Kangaroos in India?

I think we would all agree that kangaroos are characteristic of Australia. Were they ever found outside of Australia? That is what we will explore in today’s post.

Did kangaroos live in the Middle East?

Think carefully about that question. I think we all know that they do not live in the Middle East today, but what about in the past?

The “correct” response, from a creationist perspective, is that kangaroos must have lived in the Middle East at one time. After all, kangaroos would have been on the Ark, along with every other kind of land dwelling animal that breathes through its nostrils. Where did the Ark land? On the mountains of Ararat, which would put it somewhere in modern day Turkey. When kangaroos disembarked from the Ark, they would have been in the Middle East. Therefore, kangaroos lived in the Middle East at one time.

Now, I put quotation marks around the word “correct” because I think that there can be a semantic dispute about the answer. To illustrate the issue, consider the question, do kangaroos live in the United States? I think we would all say, no, of course not. However, they do live in the United States… in zoos. Now, zoos “don’t count,” because that is not where they naturally live. People had to bring them to zoos and keep them in zoos. It is not the same as kangaroos living in the wild in Australia.

Well, kangaroos were at Ararat because Noah and his family brought them there and cared for them, at least until they disembarked.[1] Perhaps, living in the Middle East also “doesn’t count.”

Now, my intent is not to dispute whether kangaroos were ever in the Middle East. Putting the semantics aside, I whole heartedly agree that kangaroos began their post-Flood life at the mountains of Ararat. Thus, they had to migrate from there to Australia. That tidbit of information will be relevant to the topic I want to address.

Rock Art in India

In 2019, the magazine website Scroll.in reported on a discovery made by archaeologist Jinu Koshy.[2] Koshy has studied rock art in India and in 2018, he discovered a new location in Andhra Pradesh that contained thousands of images unknown to archaeologists at the time. The significance of his discovery was expanding the range of known locations of rock art in India. However, what captured the attention of several people was the fact that some of the images looked like kangaroos, which raised the question, did kangaroos ever live in India?

in 2020, Philip Robinson wrote an article for Creation magazine describing the new Indian rock art and their surprising kangaroos.[3] He put these kangaroos in the context of the Genesis account, noting that India lies between the Middle East and Indonesia and Australia. Could this rock art be a record of kangaroos as they migrated to their present home?

Now, Robinson’s article goes into more detail. I will talk about some of those details later. My purpose is not to repeat what Robinson said nor is it to simply report on Koshy’s discovery. Instead, I want to go into depth about the possibility of kangaroos in India. We will take our time with it: the information about these kangaroo-like rock art is simple, but a discussion can lead us down several rabbit trails. Rather than quickly reach a conclusion, let us see where the rabbit trails lead, to get as complete, and as accurate, a picture of these kangaroo-like rock art as we can.

Single Source

The first thing I noticed when I began investigating the Indian kangaroo-like rock art was how little information existed about it. There is the Scroll.in article and the Creation article, but there is little more. There is one more creationist article[4] that uses the Scroll.in article as its sole reference for the kangaroo-like rock art and website showing some Andhra Pradesh rock art,[5] including a kangaroo-like image, but providing no references. As for the Creation article, it’s sole source about the kangaroo-like rock art is the Scroll.in article. In short, there is a single source describing the kangaroo-like rock art: the Scroll.in article. Moreover, the Scroll.in article is not academic. These observations raised a red flag in my mind.

Let me be clear about the red flag: I am in no way suggesting that the kangaroo-like rock art is fake or false. My interest in the rock art is because of its implication regarding the post-Flood migration of kangaroos. That is an interpretation of the rock art. I believe the Scroll.in article. I believe Koshy discovered a new site in India with rock art. I believe the rock art is as Koshy described it to Scroll.in. There is nothing suspicious about that and I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of Scroll.in. However, saying that kangaroo-like rock art exists in India is not the same thing as claiming that kangaroos passed through India on their way to Australia. Saying that kangaroo-like rock art exists in India is not even the same thing as saying that rock art portraying kangaroos exists in India. The latter statement requires interpretation, specifically an interpretation of the intent of the artist who made the images. Did he deliberately portray kangaroos? Was he portraying something else? Was he doodling and it happened to look like a kangaroo? My red flag popped up not because I found the source untrustworthy, but because I saw that we were getting only a couple perspectives on the kangaroo-like rock art. More opinions, a second or third opinion, if you will, could provide a better perspective.

