googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: Marco Polo Describes a Dinosaur

Friday, March 9, 2012

Marco Polo Describes a Dinosaur


The standard evolutionary argument is that dinosaurs are spearated from modern humans by a span of about 60 million years. If that were true, we could predict that no modern human has ever seen a dinosaur. Opponents of Christianity have even used this as a criticism of the Bible; you may have heard critics say something like, “If people and dinosaurs lived together, why doesn't the Bible mention dinosaurs?” The fact of the matter is the Bible does describe animals that resemble dinosaurs – though it doesn't use the word “dinosaur,” which is a term coined relatively recently. The Bible, for example, frequently uses the term, “dragons,” which some have proposed is a reference to dinosaurs.

Besides the Bible, other books of antiquity have made references to dragons. Pliny the Elder was a naturalist who wrote about many animals, most of which are rather mundane. However, in several places, he refers to “dragons” and describes them as enormous creatures who can actually fight (and usually kill) elephants! From Pliny's description of dragons though, I suspect he is actually describing very large snakes – perhaps as long as 120' in length (which is still very impressive).

There are many other historical references which I've read over the years. However, I came across still another account that was very interesting. It is from The Travels of Marco Polo the Venetian:

Leaving the city of Yacho, and travelling ten days in a westerly direction, you reach the province of Karazan, which is also the name of its chief city.... Here are seen huge serpents, ten paces in length, and ten spans in the girt of its body. At the fore part, near the head, they have two short legs, having three claws like those of a tiger, with eyes larger than a fourpenny loaf (pane da quattro denari) and very glaring. The jaws are wide enough to swallow a man, the teeth are large and sharp, and their whole appearance is so formidable, that neither man, nor any kind of animal, can approach them without terror.

I was struck by the great care with which the author describes this creature: It is “10 paces in length” (30 feet) and “10 spans in the girt of the body” (about 7 feet thick, assuming a “span” is 8 inches). Though it doesn't say specifically that the creature has four legs, it does describe the forelimbs as being “short” and having “three claws.” When you throw in jaws “wide enough to swallow a man,” it sure sounds to me like a good description of a large, bipedal dinosaur.

Of course, others will reject my opinion. I would direct your attention to the editor's footnotes where he says, “This distorted account of an alligator or crocodile is less creditable to our author's fidelity than any other of his natural history descriptions.” In other words, “Polo is usually pretty good at describing animals but he really blew it when describing this alligator.” Maybe the account isn't distorted at all. Maybe it's a good description of a dinosaur. Given the fact that the animal is further described as lurking in caverns during the day, hunting terrestrial animals, and then having to go to the river to drink, it's certainly not a crocodile. It's also rather silly to suppose that Marco Polo, an ocean voyager and naturalist extraordinaire, wasn't familiar enough with crocodiles to describe them accurately.

Another interesting item gleaned from this account is how Polo describes the way these terrifying beasts were hunted.

By their motion in this way along the shore, and their vast weight, they make a deep depression, as if a heavy beam had been drawn along the sands. Those whose employment is to hunt them observe the track by which they are most frequently accustomed to go, and fix into the ground several pieces of wood armed with sharp iron spikes, which they cover with the sand in such a manner as not to be perceptible. When therefore the animals make their way towards the places they usually haunt, they are wounded by these instruments, and speedily killed.

Another criticism often used against creation is that if men and dinos lived together, then dinosaurs would eat the people. That's a laugh. Humans are the top predators on the planet and I have said before that, when humans and dinos interact, it's the dinos who get killed. Here we seen another example of human cunning. A 30 foot long animal with sharp teeth and jaws big enough to swallow a man is still no match for human intelligence.

Now, in all fairness, if modern humans saw a dinosaur, it's not “proof” against evolution. Even if a living dinosaur were found today, it wouldn't necessarily disprove evolution. But it doesn't help it either. The world is what it is and theories are attempts to describe it. The Bible says land animals (which would include dinosaurs) and man are contemporaries. The theory of evolution says dinosaurs became extinct millions of years before humans appeared. When we have accounts that seem to describe dinosaurs and people living together, it comports much better with the Bible.

20 comments:

Steven J. said...

