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Creation 41(1):12–15, January 2019

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Medieval artists saw extinct reptiles: more evidence


fotostock / Alamy Stock Photoextinct-reptiles
Palau de la Generalitat Saint George or Sant Jordi Tapestry, Plaza Sant Jaume, Gothic District, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain.

Seven years after it was first published, Vance Nelson’s 2011 book Dire Dragons still contains the highest quality examples of ancient artistic depictions of dinosaurs and other extinct reptiles.1 New images included in the 2018 revision add an unforeseen argument for the coexistence of extinct reptiles and man.

Is it authentic?


Two unique features make Dire Dragons stand apart from similar efforts. First, author Nelson restricted examples to include only those with no reasonable doubt about authenticity or clarity. Authenticity asks if the artifact is genuinely old rather than a modern forgery, and clarity asks if the depiction identifies a specific animal known from fossils, as opposed to a generalized and thus more easily refuted form. Stated negatively, the book eschews artwork with even a whiff of doubt about its authenticity or clarity.

The Black Wash ‘non-dragon’

Image: Daryl Robbinsblack-dragon-glyph
Figure 1: Black Wash ‘dragon’, Utah

The maybe-a-pterosaur image in Utah’s Black Wash illustrates this. As soon as doubts arose in 2011 about its authenticity, it was struck from Dire Dragons. Then in 2015, anthropologists used a new imaging technique to detect three authentic, ancient, and red pictographs, mostly of human forms. A vandal had outlined the original forms with chalk only recently (probably in the early 20th century), and this chalk outline has been taken as a dragon-ish form.2 Mainstream news outlets used the 2015 report as an opportunity to bash creationists who had been using the Black Wash dragon as proof that men and supposedly long-extinct reptiles coexisted—and of course to bash creation thinking in general.3

Some creation-based resources did use Black Wash as creation evidence, but Dire Dragons does not. Thus, the pterosaur debunking actually agreed with the best creation-based resource on this subject.

Does it match?

A second unique feature of the book is the insistence that depictions of extinct creatures be identified to the genus level based on body forms known from fossils. Dire Dragons tested each ancient depiction’s degree of likeness to a fossil, first by comparing its features with an existing modern reconstruction of an already-known fossil.

Nelson’s screening process added objectivity by then having an evolutionist artist (i.e., a hostile witness) again render each animal based on its bones alone. The secular artist had no knowledge of the ancient dragon-looking artifact in question. The book showcases the best matches between artifact and animal from around the world. Its pages show the ancient art right next to the evolutionist-rendered art so readers can see for themselves if the animals are dead-ringers. It makes a strong case for the authenticity of these ancient pieces of art and sets a high standard for similar studies. Now, the third edition (2018) applies these features to new ancient images to reveal a new argument for human-dinosaur coexistence.

The many dragons of St. George

Scores of ancient art pieces—whether carved, moulded, painted, or illuminated— use generic dragon forms to depict St. George’s legendary dragon slaying. Most retain too few anatomical specifications to identify them with known fossil genera. Instead, they typically take forms of a generalized sauropod, theropod, ceratopsian, or prosauropod. For example, though made more recently than medieval times, the dragon shown beneath St. George’s sword in Fig. 2 could pass for a prosauropod, but not for any specific one.

Image: Brian ThomasSt-George-slain-dragon
Figure 2: St George atop his slain dragon shown in a 19th century stained glass window at Carlisle Cathedral, UK.

However, a handful of St. George art did match known fossils. But even in these cases the artists from different regions rendered the dragon from the same scene with different but specific anatomies. What was going on?

Perhaps each ancient artist showed a different-looking dragon for the same dragon-slaying event because they were making them up? A closer look, however, shows that although these dragons look different, each one matches a particular genus of extinct reptile. And not all were dinosaurs; some were (non-dinosaur) extinct Permian reptiles.4

Stunning similarities between the ancient art and digital remakes of the matching fossil forms include tooth shape, position, and orientation, body proportions and sizes, head shapes, and other features.

Dire Dragons identifies a Proterosuchus (Triassic) and Varanosaurus (Permian) in Belgium, another Proterosuchus, Ctenospondylus (Permian), and Revueltosaurus (Triassic) in Germany, a spectacular Nothosaurus (Triassic) in Spain, a Protorosaurus (Permian) in France, and a Coelophysis (Jurassic) from the Netherlands.

