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Creation 34(1):38–41, January 2012

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Mesopotamian monsters in Paris


Photo: CC-BY-SA © Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons  Early Mesopotamian cylinder seal
Fig. 1. Early Mesopotamian cylinder seal

Among the many ancient artefacts displayed in our museums are small barrel-shaped objects, having a small hole through their centre and engraved on their peripheries with various images. When rolled onto wet, malleable clay, they leave an impression, in a similar way to how a roller stamp leaves an ink print on paper. They are often referred to as ‘cylinder seals’ (as opposed to ‘stamp seals’) and were used to authenticate documents, indicate ownership, or decorate artefacts. A particularly interesting example exists in the Louvre museum in Paris1 (see fig. 1 and 2). It is made of jasper and was found at Uruk in Mesopotamia (Iraq).

Uruk comprises the remains of what was once a magnificent complex of buildings, on a par with some of the best European architecture seen today. Many examples of artwork have been discovered there, including artefacts bearing impressions from cylinder seals. These often depict domesticated or wild animals, symbolizing the powers promoting or threatening human life. Some feature ‘composite creatures’, such as those in the example in fig. 1 and 2, which the archaeologist Professor Anton Moortgat described as a ‘snake-dragon’ (the main creature with the long neck) and a ‘lion headed eagle’ (seen flying between the tails of the ‘snake-dragons’).2

According to the secular account of Earth history, dinosaurs lived and died millions of years before people even existed. Acceptance of this view, of course, seriously compromises the Bible, as this teaches that the world is not millions of years old and that God made the land dwelling creatures (which would have included the dinosaurs), along with Adam and Eve, on the sixth day of creation (Genesis 1:24–28). Moreover, since the Bible teaches that every kind of air-breathing land animal and bird was represented on Noah’s Ark, the world would have been repopulated with both people and dinosaurs after the Flood (Gen. 7:3 and 8:17). As such, we would expect to find evidence of dinosaurs living alongside man in recent history—and, indeed, this is what we find in abundance.

Photo: CC-BY-SA © World Images
Fig. 2. Impression from cylinder seal in Fig. 1
Photo by Steve Lee Carlisle
Fig. 3. Engravings on Bishop Bell’s tomb in Carlisle Cathedral, UK

‘Dragons’ is a universal theme, right across the globe, prominent in many different cultures, over a vast span of human history. Accounts of dragons come from China, Australia, Africa, Europe, North America and South America. It’s everybody’s legend! Interestingly, the descriptions of these dragons are remarkably similar, from country to country and from tribe to tribe—large reptiles with scales; some fly, some do not; if they fly, they have wings like a bat; some breathe fire; they have sharp teeth and claws—often three claws like the theropod dinosaurs.3,4

CC-BY-SA: © World Imaging Narmer Palette
Fig. 5. Narmer Palette

Ancient writers, such as the Greek historian Herodotus,5 Apollonius of Tyana6 and Marco Polo7 provided detailed descriptions of creatures which closely resemble the dinosaurs reconstructed in our museums. According to Mesopotamian legend, the ancient Uruk king Gilgamesh, along with his friend Enkidu, killed a fearsome creature called Khumbaba (or Humbaba).8,9 This monster, which lived in a cedar forest, was said to have the shape of a dragon, a voice like a storm and to spit fire.10 It was also described as having a long tail and talons on its feet.11 Many ancient artefacts exist which depict other dinosaur-like creatures, such as the Nile mosaic of Palestrina,12 a mural in the House of the Physician in Pompeii,13 a stone carving at Angkor in Cambodia14 and the brass engravings around the tomb of Bishop Bell in Carlisle Cathedral (see fig. 3).15

CC-BY-SA: © Scott Anselmo Bronce skeleton of a Brachiosaurus
Fig. 4. Bronze skeleton of a Brachiosaurus outside the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago

Although somewhat stylized, the ‘snake-dragon’ engraved on the cylinder seal in fig. 1 is another example. The long neck and long tail are characteristic of many of the reptilian ‘monsters’ found in the fossil record, such as Tanystropheus and Brachiosaurus (fig. 4). The creatures are shown ‘necking’, as do animals seen today, such as giraffes. Interestingly, dinosaur-like creatures are seen engaging in this type of behaviour in other ancient artwork, such as in the Narmer Palette (fig. 5), the engravings on Bishop Bell’s tomb (fig. 3) and the Roman mosaic shown in fig. 6. The first century naturalist Pliny the Elder recorded that the dragons of Ethiopia were often seen ‘twisted and interlaced together’.16 Although strange at first sight, the claws on the feet of the ‘snake-dragon’ in fig. 1 very likely depict a stylized form of reality, as tracks of sauropod dinosaurs are known to include claw impressions.17 The feet of Saltasaurus and Camarasaurus are depicted with spiked protrusions, for example.18,19 The bulging muscles are also typical of modern dinosaur reconstructions.