Strictly speaking, it is geology and physics (or, as you will, prevalent theories interpreting the data of these fields) that says that non-bird dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago. Lizards (I mean the suborder Lacertilia of the order Squamata, specifically), for example, are as old as dinosaurs, perhaps older, and evolutionists have no problem with the idea that they're still around. Crocodilians (archosaurs, like the dinosaurs) are equally old, and equally extant. It's just that fossils of non-bird dinosaurs aren't found in sediments dated as younger than 65 million years; they lasted 150 million years before the K-T boundary, and evolutionary theory, as such, offers no reasons they couldn't have lasted another 65 million -- it's just that it would be very odd that they did so while leaving no fossil traces (it's not like coelacanths, whose living survivors are deep-sea species whose bones wouldn't be found on dry land).

Obviously, surviving dinosaurs of the same species found in supposedly million-century old rocks would be a problem for evolution, as would finding human fossils in rocks of Mesozoic age, but surviving dinosaurs in general would just be a taphonomical and paleontological quandary, not an evolutionary one.

I note in passing that some modern scholars dispute the idea that Marco Polo actually traveled to China or that his reports are based on his own observations rather than hearsay from other sources.

Marco Polo describes the creature as dragging its belly along the ground as it walks. All dinosaurs had erect gaits, as far as fossil reconstructions and fossil tracks go; even tail drag marks are very rare (leading to the conclusion that they usually held them off the ground), and belly drag marks such as Polo describes seem vastly unlikely. The implied stance better fits a crocodilian or (even better) a giant lizard.

How big is a fourpenny loaf? A T. rex had eyes no bigger than a softball, and I would think few dinosaurs would have larger eyes than it did. Also, I would think that ten paces would be either 25 or 50 feet (depending on whether the pace in question is a single step -- ca. 30 inches since Roman times -- or the double step the Romans themselves used).

RKBentley said...

Steven J,

You said, “Strictly speaking, it is geology and physics (or, as you will, prevalent theories interpreting the data of these fields) that says that non-bird dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago.”

I prefer my wording. “Strictly speaking,” geology and physics don't “say” anything. That would be the logical fallacy of reification. Some creationists are geologists and physicists and from the perspective of their disciplines, they see evidence for creation. The theory of evolution is proposed to explain the evidence. It is more accurate to say it “says” dinos died out 65 million years ago.

You said, “Lizards (I mean the suborder Lacertilia of the order Squamata, specifically), for example, are as old as dinosaurs, perhaps older, and evolutionists have no problem with the idea that they're still around. Crocodilians (archosaurs, like the dinosaurs) are equally old, and equally extant. It's just that fossils of non-bird dinosaurs aren't found in sediments dated as younger than 65 million years; they lasted 150 million years before the K-T boundary, and evolutionary theory, as such, offers no reasons they couldn't have lasted another 65 million -- it's just that it would be very odd that they did so while leaving no fossil traces (it's not like coelacanths, whose living survivors are deep-sea species whose bones wouldn't be found on dry land).”

Fossilization is now a relatively rare event. In the conditions of the Flood, fossilization was the norm. It's not surprising that we find some creatures “extant” with dinosaurs in the fossil record but have relatively fewer fossils between then and now. Certainly, there are many examples of “living fossils.” It's only because they are still alive now that we say certain species are very old. If a species had become extinct a few hundred years ago without leaving some detailed descriptions by human witnesses, we would probably believe they too went extinct “65 million years ago.”

You said, “Marco Polo describes the creature as dragging its belly along the ground as it walks.”

It doesn't exactly say that though it is a reasonable conclusion. It says more specifically that they wore deep paths where they walked. My dog in my backyard has worn paths where he regularly walks so this could be describing something like that.

You said, “All dinosaurs had erect gaits, as far as fossil reconstructions and fossil tracks go; even tail drag marks are very rare (leading to the conclusion that they usually held them off the ground), and belly drag marks such as Polo describes seem vastly unlikely.”

The Dimetrodon had a sprawling gait more akin to reptiles yet it is commonly called a “dinosaur.” A very large monitor lizard or crocodile might also have been called a dinosaur if it were only found and the fossil record and not still alive today.

You said, “The implied stance better fits a crocodilian or (even better) a giant lizard.”