Did those ancient Europeans accidentally forecast near-perfect renditions of extinct reptiles that paleontologists would only discover centuries later? Clearly not. Yet they had no knowledge of these fossils back then. One explanation, now noted in the book’s updated introduction, is that those artists saw the animals—either alive or dead. A dragon carcass would be easier than a live one to approach close enough to sketch its detailed anatomy.

Over the centuries and across the continent, each artist had to decide what his or her St. George dragon would look like. Each might have sought the nearest, most familiar dragon to use as a model. Thus, an artist in one locale modelled his St. George dragon after local and living kind X, while a different artist in a different place (and/or time) modelled his St. George dragon after local and living kind Y. And so on. Dragon depictions with peculiar and identifiable features and forms argue more strongly than ever that real dragons lived in Europe into the Middle Ages.

Permian dragons

Figure 3: Ancient depictions across Europe of St George’s dragon resemble extinct reptiles from Permian, Triassic, and Jurassic fossils. Their coexistence with medieval mankind collapses 200 million supposed years.

Finally, what does all this imply for the fossils? The Creation/Flood model has held all along that the Flood deposited the vast majority of Earth’s sedimentary strata within a single year. The animals captured and fossilized therein all lived, though probably not in the same place, through the 599th year of Noah’s life. Representatives of each kind of land animal (thus including dinosaurs and every other extinct land reptile) survived on the Ark. Their descendants dispersed after the Flood, and must have at points interacted with people. On this basis alone, creation researchers should have anticipated not just dinosaurs, but also extinct Permian and Triassic (non-dinosaur) land reptiles in ancient art.

This genuine European artwork reveals reptiles that span a supposed 200 million years’ worth of rock deposition. Yet they all lived with man. This refutes the entire ‘age of reptiles’ evolutionary idea. We now have access to multiple, clear, eyewitness depictions of mankind alive long after the Flood with not just dinosaurs, but with Permian reptiles.

References and notes

  1. Nelson, V., Dire Dragons. Unknown Secrets of Planet Earth Untold Secrets of Planet Earth Publishing Co., Red Deer, Alberta, 2011. Return to text.
  2. Le Quellec, J., Bahn, P., and Rowe, M., The death of a pterodactyl, Antiquity. 89(346):872-884, 2015. Return to text.
  3. De Pastino, B., Prehistoric Utah rock art does not depict a pterosaur, study confirms, Western Digs. 31 December, 2015; westerndigs.org. Return to text.
  4. Evolutionists believe that dinosaurs first evolved in the ‘middle Triassic’ about 240 million years ago, and disappeared at the ‘Cretaceous—Paleogene extinction event’ 66 million years ago. Some of the animals in the book were non-dinosaurian reptiles that evolutionists assign to the ‘lower-Triassic’ and ‘Permian’ periods. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Dire Dragons
by Vance Nelson
US $32.00
Hard Cover
Monumental Monsters
by Vance Nelson
US $32.00
Hard Cover
Dragons of the Deep
by Carl Wieland
US $16.00
Hard Cover
US $10.00

Readers’ comments

Terri H.
Comment for Jonathan Sarfati:

You are probably right. Not up on all the different types of dinosaurs. Thank you for the clarification.
Terri H.
Job mentions a behemoth in his book. Perfect description of a Triceratops. The word Dinosaur was not even used until the 19th century.
Jonathan Sarfati
A perfect description of a sauropod, probably.
Stephen G.
Thank you, very timely article, as had a time of witnessing with my son in law, and young granddaughters. They were telling me about their taught evolution facts, and how the egg came first from a non-hen species by an evolution process requiring millions of years, to hide the truth. I introduced them to DNA, kinds, male and female facts about creation and our creator. We talked about dinosaurs and how are in Scripture to their amazement. So yes I will be adding to my library a copy of Dire Dragons; does it mention a href="https://creation.com/bishop-bells-brass-behemoths">Bishop Bell’s Dragonin the book, I am sure a friend once showed me this book. I have forward this email article on to my son in law, had no response thus far. Again thank you and may God’s Shalom surround you.
Jonathan Sarfati
Yes, the book discusses Bishop Bell’s Dragon (section title: Carlisle Cathedral sauropods).
Trev H.
So if you guys believe dinosaurs were contemporaneous with people how come the chaos of the Flood managed to keep in separate sedimentary layers the dino bones from humans? And not only humans but any other modern animal kind. Doesn’t that strike you as odd or do you prefer not to think about it?
Jonathan Sarfati
What actually strikes me as odd are the critics who don't bother to read what they blindly criticize. Or do they (skim)read but don’t bother to think about it? See for example Where are all the human fossils? from one of our introductory books, or for something a little more advanced, Order in the fossil record: How can Noah’s Flood explain it? and Are there out-of-sequence fossils that are problematic for evolution?
Lassi P.
I’m glad the Black Wash non-dragon has been left out from the newer editions of the book (I, sadly, only have a copy of the first edition). I thought it the least convincing in Dire Dragons even before it came under suspicion, since one doesn't have to use imagination to see the dinosaur in the other artwork therein (quite to the contrary), but this one was different. Its ‘wings’ were always disturbingly formless.

