I typed my wrists sore yesterday writing up reviews of America Unearthed and Ancient Aliens, so I’m going to keep this short today and let the pictures do the talking. On America Unearthed S01E10 “A Desert Mystery,” Scott Wolter argued that the image of a dinosaur appearing on some fake lead artifacts found in Tucson, Arizona could not be a dinosaur because dinosaurs did not have forked tongues. Therefore, the artifacts must be genuine because the dinosaur was “really” a lizard—this despite the fact that no lizard looks anything like the dinosaur whose anatomy we are asked to believe is accurately transcribed.
Here’s the Tucson diplodocus as it appeared on America Unearthed:
Here it is highlighted for visibility:
I would like to counter the assertion that this is a lizard by offering up the fact that many people of the early twentieth century believed dinosaurs had forked tongues and therefore would have faked a dinosaur drawing in just such a way. First, let’s remember that dinosaurs were thought in those days to be giant lizards, which would have shared reptilian characteristics with lizards, including forked tongues. Second, paleontologists hadn’t yet clearly separated the various types of large lizard-like creatures into true dinosaurs, large sea creatures, pterosaurs, etc., so all of these long-necked, long-tailed monsters were seen as closely related.
But let’s not take my word for it. In 1917, Charles Hazelius Sternberg, the amateur paleontologist, wrote a book about hunting for dinosaur bones in the Western United States. Discussing Gorgosaurus libratus, a type of tyrannosaur, he wrote: “Fierce indeed must he have looked, when he slunk up on his prey, his eyes flashing cruelty, with glistening teeth also, and forked tongue.”
With that stipulated, take a look at these Victorian drawings taken from natural history books. Note that the dinosaur and dinosaur-like creatures had spiked, protruding, and/or forked tongues.
Now for the pièce de résistance: The following image comes from the 1911 edition of the American Review of Reviews, reproducing an earlier German engraving. It shows the diplodocus, a dinosaur discovered in 1877, as reconstructed by paleontologists. (American paleontologists disagreed about what looks like squares running down the back and preferred a lower angle for the neck.) Note carefully that it is an almost exact match to the diplodocus on the Tucson Artifacts, down to the protruding tongue!
Here it is again from the same page of the same issue, with the distinctive back hump:
It is entirely possible that the Arizona drawing was meant as a really poor representation of an indigenous lizard like the teiidae, the fringe-toed lizards, brush lizards, or some such. But none of them match the picture half so well as the early twentieth century reconstructions of diplodocus and brontosaurus (know called Apatosaurus), especially give the prominent hump on the back, long neck, and thick feet. Since a forked tongue is no bar to fakery, I feel comfortable concluding this drawing was badly copied from one very much like the Review illustrations above.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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