Sea monsters depicted in a fourth century mosaic at Lydney
Fig. 6. Sea monsters depicted in a fourth century mosaic at Lydney, Gloucestershire, England20,21

It is difficult to see how artists from ancient times could have produced such good representations of the great reptiles of history unless they had either seen them themselves or had accurate accounts passed down to them from eye witnesses. It took modern palaeontologists many decades to begin to faithfully reconstruct these magnificent animals. These historical depictions of ‘dragons’ and ‘monsters’ confirm the Bible’s testimony that dinosaurs and people lived side by side in recent times, and confute the evolutionary claim that dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago.22


  1. Department of Oriental Antiquities, Richelieu wing, ground floor, room 1a. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cylinder_seal_lions_Louvre_MNB1167.jpg. Return to text.
  2. Moortgat, A., The art of ancient Mesopotamia, Phaidon Press, London, 1969, pp. 1, 9, 10 and Plate A. Return to text.
  3. Dragons or Dinosaurs, documentary DVD by Cloud Ten Pictures, New York, 2010. Return to text.
  4. Isaacs, D., Dragons or Dinosaurs?, Bridge-Logos Foundation, USA, 2010. Return to text.
  5. Herodotus, The histories, Penguin, 2003, pp. 124-125. Return to text.
  6. Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana, tr. by F.C. Conybeare, Heinemann, 1912, pp. 242-247. Return to text.
  7. Polo, M., The travels, Penguin, 1958, pp 178–180. Return to text.
  8. Coulter, C.R., and Turner, P., Encyclopedia of ancient deities, Fitzroy Dearborn, Chicago, 2000, p. 191. Return to text.
  9. This is recorded in the Epic of Gilgamesh, a poem inscribed on 12 clay tablets. It is one of the earliest known works of literature. The Epic of Gilgamesh also provides one of the many accounts of a great flood, paralleling that in Genesis, including the building of an Ark in which people and animals were saved from drowning, www.britishmuseum.org. See also, Conolly, R., and Grigg, R., Flood!, Creation 23(1):26-30, December 2000; Sarfati, J., Noah’s Flood and the Gilgamesh Epic, Creation 28(4):12–17, September 2006, creation.com/gilgamesh. Return to text.
  10. Ref.8, p. 270. Return to text.
  11. Rose, C., Giants monsters and dragons. An encyclopedia of folklore, legend and myth, ABC-CLIO, USA, 2000, p.p. 180, 181. Return to text.
  12. This features a creature labelled ‘KROKODILOPARDALIS’ or ‘crocodile leopard’. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nile_mosaic_of_Palestrina. Return to text.
  13. Kraus, T., Pompeii and Herculaneum, Harry Abrams, New York, 1975, p. 210, fig. 306. Return to text.
  14. Catchpoole, D., Angkor saw a stegosaur, Creation 29(4):56, September 2007. Return to text.
  15. Bell, P., Bishop Bell’s brass behemoths, Creation 25(4):40–44, September 2003. Return to text.
  16. Pliny the Elder, The natural history, translated by Bostock, J., vol. II, Book VIII, Chapter 13; www.perseus.tufts.edu. Return to text.
  17. Day, J.J. et al., Sauropod trackways, evolution and behaviour, Science 296(5573):1659, 31 May 2002. Return to text.
  18. See dsc.discovery.com/videos/dinosaur-planet-saltasaurus-lays-its-eggs.html. Return to text.
  19. http://videos.howstuffworks.com/discovery/27799-when-dinosaurs-roamed-america-the-camarasaurus-video.htm. Return to text.
  20. Wheeler, R.E.M. and Wheeler, T.V., Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of London, No. IX, The Society of Antiquaries, London, 1932, pp. 65, 66 and Plate XIX A. Return to text.
  21. The Latin inscription probably reads, “To the god Nodens, Titus Flavius Senilis, officer in charge of the supply-depot of the fleet, laid this pavement out of money offerings; the work being in charge of Victorinus, interpreter on the Governor’s staff”. Ref. 20, p. 103. Return to text.
  22. See also Job 40:15–24 and Job 41:1–34. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Readers’ comments

Patrick C.
Before everybody rushes into more hasty conclusions about the identity of the representations on the palette, perhaps they would like to consider ALL the imagery on BOTH sides–that is the correct way of doing things. Dominic Statham asks, "How can you be so sure that the creatures depicted on the Narmer Pallet are entirely mythical?" Taking all aspects of the palette into account, it can equally be asked, "How can anyone be sure that the creatures depicted on the Narmer Pallet are NOT mythical?" This same jumping to premature conclusions was ably dealt with in Journal of Creation: Elasmosaurus? No, you goose … Perspective by Carl Wieland: 26(2), Aug. 2012, p. 11. Lack of expertise is the mother of many a hasty conclusion.

