Dr KARL SHUKER

Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. Author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), The Unexplained (1996), Mysteries of Planet Earth (1999), The Beasts That Hide From Man (2003), and more recently Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), Dragons in Zoology, Cryptozoology, and Culture (2013), A Manifestation of Monsters (2015), Here's Nessie! (2016), and what is already considered to be his magnum opus, Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors (2016), his many fans have been badgering him to join the blogosphere for years. The CFZ Blog Network is proud to have finally persuaded him to do so.

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Monday, 12 December 2016

A SCALY STATUETTE OF THE MOKELE-MBEMBE?


Carved wooden statuette of a scaly sauropod-like creature and a smaller short-necked mystery beast; probably of West African origin, currently housed at Glencomeragh House, Ireland (© Brother Richard Hendrick)

On 7 April 2013, Brother Richard Hendrick, a Capuchin Franciscan Friar (Monk) of the Irish Province who has long been interested in cryptozoology, posted on my 'Journal of Cryptozoology' Facebook group's page a colour photograph that he had snapped a few days earlier, depicting a very eyecatching wooden statuette, and which I have included above by kind permission of Brother Richard.

He also included the following details about it:

Found this African carving in a collection held by the Rosminian Missionary Fathers in Glencomeragh House, Clonmel [in County Tipperary] Ireland. No provenance or date other than sometime this century probably from west Africa. Intriguing?

The mokele-mbembe rendered as a sauropod, by David Miller under the direction of Prof Roy P Mackal (© Prof. Roy P. Mackal)

After a few replies from others in this FB group were posted in response to his photo and comment, including one from American crypto-author Matt Bille saying that it looked to him like a modern creation, possibly inspired by western interest in the mokele-mbembe (rather than an example of traditional native artwork), Brother Richard responded as follows:

I'm afraid I know very little more than I mentioned above. The Rosminian Fathers are a missionary order and worked for many years in Africa. Many of the Irish fathers brought back souvenirs of their time there on their return to Ireland. I was merely visiting the house on retreat myself and spotted it sitting dusty and forgotten amongst many other carvings. I would guess it has been there since at least the 1950s as no one currently living in the house seemed to know anything about it and didn't see it as anything extraordinary. It does have a "modern" feel but I felt it was worth sharing.

(Judging from his comment that he felt that this carving had probably been at Glencomeragh House since at least the 1950s, his previous comment that it probably dated from "sometime this century" was no doubt simply a slip of the pen, having forgotten momentarily that this is now the 21st Century, not the 20th.)

Close-up of this intriguing 'scaly sauropod' statuette (© Brother Richard Hendrick)

Brother Richard's final posts concerning the carving read as follows:

I have to say I was more intrigued by the second creature? Not sure if it represents a "baby" or another species. I guess at the very least it demonstrates the creature being present in a "culture" even if it was introduced as an idea by those seeking it.

Not sure if it is in a fighting / mating / feeding pose with the larger creature. They both appear to have the same tail, scales and cloacal opening though. A puzzle to add to the connundrum of the whole piece! Never seen anything like it before though!

When I contacted him directly concerning this carving, I learnt that it was roughly 6 in tall, was quite heavy, seemed to have been carved from a single piece of wood, and although he had examined it rather thoroughly he did not see any inscriptions or dates on it.

There is no question that the larger of the two animals in this carving closely resembles a sauropod dinosaur in body shape. However, it also sports certain highly unusual features for any such identity. Most obvious of these is its array of extremely large, almost pangolin-like overlapping scales, which are absent only from its face, feet, and, most noticeably, the entire extent of its long tail, and which have not been reported by mokele-mbembe eyewitnesses in the Congo (though crocodile-like scales have been claimed by the Baka pygmies for their Cameroon version, the li'lela-bembe). Nor has the large, even more intriguing – and very odd - rayed fin-like structure visible on the underside of its tail's basal portion, which Brother Richard suggested may be a cloacal opening. And its long pointed teeth are not what one would expect from a herbivore, though these may simply be non-specific, stylised representations.

Pangolin (public domain)

As for the carving's second, smaller animal, standing upright on its hind legs, possibly supported somewhat by its tail, but also resting directly upon the sauropod-like beast's rear body portion, this does not resemble any creature known to me and is something of a paradox. For whereas it sports exactly the same type of body scales as the 'sauropod', and the same kind of tail too, even bearing an identical rayed fin on its tail's basal underside, the body scaling is absent from its lower limbs, it totally lacks the long neck of the 'sauropod', and its face and jaws do not match those of the latter beast either.