Perhaps, except for the specific mention of short front legs. Since the hind legs aren't mentioned, it sounds specifically as though Polo was saying the front legs were shorter than the hind legs. Besides, as I said in my post, Polo would certainly have seen many crocodiles in his travels. It's not likely he would not be able to better describe one.

Thanks for your comments. God bless!!

RKBentley

Steven J. said...

When I say that lizards or crocodilians are, as groups, as old as dinosaurs, I don't mean that current species of these groups are as old as dinosaurs: we don't find, e.g. fossils of Alligator mississipiensis alongside dinosaur or ichthyosaur fossils (the crocodilians of the Mesozoic belonged to different species, genera, and families). We find fossil mammals all through the Cretaceous, but they are not modern species or genera.

You will note that there are "old-earth creationists" that accept that, e.g. the non-bird dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago but deny, e.g. that birds evolved from non-bird dinosaurs or that humans have monkey ancestors.

I suppose many laymen consider Dimetrodon a dinosaur. Even Carl Sagan, annoyingly, so labeled it in one of his books. But any competent book on dinosaurs will tell you it is not (indeed, evolutionists will tell you that Dimetrodon is more closely related to you and your dog than it is to T. rex or Triceratops: it is a "mammal-like reptile" or synapsid).

As I noted, there are lizards known from the Mesozoic; they are quite distinct from dinosaurs, lacking, e.g. the antorbital fenestra in the skull (that distinguishes archosaurs from other diapsid reptiles) and the erect gait that distinguishes dinosaurs from other archosaurs.

It's not really clear whether Polo ever laid eyes on this creature -- or how familiar he was with crocodilians (they're not terribly common in Europe or most of central Asia, after all).

The Palaeobabbler said...

RK:

"The Dimetrodon had a sprawling gait more akin to reptiles yet it is commonly called a “dinosaur.” A very large monitor lizard or crocodile might also have been called a dinosaur if it were only found and the fossil record and not still alive today."

Dimetrodon was a synapsid, not a diapsid; it is not called a dinosaur by any palaeontologist. They are far more closely related to mammals than dinosaurs. Crocodiles would be recognised as a separate clade to dinosaurs, though they are archosaurs.

RKBentley said...

I'm aware that the Dimetrodon was not a dinosaur, thus I said that it is commonly called a dinosaur – and it is. Just do a Google image search on “sail back dinosaur” and you will see pictures of Dimetrodon and captions calling it a dinosaur.

It's really a trivial point in our discussion anyway since I don't believe Polo was describing a Dimetrodon. I bring it up only because laypeople might not use the correct, modern technical term to describe what could be a dinosaur. One term used by ancient writers is “dragon.” Polo described these beasts as “huge serpents.” Actually, I suppose“huge serpents” is the translator's term. The use of the word “serpent” suggests the beasts had some reptilian features – maybe they were hairless and had scaly hides. It certainly wasn't a snake since the creature had legs.

Neither do I believe Polo was describing a crocodile. I again appeal to mention of shorter front legs and remind you that this creature had 3 toes. Steven J said that Polo might not be familiar with crocodiles because they aren't common in Asia. Of course, Polo did travel to places where crocodiles are more common (like Africa). Besides, if crocs are scarce in China, why would skeptics immediately assume he's describing a croc?

Steven J. said...

Your original post argued that all known fossil species were contemporary with early humans on the grounds that Marco Polo saw, in China, something that from his description sounded like a dinosaur. It rather matters how broadly you define "dinosaur." A hitherto-unknown giant species of lizard in China would give us no reason to suspect that non-bird dinosaurs survived the K-T boundary event 65 million years ago, even if the giant lizard's front legs were shorter than its hind legs.

Again, the description from Polo certainly seems to be describing something with a sprawling, non-erect gait: the description of how the Chinese kill it (with sharpened stakes or spears set in the ground so that it is wounded as it drags its belly over them) implies that its belly stays a lot closer to the ground than would be the case for, e.g. a tiger -- or any known dinosaur.

RKBentley said...

Steven J,

I'm not sure where to begin. I have never said that Polo's descriptions of something that resembled a dinosaur is grounds for believing all species were contemporary with humans. That's about a bad a summary as I could imagine.

I believe that all KINDS of animals were contemporary with humans because of the account given in the BIBLE. Descriptions of animals that resemble dinosaurs are consistent with my belief. They are less consistent with evolution, which posits that dinosaurs became extinct millions of years before modern man appeared.

