March 30, 2007 | David F. Coppedge

Did Indians See Jurassic Beasts?

Did Indians have familiarity with Jurassic monsters, or were they good paleontologists, skilled at reconstructions?  In the “Random Samples” page of news tidbits in the journal Science March 30,1 the story is told and the interpretation given:

Some fossils are rare, but this one recently unearthed in eastern Oregon may be positively mythic.  In life, the 2-meter-long Jurassic seagoing crocodile (above), discovered by members of the North American Research Group, sported scales, needlelike teeth, and a fishtail.  Some paleontologists, including Stanford University researcher Adrienne Mayor, think similar fossils may have inspired Native American representations of water monsters.  Mayor notes the croc’s “remarkable” resemblance, for example, to a 19th century Kiowa artist’s drawing (inset) of a legendary water serpent.

No evidence was supplied whether Native Americans were even familiar with fossils, let alone whether they ever made reconstructions based on them.


1Random Samples, “Oregon Sea Monster,” Science, Volume 315, Number 5820, Issue of 30 March 2007.

Unless such fossils were articulated and completely exposed, it’s hard to imagine early hunter-gatherers reconstructing entire animals from fossils as well as this story claims.  Why is the more straightforward explanation, that some of them actually saw this beast and imitated it, not even considered?  The obvious reason is that there is no way in the evolutionary timetable humans and Jurassic crocs could have co-existed.
    Not enough information is supplied in this short article to explain if the Kiowa drawing was an imitation of earlier legendary monsters that his ancestors might have seen.  It’s also not clear whether a 19th century Indian might have seen scientific reconstructions of prehistoric monsters that influenced his work.  Not too much should be inferred, therefore, from this brief article.  The biased interpretation of the scientist is the interesting thing to note: he immediately jumps to a conclusion based on his assumption that the two were millions of years apart.

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Categories: Fossils

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