Is this small animal meant to represent a young version of the 'sauropod', I wonder? The presence of the same type of scales and in particular the very distinctive underside tail fin (which is unlike anything that I know of in vertebrates present or past), would certainly support such a possibility. Yet its virtually non-existent neck argues in an equally persuasive manner against this option. Even the pose in which the 'sauropod' has been depicted in relation to the small animal is somewhat ambiguous, as recognised by Brother Richard too, and could be construed equally as one of anger toward a potential attacker or as one of response (feeding?) toward its own offspring.

Close-up of the smaller animal in this carving (© Brother Richard Hendrick)

British mystery beast researcher Penny Odell made a very interesting, original contribution to the series of comments posted beneath Brother Richard's photo of the carving that may explain the small creature's contradictory form:

I think it is supposed to be the same species. However the artist only had a certain space and size of wood and ability to carve with. Had the smaller animal been given a longer neck it would have changed the carving making it harder to carve into the space[;] therefore the artist made the smaller animal with a shorter neck for convenience.

With virtually no historical information concerning this fascinating artefact available, there is little more that can be said about it. Despite being for many years a keen visitor to antique/collector/ethnic-craft fairs and shops, and an equally avid online browser relating to such areas of interest, I have never encountered anything even similar, let alone identical, to this carving before. And if it does date back to at least the 1950s, this long precedes the Mackal mokele-mbembe expeditions from the early 1980s that incited the continuing modern-day wave of interest in the latter Congolese cryptid, thereby offering support for believing that this carving's creation was not sparked by any Western interest in such a creature after all. Yet if it is a traditional native depiction of a mokele-mbembe or comparable cryptid, how can the scaling, the tail fin, and the short-necked smaller beast be explained?

Another sauropod-inspired representation of the mokele-mbembe (© Richard Svensson)

My sincere thanks to Brother Richard for so kindly making available to me his photograph of this enigmatic, hitherto-unpublicised statuette and his information concerning it.

This ShukerNature blog article is excerpted from my newly-published mega-book, Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors.





19 comments:

  1. Intersting...I am going searching for Glaucous Macaws next year in Paraguay and Bolivia
    Joe (@Concorde004)

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    1. Excellent, and I wish you every success, the glaucous macaw has always fascinated me.

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  2. That statue is fascinating. The scaly body clearly represents the description of the larger 'MMs' reported in Cameroon. The long neck, lizard-like head, long tail, and elephant-like feet (which are clawed) really does remind one of the La-kila-bembe of Cameroon. A terrific find!

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    1. Thanks, it is certainly very intriguing.

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  3. The problem with identifying this carving as a sauropod is that it has elephant-like front feet with unguals (claws), which derived sauropods lacked. To me this looks more like a pop culture depiction of a sauropod, rather than an accurate one.

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  4. There is also the head with fangs, and the dragging tail. Neither of which are sauropod characteristics.

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    1. What you are neglecting to take into account in your statements is that they are based upon the morphology of sauropods as seen in fossils that are at least 65 million years old, whereas if the creature portrayed in the carved statuette is a modern-day sauropod it has undergone a further 65 million years of continuing evolution, during which immense period of time any number of morphological and behavioural changes could have taken place, such as foot modifications and how it holds its tail, neither of which is very dramatic. It certainly won't be identical in form to 65-million-year-plus fossils, that's for sure. As for its teeth, as I note in the article I suspect that they are merely stylised representations (probably made from the tips of porcupine quills or feather quills), not meant to be accurate depictions.

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  5. Why would an animal lose all of the unguals on the front feet only to re-evolve them? As far as I know this has never occured among any members of the Tetrapoda (let alone the Dinosauria and Sauropoda), and seems like a biological, anatomical, and evolutionary improbability (if not impossibility). I think this stems from the popular (but inaccurate) depictions of sauropods with elephant-like feet. Considering that all dinosaurs (including birds) have erect tails, and have had them for the entirety of their existence, I would doubt that a movement-restricting, dragging tail would evolve (this also seems to based on old depictions of sauropods). Sauropods were also known to be terrestrial, as opposed to the aquatic mokele mbembe (once again based on outdated pop culture depictions of sauropods living in swamps). As a sauropod dinosaur, the mokele mbembe is simply not feasible.