Dominic Statham
I would not advocate using the the Narmer Palette or the Mesopotamian cylinder seal as evidence on their own. However, in the context of the 'big picture' I think they're helpful in establishing the biblical view that dinosaurs lived contemporaneously with man. Dinosaur soft tissue provides almost unanswerable evidence that these creatures died out recently, rather than millions of years ago (dinosaur-soft-tissue-and-protein-even-more-confirmation). Similar accounts of dragons from cultures throughout the world suggests these creatures were widespread. Some ancient artwork (e.g. fig. 3 in the article) is very hard to interpret as being anything other than depictions of dinosaurs that people had actually seen.

The Narmer Pallete and Mesopotamian 'snake dragon' (as described by Prof. Moortgat) suggest that the ancient Middle Eastern people were aware of reports of creatures with long necks and long tails. These are stylised representations, however, unlike the creatures in fig. 3.
Caleb L.
Great article. Here are some things I noticed about these dinosaur palettes and cylinders:

- The Egyptians knew of Behemoth, rendering his name ‘Pi’hem’ow’.
- Egyptian Narmer Palette & Dog Palette’s sauropod depictions and their features:
- Narmer Palette uses the dinosaur as a symbol for the incredible strength of the Lower and Upper Kingdoms of Egypt, similar to how God used Behemoth to display his power...Behold now Behemoth.
- Depicted alongside man...which I made along with you.
- Narmer palette appears to be depicting two men (unsuccessfully) trying to snare or overcome the two creatures with a reed...Only He who made him can bring near His sword...though he takes it in with his eyes or one pierces his nose with a snare.
- Strong, muscular legs, hips, and stomach areas...See now, his strength is in his hips,
 And his power is in his stomach muscles...the sinews of his thighs are tightly knit.
- The creature is depicted as the focal point among other large animals and is clearly distinct...He is the first of the ways of God.
- The dinosaur is depicted alongside other land animals which lived in the fields (dogs and goats) and mountains (ibex)...Surely the mountains yield food for him, and all the beasts of the field play there.
- Epic of Gilgamesh monster, Humbaba, in the cedar forest, whose wood was used to build Uruk (note the sauropod cylinder seal of Uruk) and it’s connection to the allegorical wild beast spoken of by King Joash in 2 Chronicles 25:18 and 2 Kings 14:9.

Anyhow, I thought I should share this with you. This could make a neat article.
Dominic Statham
Just a word of caution as ‘Pi’hem’ow’ may not refer to Behemoth (as suggested in IVP's Illustrated Bible Dictionary). According to creationist Egyptologist Patrick Clarke, "P'ih.mw (pronounced along the lines of pa-iyh-mehoo) is a compound name: 'pa' is used here as a pronoun for the noun 'ih', an ox (generic term for all types of cattle, both domestic and wild) – hence, his, her, this, or that, ox. The Egyptians thoughtfully then proceed to tell us specifically what type of ox. They used 'mw' (pronounced along the lines of mee-oo) which always means water: thus, lit. 'this ox water', which transliterates into 'water-ox' – what we would call a water-buffalo." Patrick also wrote "For the record, the creatures on the Narmer Palette were known by the Egyptians as 'sḏw' (pronounced along the lines of sezoo)."
Mike J.
J.T. claims these are "mythical" creatures, but how did the Egyptians manage to invent creatures that look just like dinosaurs?

- I find it sad that so many people just naively accept whatever secular teachers tell them. Who says these creatures were mythical? Did the Egyptians?
Jonathan G.
I looked up the term "Serpopard" on Wikipedia. (This is in reference to Josh's comment earlier). Two sentences from the Wikipedia article catch my eye:

1) "This term is not used in any original texts, and is an interpretation made only recently."

2) "Similarly to other ancient peoples, the Egyptians are known for their very accurate depictions of the creatures they observed."

The decision to term the creature as a "serpopard" seems like a rescuing device. Some archaeologist did not want to accept that Egyptians actually saw dinosaurs, so a story had to be created to somehow classify the images as myth. My guess is that the only "evidence" of their being myth is that we don't want to accept them as being real.
J. T.
My Grandfather forwarded this article to me and I have this question - I'm curious to why Creation Ministries and other religious communities ignore radiometric dating when it is used to calculate the age of fossils? And I'm also confident their use of the Narmer Pallete is misleading as we studied it in Ancient History. The creatures shown are depicting Serpopards which were mythical creatures in Ancient Egypt, not meant to represent dinosaurs.
Dominic Statham
People believe that science has unequivocally shown the rocks to be millions of years old because they have only been presented the data which, at first sight, appear to support this view. If the dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago, why do we find preserved organic material in their remains? See still-soft-and-stretchy.

For information on the problems with radiometric dating, see here: radiometric-dating-questions-and-answers. For many scientific observations supporting a belief in a young creation, see here: age-of-the-earth.

How can you be so sure that the creatures depicted on the Narmer Pallet are entirely mythical?
Damien S.
Despite, the obvious representations on these ancient artifacts and what it means in terms of history, evolutionists will deny vehemently that these are, in fact, dinosaurs. Because acknowledging the truth about this would mean confronting the truth about their whole belief in evolution; something that makes them tremble violently with fear.

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