August 29, 2015 | David F. Coppedge

Rock Art Is Not a Pterosaur

When new information falsifies your hypothesis, you accept it and move on. Darwinians need to learn that, too.

A canyon wall in Utah has a faded pictograph that under certain conditions might possibly look like a winged monster. Some creationists have claimed it is a pterosaur, drawn by native Americans who may have witnessed one after the Flood. A new study appears to lay that interpretation to rest. Archaeological chemist Marvin Rowe visited Black Dragon Canyon and studied the glyph with X-ray fluorescence and an image stretching algorithm. His results reveal a “far more mundane” interpretation, Emily DeMarco reports in Science Magazine, showing the form to be a collection of people and modern animals, drawn in the characteristic style of the period.

The article goes beyond just correcting the facts. DeMarco quotes people who seem to take glee in debunking creationism as a whole:

When archaeological chemist Marvin Rowe recently scrambled up a narrow ledge in southeast Utah’s Black Dragon Canyon, he was determined to put an end—once and for all—to a lingering debate that has pitted rock art researchers and archaeologists against young-Earth creationists for decades. With his x-ray fluorescence gun in hand, he braced himself against the cliff face’s red rock and focused on the source of the conflict: a faded ancient rock painting soaring several yards above the dusty canyon floor. Some claim the image is that of a dragon or pterodactyl, but researchers have long maintained that it’s something far more mundane.

“It’s unfortunate that science has to keep fighting these battles,” says David Whitley, one of the foremost experts on rock art in North America, who wasn’t involved in the study. “But because the painting continues to be used to promote nonscientific views of the world, it became necessary to demonstrate with complete clarity that those ideas are just wrong.

But it wasn’t creation organizations that started the pterosaur interpretation. DeMarco mentions that a certain John Simonson chalked the outline of a large winged monster around the glyph in the 1940s, long before the rise of the modern creation movement.

A word search on this pictograph shows very little mention of it on leading creation websites. There is an article from 2002 that mentions it without showing a photo, and there is another from 1997 that indirectly mentions pictographs of pterosaurs. It doesn’t appear, therefore, that leading creationist organizations are making much of a big deal out of it.

To her credit, DeMarco shows a creationist who was willing to retract his position:

One of the creationists referenced in the paper, Vance Nelson, wrote a book called Untold Secrets of Planet Earth: Dire Dragons, which argues that ancient people saw dinosaurs, which they called dragons, and depicted the creatures in art, including the Black Dragon Canyon pictograph. However, when he returned to the canyon and reexamined the pictograph shortly after his book was printed in 2011, he realized that the panel showed five separate images. He’s since removed the mention of the Black Dragon Canyon pterosaur from subsequent printings of the book, he says.

I completely agree with their findings, and they did a good job,” Nelson says. “I’m disappointed they still referenced me in the paper because I don’t stand by that interpretation anymore.

It appears the scientists owe Nelson an apology. He corrected his record voluntarily based on his own observations.

DeMarco says that Nelson tried to get other creationists to change their minds, but without success. She provides no names or details. Given that a leading creation spokesman, Jonathan Sarfati, has written an article on about arguments creationists shouldn’t use, it appears that creationists are perfectly willing to correct the record when new facts come to light. Creationists abandoned the Paluxy man tracks in the 1980s, for instance, and the New Zealand “plesiosaur” after that.

Laura Geggel at Live Science also advances a narrative of “researchers” vs “creationists,” as if pleased to see creationists beaten down. “Many creationists say the art looks like a winged monster, possibly a pterosaur,” she writes, not specifying how many creationists, or whether other people (like Simonson) perceived a winged monster in the faded panel. “In contrast, many researchers say it’s a collection of several distinct images of people and animals.” Since when is a creationist incapable of being a “researcher”? Some have PhDs in science.

It appears Rowe has satisfactorily debunked the pterosaur interpretation for the Black Canyon glyph. This was just one instance—and a rather faint one—out of a larger collection of evidence creationists have gathered to support their claim that humans saw dinosaurs after the Flood. Empirically speaking, you don’t debunk a whole proposition by pulling out one piece of evidence, if there are other, stronger pieces of evidence still standing. In the meantime, evolutionists have been strangely silent after June’s revelations of soft tissue in dinosaur bones (see 6/10/15). Does that evidence not argue strongly against dinosaurs being millions of years old? If they are young, creationists would say, it bolsters their case that humans and dinosaurs might have been contemporaries.

More importantly, the need for retraction when new evidence comes to light works both ways. Evolutionists correctly abandoned Piltdown Man when it was shown to be a fake, and National Geographic retracted Archaeoraptor when its fraudulent origins came to light (albeit in fine print in the back of a subsequent issue). Yet other frauds have continued for decades. Haeckel’s embryos still show up in biology textbooks a century after they were exposed as fakes (ENV), even years after Richardson (1998) and Wells (2000) complained that genuine embryos are vastly different from the ones Haeckel drew. Peppered moths, Darwin’s finches, the Recapitulation Theory and other dubious “icons of evolution” continue to be promoted to the public as evidence for Darwinian evolution, despite years or decades of debunkings—often by evolutionists themselves.

If creationists need to drop the Black Dragon Canyon evidence, evolutionists would do well to set a good example by retracting their own falsified stories.

We looked around the internet for creationists using Black Dragon Canyon and found very few. Most of them were old references, copies of articles printed in Creation Magazine 12 years ago or more. No reputable creationist we could see is using this pictograph, not even Genesis Park whose interest is in post-Flood dinosaur evidence. We’re also checking to see if the leading creationist organizations are working to retract their rare articles that mention it in light of Rowe’s findings. Books or magazines that are already in distribution cannot be changed, of course, but internet articles and future editions of books can be corrected.

Update 9/15/15: the organizations responded positively. After ensuring the reliability of Rowe’s research, they willingly corrected their materials.

Do you notice that retraction in light of evidence is a virtue—a moral matter? Before evolutionists get too cocky about debunking a claim that a few creationists have made, they could sure (1) clean up their own house, and (2) tell us how morality evolved—assuming they agree that honesty is a moral obligation in science.

Resource: See Don Batten’s article, “Arguments evolutionists should not use” on 21 bad arguments for evolution.


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  • sirgarve says:

    HERE WE GO AGAIN! Another creationist website making… fair and reasonable points.

  • ianjuby says:

    What’s also interesting is what the anticreationists have left out. Okay, so this one turned out to be a misinterpretation. What about the DOZENS (hundreds???) of other examples of dinosaurs in ancient art from literally all over the world? Vance Nelson’s “Dire Dragons” book had what, 32 new examples alone? Not to mention his new book on the Amazon pictograph which clearly depicts a sauropod like creature surrounded by tribesmen with spears. He used the latest in high tech sampling to demonstrate that the paint was ancient, even though one of the leading archaeologists and pictograph experts in the world already authenticated the pictograph. It also does not appear that Simonson, or many many other archaeologists, were of Creationary persuasion, yet none argued that the figure was in fact multiple figures. They just choked on the idea of what the figure represented and hotly debated it. So even the naturalists/evolutionists made the same mistake of trying to interpret multiple figures as one figure.

  • Buho says:

    How about the Anasazi petroglyph on Kachina Bridge of what clearly looks like a brontosaurus? That one is more prominently referenced than the pterosaur in this article. I’d like to see what his “x-ray gun” finds there.

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