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    1. Once again, you are totally ignoring the certainty that if a sauropod lineage has survived 65 million years into the present day, it will have undergone continued evolution - it will definitely NOT have remained 'frozen in time' throughout that immense period of time. So, consistently complaining that descriptions of an alleged living animal do not fully correspond with those of its possible ancestors of 65 million (or more) years ago is futile. After all, you may as well complain that modern-day giraffes or whales, for instance, could not exist because they differ so dramatically from the mammals known from the fossil record to have existed in the Cretaceous. Yet they do exist and they differ because of 65 million years of continuing evolution. Simple as that. As for all derived sauropods lacking claws: all we can say with certainty is that all derived sauropods currently known from the (extremely incomplete) fossil record lack claws - there may be clawed species for which fossils either have never formed or have never been discovered. In any case, there are countless examples on record of animals losing and re-evolving characteristics, especially down through long periods of time, so for a sauropod to do this with its claws would be by no means sensational, any more than it would be for one to become secondarily aquatic if its terrestrial environment transformed into more swampy, semi-aquatic terrain. Clearly, therefore, we must agree to disagree on this subject, though I have been interested to read your comments concerning it, and also we should remember that unless the m-m is actually discovered, there are no facts, no rights or wrongs, only speculation, opinion.

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  6. Hi Karl,

    Delighted that the piece has been properly chronicled... whatever its provenance it is indeed certainly worth recording for cryptozoological posterity. It's an honour to have it featured in your work. Also you were your usual eagle eyed self and spotted my error... I did mean last century! The perception of time moves slowly for us monastics. Peace to you and all your readers!

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    1. Thank you again, Brother Richard, for bringing this fascinating artefact to my attention and for so kindly permitting me to document it with your photograph of it in my writings - I am very grateful! All the best, Karl

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  7. Dr. Shuker, Why does everyone constantly refer to MM as a sauropod when a more parsimonious solution would be to suspect a case of convergent morphological evolution. As a long time armchair researcher of crypto zoological conundrums I find that being frugal with my speculations leads closer to the truth.

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    1. The problem here is that the concept of a non-sauropod lineage evolving via convergent evolution a creature as strikingly similar to a sauropod as eyewitness descriptions of the mokele-mbembe suggest it to be is one that if anything is actually less parsimonious than the survival into the present day of a bona fide sauropod lineage. After all, there is no more evidence from either the fossil record or from known modern-day species for such evolution having occurred than there is for modern-day sauropod survival.

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    2. Large unknown species of monitor lizard with a long neck?

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    3. Such a creature is the principal alternative identity to a possible sauropod, but there is no record of any monitor lizard either from the present day or from the fossil record with a neck anywhere near as elongate as that which is described by eyewitnesses for the mokele-mbembe. And as monitor lizards are common creatures in this region of the Congo, if the m-m was in any way reminiscent of one, I'd expect the native people there to have made comparisons of it with such lizards but I am not aware of any having been made by them.

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    4. You are probably right, but a monitor like the one videoed here has a longish neck look but the body is not heavy set enough for what has been reported.


      http://www.shutterstock.com/video/clip-570421-stock-footage-a-large-monitor-lizard-explores-the-situation-on-the-bank-of-a-pond-while-a-white-egret-looks-on.html?src=recommended/503992:9/gg

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  8. Maybe I'm embellishing it, but in a way the smaller animal looks like an amphibian larva, like a tadpole this close to becoming a frog (just before it's lost the tail), or the tadpole stage of a salamander about to leave the water.
    It makes me think just a little of those famous "amphibian" identifications for lake monsters and sea serpents.

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  9. As someone quite well versed in vintage cheapo dinosaur illustration, my first thought was that the artist had simply put their own spin on the generic "theropod attacking sauropod" scene found in approximately EVERY SINGLE mid20thcentury dino book for kids.

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    1. However, whereas the big scaly animal looks very like a sauropod in shape, the smaller creature looks nothing whatever like a theropod, and certainly doesn't look savage or even capable enough to attack a sauropod. So whatever it may or may not be intended to be, I don't think that the smaller creature is any type of theropod.

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