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Dinosaurs that are still Alive?

Dirk Vander Ploeg's picture

Do dinosaurs still exist? The question may sound absurd. After all, conventional wisdom holds that these giant reptiles lapsed into extinction some 65 million years ago. Still, occasional reports from remote regions of the earth have kept the issue alive, if only to readers of tabloid newspapers and to the handful of scientists, adventurers, and nature writers who have tried to make sense of the accounts and, where possible, to investigate them.

Much of the investigation has centered on a legendary creature generally referred to mokele-mbembe and described as a sauropod-like animal, with a long neck, small head, bulky body, and tail. The first printed mention of the huge, plate-shaped tracks associated with the beast appears in a 1776 history of French missionaries in west-central Africa. In the next two centuries missionaries, colonial authorities, hunters, explorers, and natives would provide strikingly consistent descriptions of the animals supposedly responsible for tracks of this kind. Sighting reports in recent years have been confined to the swampy, remote Likouala region of the Congo.

In 1980 and 1981 University of Chicago biologist Roy P. Mackal led two expeditions to the area, the first in the company of herpetologist James H. Powell, Jr., who had heard mokele-mbembe stories while doing crocodile research in west-central Africa. Neither expedition produced a sighting, though Mackal and his companions interviewed a number of native witnesses. The creatures, greatly feared, were said to live in the swamps and rivers. A band of pygmies supposedly killed one at Lake Tele around 1959.

Though the Mackal expeditions were unable to reach the nearly inaccessible Tele, a rival group, headed by American engineer Herman Regusters, successfully made the journey. Over a period of two to three weeks, he and his wife Kia Van Dusen would claim, huge long-necked animals came into view on several occasions, both in the water and in the swampy areas around the lake. Congolese government biologist Marcellin Agagna, who had participated in Mackal's second expedition, arrived there in the spring of 1982 and reported a single sighting. Both Regusters and Agagna said that camera problems frustrated their attempts to obtain photographic evidence of these fantastic sights. Three subsequent expeditions, one English and two Japanese, produced no sightings.

 If there is such a thing as a living dinosaur, mokele-mbembe is it. Other claimed candidates cannot marshal a comparably compelling case. There is no a priori reason why dinosaurs could not survive in the Congo basin, where the climate and the geography have not changed since the age of reptiles. Its known fauna include such ancient animals as crocodiles, which coexisted with dinosaurs and whose form has remained stable over tens of millions of years. Of course, absent flesh, skin, or bones, mokele-mbembe's existence remains unproven and intriguing possibility at best, an absurdly inflated legend at worst.
 

Enigma of the sirrush

Around 600 B.C., during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar, a Babylonian artist fashioned bas reliefs on bricks used in the enormous archway of the Ishtar Gate and the high walls of the approach road. The bas reliefs consist of three animals, and each row of bricks displays numerous images of one of them. The rows alternate, some showing lions, others rimis (as the Babylonians called them), and still others sirrushes (dragons).

Though extinct in Mesopotamia, the rimi was a real animal which was either remembered or known through specimens brought over from Eurasia, where these wild oxen (usually called urus or aurochs) lived on until 1627. The dragon, of course, was a purely imaginary animal. Or was it?

Willy Ley has described the sirrush, which he considered a "zoological puzzle of fantastic dimensions," thus:
... a slender body covered with scales, a long slender scaly tail, and a long slim scaly neck bearing a serpent's head. Although the mouth is closed, a long forked tongue protrudes. There are flaps of skin attached to the back of the head, which is adorned (and armed) with a straight horn....

The Apocrypha's Book of Bel and the Dragon relates a curious story: that in the temple of Bel, Lord of the World, Nebuchadnezzar's favored god, the priests kept a "great dragon or serpent, which they of Babylon worshipped." The king challenged the Hebrew prophet Daniel, who had been going about sneering about nonliving gods of brass, to dispute this god, who "liveth, and eateth and drinketh; you canst not say that he is no living god; therefore worship him." To remove himself from this quandary, Daniel poisoned the animal.

The fortieth chapter of Job in the Old Testament, though written anywhere from 100 to 1300 years earlier than the Ishtar Gate's construction, may refer to the sirrush by another name:

Behold now Behemoth ... he eateth grass as an ox. Know now his strength is in his loins, and his force is in the navel of his belly. He moveth his tail like a cedar: the sinews of his stones are wrapped together. His bones are as strong pieces of brass, his bones are like bars of iron.... He lieth under the shady trees, in the cover of the reed, and fens. The shady trees cover him with their shadow; the willows of the brook compass him about.... His nose pierceth through snares.

The behemoth's identity has long puzzled biblical scholars, who have not doubted that Job was writing of a real animal, even if no satisfactory candidate among known animals seems to exist. Mackal offers this interpretation: "The behemoth's tail is compared to a cedar, which suggests a sauropod. This identification is reinforced by other factors. Not only the behemoth's physical nature, but also its habits and food preferences are compatible with a sauropod's. Both live in swampy areas with trees, reeds and fins (a jungle swamp)."

The discoverer of the Ishtar Gate, German archaeologist Robert Koldeway, gave serious thought to the possibility that the sirrush may have been an actual animal. Unlike other fantastic beasts in Babylonian art, he noted, images of the sirrush remained unchanged over centuries. What struck him about these depictions was the "uniformity of [the sirrush's] physiological conceptions."

The sirrush, he said, was more like a saurian than any other animal. Such creatures did not coexist with human beings, he wrote, and the Babylonians, who were not paleontologists, could not have reconstructed a saurian from fossil remains; yet the Old Testament states explicitly that the sirrush was real. All this considered, he was reduced to speculating that the Babylonian priests kept "some reptile" in a dark temple and led the unsuspecting to believe it was a living sirrush.

The Babylonians are known to have penetrated equatorial Africa, home of the mokele-mbembe, and Ley, Bemard Heuvelmans, and Mackal have all suggested that in the course of their travels they heard of such creatures, perhaps sighted them, or even brought a specimen home with them. This is not an unreasonable hypothesis, if we assume that mokele-mbembe exists.

On the other hand, some modern scholars, for example Adrienne Mayor, dispute the assumption that the ancients did not know of, or had no interest in, prehistoric animals. Mayor has written, "Reliable ancient sources relate that, when fossils were discovered in antiquity, they were transported with great care, identified, preserved, and sometimes traded. Reconstructed models or the remains of 'unknown' species were displayed in Greece and Rome." She adds that ancient writings seem to indicate that "some representations and descriptions of crypto-animals in antiquity were based on reconstructions from skeletons of living or extinct animals." If such was the case with the sirrush, however, the fossilized remains would have had to be brought in from elsewhere. Dinosaur fossils did not exist in Mesopotamia.
 

Source: http://www.skygaze.com/content/strange/Dinosaurs.shtml 

 

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