Perhaps I’ll one day be able to buy the newest edition.
Edmond C.
I think I am going to pick up Dire Dragons as part of my children's science curriculum. I’m sure they will love looking at the illustrations over and over again. Plus, I want to read it for myself. Thanks for making this possible. There are many articles on the internet, but to have a compiled resource that is verified for its authenticity is extremely valuable to this conversation.

If dragons were just fantasy, I would not expect to see exact representations of the fossil remains that we find. Most likely we would see fantastic works of fiction with flying dragons and massive dimensions, kind of like the Hollywood dragons of today. Just the fact that the renditions that we see in ancient European art represent realistic creatures speaks volumes. This is part of history that has been relegated to myth based on evolutionary assumptions. Not only is our science diminished by the assumption of evolutionary timescales, but our interpretation of history is as well. Making all dragons into myths and calling fossils dinosaurs is just a microcosm of how our entire history is based on misguided assumptions of evolution and evolutionary timescales.
Chris M.
Let's say this were a court battle about whether dinosaurs were thousands of years old vs millions of years old. Creationists on one side, evolutionist on the other side.

Creationists use the following as evidence:

  1. Red blood cells and soft tissue in dinosaur bones.

  2. Written literature from a recognizable historical figure like Marco Polo, who is undoubtedly describing dinosaurs in a lot of his writing in his tour around Asia. Or just the book of Job.

  3. Artifacts made hundreds of years before dinosaurs were ever discovered.

What evidence would evolutionists use in their defense?
Ian H.
Over the centuries and across the continent, each artist had to decide what his or her St. George dragon would look like. Each might have sought the nearest, most familiar dragon to use as a model. Thus, an artist in one locale modelled his St. George dragon after local and living kind X, while a different artist in a different place (and/or time) modelled his St. George dragon after local and living kind Y. And so on.

There is an alternative to the above. Each painting or Artistic rendition was not based on the artist fitting a particular Dragon to his artwork, but more especially depicting an event that happened in his locale. The Renaissance was preceded by International Gothic, a style of art and architecture that continued into the first decades of the 1400s. In Gothic art, figures appear static, lacking depth, volume, and pictorial realism. The realism of some of the pictures featured in the Dire Dragon book show the effect of the Renaissance with the Artist engaged closely with his topic.
In particular, the Embroidered Quilted Altar Cloth of Antoni Sadurni in the Catalan in Barcelona, Spain featured above shows a dynamic action that speaks of at least a first or second-hand observation of the event.
I think that the reason these Dragons became extinct was that around that time people developed accurate rifled firearms. Far easier to stand at a safe distance and pull the trigger than get up on a horse with a spear and try to kill the beast.
Glenn W.
We were on a tour to Ireland some years ago. On a tapestry in the master bedroom, in the lower right-hand corner is an odd creature that looks almost exactly like the Revueltosaurus from your article.

I do not recall the name of the mansion, but it was the one that art thieves violently broke into and stole a number of valuable pieces which were recovered a short time later.
Miss Yvonne R.
Praise to GOD There, yet again the evidence of the truth of GOD revealed. What more can we ask? For those who are promoting the truth of GOD's word, GOD is ever providing the evidence of what HE has done and now through depictions in art form. The evidence has been in existence since medieval times. GOD's word “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.” GOD is with us in opening our minds to what HE has prepared for us to appreciate and give HIM praise for, in this modern day. This wonderful truth purposed by GOD further enforces the faith for what GOD has promised for me that I have not yet seen. Evolutionary thought processes will never be complimented and enforced by GOD because evolutionary thoughts are not of GOD. Glory Hallelujah Thank you LORD JESUS Amen

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