The Polo text is a very poor description of a crocodile so I wonder why the editor of the text even suggested it was an alligator or crocodile? However, it is a good description of a bipedal dinosaur: 25-30 feet long, 7 feet thick, diminutive front legs, three toes, sharp claws, and jaws large enough to swallow a man. Furthermore, these creatures were terrestrial – they lived in caverns during the heat of the day and went to the water to drink.

I can understand how one might interpret the text to say the creature drags its belly but the word “belly” is not mentioned in the text. Tracks are worn where the creatures “frequent” - that is, they walk the same path regularly. These paths are where the spikes were placed. Crocodiles may leave tracks in the sand where they drag their bellies but not necessarily because they “frequent” the path. The text does not say the iron spike pierced their bellies; it only says the beasts were injured by them. Wooden spikes were used in Asia against US troops in a similar fashion so belly dragging is not necessary for the spikes to be effective.

Yet having said all that, I admit that this account isn't NECESSARILY a dinosaur. Creation doesn't require this animal to be a dinosaur; it only leaves open the possibility that it is. Perhaps it truly is a heretofore unknown lizard. Either way, the evidence is still consistent with creation and we're free to draw our own conclusion. Evolution, on the other hand, virtually demands that this not be a dinosaur. You disqualify that possibility because of your theory. You are, in a sense, forcing your theory onto the evidence rather than going where the evidence might lead.

Evos are very selective in their skepticism. Where is the criticism of Polo's other writings? If Polo described an elephant, would anyone be skeptical and insist it was merely a poor description of a cow? Would anyone challenge the text and wonder if he really saw the elephant? I suspect it's precisely because this is such a a good description of a dinosaur that questions about it's veracity are even being raised. In a paradoxical sense, the more argument I hear that it's not a dinosaur, the more I'm convinced that it could be a dinosaur!

Thanks for your comments. God bless!!

RKBentley

Steven J. said...

I realize that you believe that the created "kinds" of Genesis were not necessarily "species" as taxonomists have understood the term since the 17th century. For example, the original created felid population might have given rise to the modern lion and tiger species, perhaps even to the modern lynx and house cat species. But two points remain: those original "kinds" must have started as "species" (a lion is not a tiger, a horse is not a zebra), and every species that has arisen from "evolution within kinds" must have arisen since the creation of humans, if young-earth creationism is true. Hence, all known living and fossil species have existed within the time human beings have been on Earth. I did not mean to attribute to you a belief that all species now on Earth were specially created.

I note that while the text does not explicitly say that the described animal crawled on its belly, it equally does not explicitly say that it walked on two legs. It says nothing of hind legs. It does say (at least in English translation; I do not know what the underlying Italian is) that they "dragged" themselves from their caves to water, which certainly sounds like a sprawling gait to me.

I should note in passing that some modern lizard species have front legs shorter than hind legs (some, indeed, have lost their front limbs entirely). It is not purely a dinosaurian trait.

It is not "selective skepticism" to doubt accounts that cannot be corroborated by independent evidence and contradict such independent evidence as exists: elephants demonstrably exist, and besides clear illustrations of them, there are observations of living and fossil elephants. There is nothing that very closely resembles Marco Polo's giant reptile known from recent animal remains or observations of living species. And there are traveler's tales of all sorts of things, from dog-headed men to plants that bear sheep as fruit, to suggest that descriptions of living species in such tails can end up very garbled.

Anonymous said...

Regarding Steven's argument....two front legs meaning no back legs.....I would like to explain this in a different way....If you were driving a vehicle..such as an automobile with four tires....and the front tires went flat, you would say, "My front tires are flat." However, if there were such a vehicle with only two front tires and they should become flat, you would not say "my front tires are flat" as those are the only tires on the vehicle. Therefore, by Marco Polo specifically saying "front" legs and not just "legs" would make one beleive that this creature had back legs also.

RKBentley said...

Thanks for your comments.

I agree that the wording very strongly implies that the creature Polo described had 4 legs with the fore limbs being diminutive.