Now, some may wonder why I specifically noted that the Scroll.in article was not academic. Does it matter? Do we want the biased opinion of academics clouding our understanding of such a significant piece of evidence? Let me begin by first explaining that academic articles are peer-reviewed. That is, before the article can be published, other experts in the field, other archaeologists, in this case, get a chance to look at the report and critique it. They get to be that second opinion, checking to make sure the information presented looks complete and whether the conclusions drawn by the author are reasonable. Peer-review doesn’t guarantee accuracy, but it can act as a good guard against specious ideas.

Creationists sometimes have a knee-jerk reaction against peer-review. Evolutionists sometimes mock creationism, claiming that if it is valid, there should be academic articles supporting it. Since there are no academic articles supporting creationism, it must be a non-scientific idea. The rebuttal is that the peer-review process prevents evidence for creationism from being published. Remember how the peer-reviewers critique the conclusions of the article? If all of the reviewers are evolutionists, they are going to conclude that an article that concludes that God created the world is specious and dismiss it. As such, peer-review can result in reinforcing a particular worldview.

However, the reinforcement bias of peer-review does not discredit the usefulness of peer-review. In fact, creationists have gone out of their way to ensure that their work gets reviewed by fellow experts, rather than jettisoning the idea of peer-review.[6] Creationists think peer-review is so important that several creationist academic journals are in existence (Journal of Creation, Creation Science Quarterly, Answers Research Journal, for example). Thus, peer-review is not a problem, though sometimes, who does the reviews poses a problem.

Even with the reinforcement bias of evolutionary peer-review, I still trust secular academic articles more than popular magazines. Academic articles have to be objective: peer-reviewers will be quick to point out when a personal opinion has been interjected into a discussion. Thus academic articles have to spend a lot of time establishing what has been observed and how the observations were made in order to back up their conclusions. As such, I have confidence in the data reported in academic journals. I may disagree with the conclusion of the article, but I can trust that the data presented is accurate and draw my own conclusions.

I do not have the same confidence in the data presented in a non-academic article. Let me illustrate why with the Scroll.in article. It is reported that Koshy found rock art that he thinks looks like kangaroos. The animals stand upright and have what look like pouches, so Koshy concludes that they are kangaroos. However, the article also gives the opinion of an unnamed Australian rock art expert who claims that this kangaroo-like art does not look like kangaroos. According to this expert, Australian rock art of kangaroos portray them with rounded rumps and in a grazing or hopping position. These details are lacking in the kangaroo-like rock art in India. Now, an academic article would provide more than the opinion of a couple of experts. It would include a detailed description of the kangaroo-like rock art. It would compare the rock art, point-by-point, to known kangaroo rock art. It would describe the artistic style of the art at Andhra Pradesh and explain how it affects the portrayal of the kangaroo-like images. If that information were presented, we, the readers, could agree with the conclusion of the article or come to our own conclusions. However, with only a minimal description of the kangaroo-like rock art and the opinion of two experts, it is difficult for us to be confident in any conclusion that we draw.

The images indicated by the red arrows are the kangaroo-like art. It is just my opinion, but when I first saw these images, I thought they looked like bipedal mice. While we have these images to look at, do we know enough about what kangaroo art and the art style at Andhra Pradesh to say with confidence that these are kangaroos? Image modified from Scroll.in, full citation in reference [2].

Thus, my starting point is that there are images of kangaroo-like art in Andhra Pradesh, but we do not have confirmation that they are truly representative of kangaroos. Opinion is ruling the debate right now as no details nor analysis has been provided. Since the information is ambiguous, my default position is that the kangaroo-like rock at is probably not representative of kangaroos at all.

The Default Position

I know that seems harsh. When we have an ambiguous situation, we tend to think that the results are fifty-fifty. After all, we have two opinions: either the kangaroo-like art represents kangaroos, of they do not. Since one option is favorable and there are two possibilities, we may think that the odds are fifty-fifty. However, that is a gross oversimplification. There are two options, yes, but they are not equally balanced. If this rock art truly represents kangaroos that lived in India, then they would be the first evidence of kangaroos living in India. The establishment of a new idea that runs contrary to established ideas always has a steep hill to climb. As Carl Sagan has been quoted as saying, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. That may not seem fair: why do new ideas need more evidence than established ideas? They don’t: established ideas already have plenty of evidence supporting them. That is why they are established ideas. Overturning such a mountain of evidence requires substantial evidence: a single “This archaeologist thinks he found kangaroo rock art in India” is not substantial.

Some might say, “Nothing is being overturned. The Andhra Pradesh art will not discredit kangaroos existing in Australia. It will just add a new location for kangaroos to have once existed.” This statement is true to an extent. Sure, no one said that kangaroos can’t be in India, but the existence of kangaroos in Australia and New Guinea[7] alone has already been explained. The evolutionary idea is that kangaroos evolved in Australia and, since it is an island continent, have never been able to migrate out of Australia beyond New Guinea. The creationist idea is that kangaroos, and other marsupials, took refuge in Australia away from the placentals, which took over the rest of the continents.[8] Evidence for kangaroos in India would overturn, or heavily modify, these ideas. Expanding the kangaroo distribution by thousands of miles is simply a rather big change.

