While reminiscing on Old King Canute's bones recently, I was reminded of another saintly old codger who stirred up a mess of trouble with his tomb. This one is situated in that normally uninteresting town of Carlisle. If you find your way to the city's great cathedral and walk up the central aisle, you will find the elegant tomb of Bishop Richard Bell.
Like many tombs of its age this one has splendid brass work and would make a good subject for brass-rubbing enthusiasts. The brass strips are pleasantly decorated with all manner of animals, some easily recognizable and some not. And it is one of the unrecognized animals that has caused all the consternation up there in Carlisle.
Along one of the brass strips, if you look carefully, you can see two animals. The one on the left is obscured by the one on the right that looks suspiciously pre-historic. It clearly has a long tail, an even longer neck and head. With a neck like that we might have been tempted to think giraffe if it were not for the four thick-set legs and large rounded body. It is for us, of course, a classic image that every school child would immediately recognize. However the one animal that it cannot possibly be is a dinosaur. That of course is quite impossible.
Dinosaurs as we all know were not discovered until 1840 and this tomb was constructed in 1496. No one even knew that there were dinosaurs 500 years ago, never mind what they looked like. So it can not be a dinosaur. QED. However, as if to tease us a little further, there are other similar pictures of "dinosaur-like-creatures" along the brass strips of Bishop Bell's tomb for us to contemplate - as if to say that this was no slip of the engravers tool.
I would suggest that you go up to Carlisle Cathedral someday when you are passing and have a look for yourself. Unfortunately that is not so easy these days as the whole thing is covered with a thick carpet apparently to avoid wear and tear. Those who have tried lifting the carpet to get a peek at the strange engravings have been met with a stern rebuke by the Verger who is not at all keen for these brasses to be displayed. If you want to see them you will have to get permission in writing - something not so easy to do it seems, as the Dean does not condone the 'telling of the tale of dinosaurs' on one of his tombs. He has made it clear that the very suggestion of dinosaurs on the tomb discredits the cathedral. It is not a dinosaur, then - the dean has said so. So that's an end of the matter.
Of courses this is not the first time that inconvenient things have been hidden under the carpet. Take for example another ancient picture - The Nile Mosaic of Palestrina. This is considered one the wonders of the second century, and it depicts scenes from the Nile in Egypt all the way to Ethiopia. The whole work is remarkable and if you want to see the full picture you can catch it here. At the top right there is a depiction of African animals hunted by warriors. They are pursuing what appears to be some type of large creature - in any case it is certainly larger than they are. This too is not a dinosaur. We know this for certain because the picture tells us what the strange creature is. The Greek letters above the reptilian animal spell out the word: KROKODILOPARDALIS which is literally Crocodile-Leopard.
Exactly what a crocodile-leopard is, no one knows. What we do know, is that it is not a dinosaur. We do however have a picture of one, and if that picture strikes an amazing similarity with a dinosaur then that is pure coincidence. Other pictures on the mosaic are standard stuff like crocodiles and hippos. This is the only one that we can't place, and I would guess that those who put the mosaic together couldn't place it either. It's likely they just didn't have a word for it, so stuck two words together to capture it for our imagination. Just why they should choose crocodile and leopard is the question, unless it reminded them of a dangerous fast moving reptile. But we will never know as the crocodile-leopard has evaded all efforts of capture.
It is said that Alexander the Great once asked Diogenes what the most cunning of animals was. His reply was, "The one you haven't seen yet." Yet more cunning is the animal you can't even believe in. Charles Fort had a name for such data as this. He called them "The Damned" as they were damned to obscurity by a scientific community that had no room or no explanation for such things.
If you brush things under the carpet you just have to hope that they go away.