After our visit in Kampot, we took the road north to the capital, before finally making our way to the north west of Cambodia. To Angkor.
If you know about Angkor, you understand why this is exciting. If you haven’t heard of Angkor, then I insist that you go away and read a minimum of 37 books before returning to this email. I mean it, they can be any books you choose, as long as you read at least 37 of them.
Done that? Ok, here’s the penguin-abridged version, suitable for seven year old children and Subaru drivers.
Angkor is a big deal. From the ninth to the fourteenth century it was the capital city of the immense Khmer Empire. Covering an area of over a thousand square kilometres and with a population of over a million people, it was almost 10 times larger than any other city in the world at it’s time. Larger even than any other city became, until after the industrial revolution. It was a highly developed civilization, with sophisticated waterways and irrigation systems, and thousands of public buildings, including Angkor Wat, the largest religious building ever constructed. And all this at a time when the dark age Britons were still wearing horse hair pyjamas, ploughing the fields with an oxen’s arse bone and stoning people to death for witchcraft. (though, still a good six centuries before the Americans stopped doing the same. .).
And the great thing about Angkor is, it’s still there. The city’s population dispersed and vanished in the early 1400’s, for reasons that experts are still unsure of. And for the next five hundred years, it remained shrouded in forest and largely intact, until it’s rediscovery by French archaeologists at the beginning of the 20thcentury. It’s the original Lost City. And it’s the last place you’d expect to go looking for a Stegosaurus.
Yes, today is the day I deliver on a pretty unusual boast. But first, a little background information concerning one slightly deranged Swiss man, and a whole lot of deeply deranged Americans.
When I was about 14, I read my way through a series of books written by a man called Erich Von Daniken. Those people older than me are smiling now because they know where this is going. Those younger than me have never heard the name. So for the benefit of the uninitiated, Von Daniken was one of the first (or if not the first, certainly one of the most famous) to pitch the idea that all of humanities stories of Gods are actually evidence of alien visitations.
Not quite as silly an idea as it sounds, he pointed out that hundreds of wildly different cultures, who have never had contact with one another seem to share the same basic story; that of beings who came from above, with abilities (or technologies) beyond their own, and who instructed them in the ways to live their lives. Von Daniken would fill his books with photographs of cave paintings that he claimed depicted astronauts and spaceships, and with details of what he termed Ooparts, Out-Of-Place-Artefacts. Objects, technologies, and knowledge that he claimed, could not possibly have been produced by those people at that time and simply must, therefore, have been aliens. Something like that anyway. He was never very clear in his conclusions.
One of these ‘Ooparts’ I remembered was a carving at a temple in Cambodia which he claimed depicted a stegosaurus, and a little internet research showed me that this same carving has now been seized upon by the Creationist/ Fundamentalist Christian brigade as proof of their belief that man and dinosaurs once co-existed. Because according to Genesis, God created all land animals and Man on the same day.
I made it my mission to find and view this ‘evidence’ for myself.
Sadly, but unsurprisingly, these Creationist websites (and I had to read my way through many) are heavy on the hilarious bullshit, but very light on facts. Such as where to actually find the damn thing. All we knew was that the image was located at a temple complex called Ta Prohm.
Ta Prohm is the site used in the Tomb Raider film, and unlike most other buildings at Angkor, it has been left as it was found, with huge jungle trees growing on, in, and through the stonework. But it’s also the size of a town, with dozens of half collapsed walls, towers, halls and temples, and every inch of it covered with intricate carvings.
We arrived before 7am because we wanted the place to ourselves, and while Miss Marie-Carmen busied herself with snapping away at one of the most photogenic places we’ve ever encountered, Mr Bob donned an outrageous new hat, and set to work climbing through ancient tunnels and crumbling ruins, humming the Indiana Jones theme-tune the whole way.
By the end of the day we were bruised, sunburnt, caked in dust and supremely happy but alas, no stegosaurus had been found. We did not give up, and the second day we returned even earlier, in time to see the sun rise over the horizon and bathe the ruins in a golden glow. And finally, we found it. Carved an inch deep in to the sandstone wall, and surrounded by images of monkeys, lizards, buffalo and goats, all of which belong here, a fucking Stegosaurus. An artefact so inherently out of place, that it was like seeing a Ford Cortina and a bottle of Iron-Bru painted amongst the hieroglyphs in King Tutankhamen’s tomb.
What in the name of Rasputin’s rectum is it doing here? On a tenth century Buddhist temple?
Until seeing it, I had my theories. It hasn’t been added later by some mischievous prankster. I can absolutely guarantee this, it’s carved in a huge block of stone that forms part of a temple wall, and is cut at the same depth as all of the surrounding lithographs, so it’s utterly impossible that someone removed a previous image and cut this one in it’s place.
The only possible explanation, and therefore the one I must accept, is that it’s actually a carving of some other creature, that just happens to resemble a stegosaurus. But what creature that could be, I have no idea. All of the animals depicted here are very lifelike and recognisable, the crocodiles are clearly crocodiles, the pictures of elephants are unmistakeably pictures of elephants. This picture of a stegosaurus doesn’t look like anything except a stegosaurus. And it looks an awful lot like a stegosaurus.
Anyway, I’ll leave the mystery at that. Feel free to speculate amongst yourselves, or post your favourite theory beneath the photos on my page, I’d love to hear them. So long as they don’t involve little green men or Jehovah.