There was a stir a couple of years ago when a cave drawing found in Utah appeared to show a dinosaur. For creationists, that was proof that man and beast existed together. After all, they said, how could Native Americans thousands of years ago know what a dinosaur looked like unless they saw one? Well, now it turns out it could be nothing more than a mud stain.
According to a report in the Daily Mail, Phil Senter, a biology professor at Fayetteville State University was hiking at Kachina Bridge in 2009 when he saw the hand-drawn image.
"I couldn't believe it," he told Discovery News, "'It looked just like a sauropod."
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The lighter patch of this rock appears to form the image.
He contacted archaeologist Sally Cole, an expert in cave drawings, which are called petrogylphs, which are common throughout parts of Colorado, Utah and New Mexico.
Usually the drawings depict deer and other animals. But this one, and a few others, was different.
Cole examined the drawing and came to the conclusion that it was actually a composite of two separate drawings. One is a snake. The "legs" of the "dinosaur," she said, were actually just stains from minerals or mud.
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In a paper the pair wrote for Palaeontologia Electronica, the result was a kind 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."
Officials at the Creationist Museum criticized the report and Cole's analysis. Museum biologist David Menton told Discovery News that Cole's findings had to be disregarded because she examined the petroglyph from a distance with binoculars.
"I'm not prepared to accept... that the artist climbed up there but the authors didn't climb up."
Cole said the area was too rugged for a ladder.