Another interesting characteristic about this mysterious reptile is that the fore limbs had “three claws.” In spite of Steven J's attempt to portray this creature as an elaboration of some mundane lizard, he glosses over that sticky detail. Every lizard that I've seen, as well as crocs/alligators, have 5 claws.

Thanks again for your comments. Please keep visiting.

God bless!!

RKBentley

Unknown said...

Hey guys, I have nothing to add intelectually to this argument, but I did want to thank you for your approach to this conversation. It was factually based and well defended. I think both of you effectively defended your beliefs and allowed yourselves to acknowledge and validate what your opponent put forth. I have learned a lot and have plenty of research to conduct thanks to you.

Unknown said...

Hey guys, I wanted to thank you for your conduct throughout this conversation. I think both of you defended your arguments well and allowed yourselves to see the view of your opponent. This was maturely handled, which is a rare occurrence on this hate infested, emotionally charged medium of the Internet. Thank you, this was truly refreshing and gave me plenty of information to research.

RKBentley said...

Unknown,

Thanks for visiting and for your comments. I'm not sure if you meant to leave two comments; sometimes, people are confused by the moderation feature I use and think their 1st comment is lost so they try to write another. I usually only publish one comment when this happens but your comments weren't quite identical and I'm not sure which best made your point so I published them both.

I do try to be civil when I write and stick to the points. Anybody can write insults and they're never interesting.

Steven J is one of the more rational atheists/evolutionists that I've encountered. The fact that he is able to carry on an intelligent conversation is why he's been posting here so long. Many other people in his camp resort to insults and logical fallacies after the second or third exchange.

BTW, I would say you did add something intellectual to the conversation. Please keep visiting and commenting.

God bless!!

RKBentley

Michael B. said...

I'm a little late to the party, but I would like to draw attention to a comment Steven made in (form what I can tell is) his first post.

Steven said, "it's just that fossils of non-bird dinosaurs aren't found in sediments dated as younger than 65 million years; they lasted 150 million years before the K-T boundary."

I just wanted to point out that because of the nature of sediment, that it is a composite, it cannot be simply “dated” as the post would suggest. Sediment cannot be radio dated; it is dated by what we find in it. To an evolutionist who believes an artifact (such as a fossil, which I remind also cannot be radio dated) which he believes is 65million yrs old, this would lead him to believe the sediment is 65million yrs old as well. This would make sense (and does to many), except that the original date for the (un-radio-datable) fossil was derived from the (un-radio-datable) sediment.

Also, suppose the Genesis account is accurate. Suppose the Flood eradicated all life on the surface of the planet. Genesis 7:11 says, “on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth.” If the springs of the deep burst forth, personally I’d imagine there to be a significant amount of sediment to be kicked up and burry/drown all living things. What kinds of creatures do you suppose to be buried first? Invertebrates and creatures already living in the sediment would be my guess. Of the vertebrates whose first to go? Warm-blooded mammals that can swim, or large, cold blooded reptiles that can’t? All these creatures (that can’t swim well or at all) get buried in sediment, in prime conditions for fossilization. I’m just sayin’, it sounds like a far more reasonable conclusion, for what we observe, that the scenario described in the Bible (and by many other cultures) are based more in logic and evidence than the evolutionist who dates his mud by the contents and the contents by the mud it’s found in.

I would also like to give mad props to RK, thanks and God bless!

RKBentley said...

Michael B,

Thanks for your comments. Even though this post is over a year old, it's still being read. You may have noticed it's one of my top ten this week. Don't worry that you're commenting "too late."

You're right that the order of the fossil record merely represents "where" the creatures were buried rather than "when". I've sometimes used the analogy of ice cubes in a glass. The cubes on the bottom may have been laid down first but they're not necessarily older.

Thanks too for your encouragement. Please keep visiting and commenting!!

God bless!!

RKBentley

Anonymous said...

