Saturday, May 24, 2014


The (male?) pterosaur as imagined by evolution deniers.
Black Dragon Canyon, UT. Courtesy Phil Senter, 2012,

To me one of the strangest sub-studies of the field of rock art consists of attempts of creationists and evolution deniers to find dinosaurs in rock art. Apparently this is to prove that humans and dinosaurs lived concurrently because that is the only way primitive people would have their examples to portray. As best I can tell this is the work of a group of creationists who ascribe to the theory that the bible says the earth is only 6,000 years old based upon 17th century Bishop Usher’s calculation that “the first day of creation began at nightfall preceding Sunday, October 23, 4004 BC” (Wikipedia), so dinosaurs and humans have to have coexisted.

Whatever their motivation, there are a few tired examples that get trotted out over and over to supposedly prove that there are indeed portrayals of dinosaurs in rock art. Of these, perhaps the most ubiquitous example is the supposed pterosaur pictograph in Utah’s Black Dragon Canyon. In 2012 Phil Senter stated An alleged pterosaur painting in Black Dragon Canyon, Utah, is actually not a single painting. Its "head" and "neck" are a painting of a person with outstretched arms. Its torso and limbs are those of a painting of a second person with outstretched arms, whose body continues into the "pterosaur's" "wing." The other "wing" is a painting of a horned serpent. The three paintings only appear connected because someone outlined the group with chalk.”

The original figures on the panel. Black Dragon Canyon, UT.
Courtesy Phil Senter, 2012,

Senter traces the origin of the supposed pterosaur to a poorly done case of chalking the images and notes that it may have originally even been done as a practical joke. “It is also the origin of the Black Dragon “pterosaur”. Decades ago, someone chalked an outline that joined several separate images on the wall of Black Dragon Canyon in Emery County, Utah. Together within the chalk outline they bear a vague resemblance to an animal, although to call the composite image a pterosaur one has to consider the “wings” very badly deformed and very unlike each other.
The illusion of a single animal within the chalk outline inspired this unfortunate quote in a popular 1979 book on southwestern archaeology: "In the San Rafael Swell, there is a pictograph that looks very much like a pterosaur, a Cretaceous flying reptile" (Barnes and Pendleton, 1979, p. 201).” (Senter 2012:3)

A black and white comparison. From Warner and Warner, 1995.

I really want to compliment Phil Senter on having the courage to take this subject on. First off, not many scholars want to touch anything this controversial and it can actually hurt a career to get identified with a subject like this. Second, the evolution deniers are not going to be convinced by Senter’s logic, and telling them the factual truth. If anything they will attack him personally. Phil, we need more people with your courage!

NOTE: The photographs are courtesy of Phil Senter, Department of Biological Sciences, Fayetteville State University, Fayetteville, North Carolina. The black and white drawing of the panel was borrowed from the Warner and Warner (1995) paper cited below.


Barnes, F. A., and M. Pendleton
1979    Canyon Country Prehistoric Indians, Their Cultures, Ruins, Artifacts, and Rock Art, Wasatch, Salt Lake City.

Senter, Phil
2012    Rock Art “Dinosaurs”, More “Dinosaur” and “Pterosaur” Rock Art That Isn’t, Palaeontolical Association, July 2012. (

Warner, J. S., and J. E. Warner

1995    Some Unique Horizontal Sunrise and Sunset Markers in Black Dragon Canyon, Utah Rock Art, 4:92 - 101

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for illustrating this. I finally know why all the hub bub. You are right about the personal attacks. It's not our job to enlighten everyone else but you've done a good job and I appreciate that.