advocates find it. It’s amusing nonetheless.

  • Thomas Ewing

    Wonders like this will keep everyone guessing. How’d dey do dat and why? The answers will probably be revealed after we leave earth. I believe the Library of Heaven has all answers. Too much ‘guess and by-golly’ stuff on earth for my tastes.

  • BruceT

    Those carvings are likely stylized otters. Otters are as common as dirt where I come from. The head shape is a dead giveaway. I suspect the artist gave them curly tails to emphasis the animal’s gyrating, turning, near perpetual motion on shore and in the water.
    There are large Eurasian salamanders, similar to the North American hellbender, but their heads are much flatter.

  • Ben

    Looks like a beautiful place, perhaps since it was a church the artist was envisioning the great beast that he read about in the book of Job.

  • Mike

    I congratulate Gemma Tarlach on a thought provoking article! :) i noticed some of the responses are like the ones when soft tissue was first discovered in T-Rex back in 2005. And the reason why soft tissue was discovered in 2005 was by accident because no scientist was looking for soft tissue in fossils. Organic material degrades more rapidly and it doesn’t have a long preservation span like other materials do and since evolutionary theory promotes very long ages, organic material wouldn’t have survived to be observed today. The people who craved the images on the 15th-century chapel had no clue what a dinosaur was because it wasn’t revealed to the world till four centuries later. While it’s true you, Gemma Tarlach holds to the materialist view, your first impression was correct. Then there are the responses, Gemma, you are witnessing the passionate hate towards creationists and the fear of new evidence brought to the forefront that may hinder evolution. Let me take your photo response, it is circular reasoning. There was no quote under or above the images saying what the images were like your comparison to a menu which used an adjective rather than a noun for one of its meals.

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