“Those whose employment it is to hunt them observe the track by which they are most frequently accustomed to go, and fix into the ground several pieces of wood, armed with sharp iron spikes, which they cover with the sand in such a manner as not to be perceptible. When therefore the animals make their way towards the places they usually haunt, they are wounded by these instruments, and speedily killed. The crows, as soon as they perceive them to be dead, set up their scream; and this serves as a signal to the hunters, who advance to the spot, and proceed to separate the skin from the flesh, taking care immediately to secure the gall, which is most highly esteemed in medicine. In cases of the bite of a mad dog, a pennyweight of it, dissolved in wine, is administered. It is also useful in accelerating parturition, when the labour pains of women have come on. A small quantity of it being applied to carbuncles, pustules, or other eruptions on the body, they are presently dispersed; and it is efficacious in many other complaints. The flesh also of the animal is sold at a dear rate, being thought to have a higher flavor
than other kinds of meat, and by all persons it is esteemed a delicacy.”
(Travels of Marco Polo the Venetian, translated by W. Marsden, edited by Thomas Wright, pp 91-92)

Tig1 said...

Another latecomer. I'm surprised no one mentioned this yet. A little later in the writings it says" 1 The natives of India are particularly ingenious in their contrivances for destroying beasts of prey, particularly the tiger, which is sometimes made to fall upon sharp-pointed stakes, after walking up an inclined
plane; but the alligator is most commonly taken in the water, with a
large hook."
Wouldn't this prove that Marco Polo knew exactly what an alligator was, and looked like? Also the means by which they were captured was completely different.
Also here it says," 2 The flesh of the guana or inguana, an animal intermediate in size between the lizard and the alligator, I have known to be eaten both by
Chinese and Europeans, and by the former at least to be considered as
a delicacy." He compares the "lizard" to iguanas and alligators so it's clearly a different creature.
And lastly to comment on this," In the day-time, by
reason of the great heat, they lurk in caverns, from whence,
at night, they issue to seek their food, and whatever beast they
meet with and can lay hold of, whether tiger, wolf, or any other,
they devour; after which they drag themselves towards some
lake, spring of water, or river, in order to drink. By their
motion in this way along the shore, and their vast weight, they
make a deep impression, as if a heavy beam had been drawn
along the sands." It,to me, seems to be describing that after it eats it walks in a different manner. Which is what a lot of reptiles do after eating a lot of food. Perhaps this creature carries itself much closer to the ground when full, also making itself very vulnerable to attacks. I think people have let movies give them a false image of how these creatures actually were.

RKBentley said...

Tig1,

You said, “Another latecomer.”

No worries. Comments are always welcome no matter how old the post.

You said, “I'm surprised no one mentioned this yet. A little later in the writings it says" 1 The natives of India are particularly ingenious in their contrivances for destroying beasts of prey, particularly the tiger, which is sometimes made to fall upon sharp-pointed stakes, after walking up an inclined plane; but the alligator is most commonly taken in the water, with a large hook." Wouldn't this prove that Marco Polo knew exactly what an alligator was, and looked like? Also the means by which they were captured was completely different.”

I think you're absolutely right. It's rather laughable to think Marco Polo didn't know what alligators or crocodiles looked like and the fact that he mentions them in other passages confirms this. That he further says the “serpents” were hunted by placing spike in the ground and alligators are captured using a hook in the water further cinches that these are different animals. Great call!

In summary, the “serpent”...

had 3 claws
had shorter front legs
lived in caves during the day
went to the water to drink
was hunted by placing spikes in the ground

Alligators, on the other hand...

have 5 claws
have front legs about the same length as its back legs
live primarily in the water
are hunted in the water with hooks

It's not even close. I'm not saying he MUST be describing a dinosaur but I know he's not describing an alligator. The only reason that possibility is raised is because evolutionists dismiss the possibility that it could have been a dinosaur.

Thanks for visiting and for your comments. Please keep coming back.

God bless!!

RKBentley

Brett Snyder said...


And now this wing is suppose to be 99 million years old??

http://www.nature.com/news/bird-wings-trapped-in-amber-are-a-fossil-first-from-the-age-of-dinosaurs-1.20162

Ummm something's amiss

RKBentley said...

Brett,

Thanks for visiting. I think that is the same article I wrote about on my blog here:

http://www.nature.com/news/bird-wings-trapped-in-amber-are-a-fossil-first-from-the-age-of-dinosaurs-1.20162

It's funny that they are called, "dinosaur feathers" yet the article admits they can't tell if they belonged to dinosaurs! Worse, the article also said some feathers are indistinguishable from modern bird feathers. I think such a find shows that birds lived at the same time as their supposed ancestor.

Thanks for your comments. Please keep visiting.

God bless!!

RKBentley