Saturday, June 21, 2014


Havasupai Canyon panel. Picture

One of the first, and still most popular, examples of dinosaurs in rock art that creationists and young-earthers point to is the Havasupai Canyon hadrosaur (duck-billed dinosaur). Creationists are driven to prove the position 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).

This dinosaur petroglyph was discovered by Samuel Hubbard, Curator of Archaeology of the Oakland Museum, in the late 1800s. Hubbard led an expedition to the Havasupai Canyon area of the Grand Canyon. “On two occasions in the late 1800s, Samuel Hubbard, Curator of Archaeology of the Oakland Museum, visited an area of the Grand Canyon known as the Havasupai Canyon. As an evolutionist, he was amazed to find a petroglyph (carved rock drawing) of an elephant made by Native Americans. But another depiction was “cut into the sandstone much more deeply than the elephant.” Its height was 11.2 inches, with a neck approximately 5.1 inches in length and a tail of 9.1 inches. What kind of animal is it? Dr. Hubbard believed that he had found an ancient drawing of a dinosaur.”

Charles R. Knight  painting of a hadrosaur. 
Photograph from

I first heard of this one many years ago. When I was young these creatures were often pictured as standing upright on the tripod formed by their legs and tail, pretty much as this petroglyph shows. Recently, of course, paleontologists have rethought those old assumptions and now know that these creatures held their body and tail much more horizontally. What this means is that, where some time back this image seemed to make some sense, we now know that this is totally incorrect. That brands this either as an error of identification, or a hoax. Indeed some researchers now point to the shape of the head and suggest it might be a poorly drawn bird, but, of course, then the tail makes no sense at all.

Grand Canyon hadrosaur petroglyph showing the 
supposed "bullet hole" at the base of the tail.
Photograph from

“An example of Native American rock art carved into the walls of Grand Canyon. It was discovered in 1879 by E. L. Doheny and documented in 1924 by a scientific expedition which included Dr. Charles W. Gilmore, Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology, United States National Museum. The resulting publication reported as "fact" that "some prehistoric man made a pictograph of a dinosaur on the walls of this canyon..." Doheny Scientific Expedition, p.5. Recently someone used it as a target practice and you can see a bullet hole at the base of the tail. It shows just how old the etchings must be since the fresh bullet mark cuts through the thick "rock varnish". (

Now I have to question the “bullet hole” alluded to above. It shows in the photo as a white disk with not internal textural detail or shading visible and no sign of the color of the base rock. Even if a real hole had been heavily chalked to make it stand out it would show differences of light and shadow with the brightest side facing the direction of the sun and shadowing on the side facing away from the sun. This leads me to suspect that the “bullet hole” was created in Photoshop or Microsoft Paint and is not real. Notice in the photo of the petroglyph with the illustration by Paul Taylor (below) there is no bullet hole.

Havasupai Canyon petroglyph and a rendering by Paul Taylor of
how the model would have been standing were it an authentic
picture of a hadrosaur.

That brings us to the pair of pictures by Paul Taylor. He shows a photo of the petroglyph on the left and a painting of his interpretation of the actual animal on the right, and he has concluded that it is an Edmontosaurus. This is explained as follows: “For example, in his creationism-promoting book The Great Dinosaur Mystery, which is aimed at young readers, Paul Taylor shows a petroglyph from Havasupai Canyon in Arizona. He highlights the petroglyph with a white outline, shown alongside a painting labeled "Edmontosaurus" (a type of two-legged Hadrosaur dinosaur). As depicted by Taylor, the two profiles look virtually identical. To an unsuspecting reader (especially a child) this might be impressive, and foster the conclusion artist must have seen such a dinosaur.” 

Edmontosaurus, a typical hadrosaur, Credit: Wikipedia.

Edmontosaurus skeleton. Edmontosaurus was a typical
hadrosaur. Credit: Palaeontologia Electronica.

As I said above, fifty years ago this would seem to have made sense because our picture of all dinosaurs (including hadrosaurs) was quite different. Compare the illustrations above with the illustration of the hadrosaur from Wikipedia, and look at the reconstructed skeleton. Indeed, had it really been made by a Native American who co-existed with dinosaurs and could see them in person, he would have known that the tail should stick out straight and portrayed it that way. This in itself brands this petroglyph as a modern hoax. Either that, or it is meant to be something else and was done so poorly that it is totally unrecognizable. Either way, it certainly is not a hadrosaur dinosaur.



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