Now, it has claimed that the creationist model, which has kangaroos migrating from the Middle East to Australia, makes it easier to explain the presence of kangaroos in India. After all, India is just a short jog away from the path between the Middle East and Australia.[9] However, I believe that we must be cautious about making such statements. If the rock art in India is inconclusive, then there is no need to explain kangaroos in India. Not yet. Perhaps further studies will confirm Koshy’s identification of these kangaroo-like rock art. Such confirmation can come in the form of remains, such as bones, of kangaroos found in India, written records describing kangaroos in India, or even a detailed explanation of why the current rock art is best interpreted as representing kangaroos living in India. However, none of these things have happened, and as explained previously, with a single article giving the opinion of experts with little supporting information, there is just not much to go on. Thus, I think that it is premature to claim that one view explains things better than another, since we are not even sure if there is anything to explain yet.

Post-Flood Migration of Kangaroos

But as a thought experiment, how well do kangaroos in India fit with the idea of kangaroos migrating from the Middle East to Australia? Philip Robinson does some of this in his Creation article. Specifically, he shows an image of the continents as they would have appeared during the Ice Age. He uses an Ice Age map because that is when the majority of animal migration likely took place. He then shows a straight line from Turkey, through India, Indonesia, and finally reaching Australia. He notes that such a route runs very close to Andhra Pradesh, and that such a route would mostly cover dry land. There are a couple of spots where the kangaroos would have to pass over water, but they could have done so by swimming or rafting.[10] 

The migration of kangaroos as proposed by Robinson. The route starts at the X and ends at the dot. Note that this map shows the Earth during the Ice Age, hence the connection between land which is now divided into islands. Note also that the route does not pass through New Guinea (which is the “hat” sitting on top of Australia), even though the only place in Indonesia that has kangaroos today is New Guinea. Image from the Creation article, full citation in reference [3].

Unfortunately, I want to critique Robinson’s route. My first criticism is that he uses a route that passes through Indonesia because he notes that kangaroos are found in three modern countries: Australia, Papua New Guinea, and Indonesia. Thus, his route directly connects the Middle East, Indonesia, and Australia, since kangaroos are found in the latter two countries. However, it must be pointed out that the only reason Indonesia has kangaroos is because the western half of the island of New Guinea belongs to Indonesia (the eastern half is Papua New Guinea). There are hundreds of islands in Indonesia, but only one of them, New Guinea, contains any kangaroos. Yet, Robinson’s route leads through Indonesia but does not pass through New Guinea at all.  I find it odd that Robinson made sure to place the path of kangaroo migration through Indonesia but skipped the one part of Indonesia that actually has kangaroos. A post-Flood migration route would be more reasonable if it deliberately passed through New Guinea.

My second criticism is that Robinson’s route passes through the Indian Ocean. Now, it is only a small part of the Indian Ocean: it is just the gap between India and Indonesia. However, such an oceanic voyage seems unnecessary, given that the Middle East and Indonesia are connected by land (at least, they were connected, during the Ice Age). Being land animals, I presume that kangaroos would travel along land routes as much as possible. Now, New Guinea and Australia are separate from southeast Asian, and were separated, even during the Ice Age. Thus, kangaroos must have crossed seas at some point in order to reach New Guinea and Australia: it is simply inevitable. However, I think drawing a straight line from India to Indonesia creates an unnecessary ocean route, and that a simpler migration route would involve kangaroos skirting around India, or possibly reaching the northern most reaches of India, as they stuck to land during their migration. The only time we should show kangaroos crossing bodies of water is when it is necessary to do so, such as passing from Asia to New Guinea. Note that Andhra Pradesh is located down in the Indian peninsula, and thus would not be on a direct land route from the Middle East to Australia. Kangaroos in Andhra Pradesh would represent a divergence from what I consider to be the most likely kangaroo migration route.

My proposed route for kangaroo migration. It is a modification of Robinson’s map. Note that in this route, kangaroos remain on land as much as possible, only traveling across water when necessary. Also, the route deliberately passes through New Guinea before the kangaroos spread down into Australia. The isolated dot in India is the location of Andhra Pradesh.

Some might say, “But the route through India and Indonesia just works so well. Wouldn’t an Indian Ocean crossing be okay, just because going through India works so well with the kangaroo-like rock art in Andhra Pradesh?” I want to make it clear: Robinson did not make this claim. He connected the Middle East, Indonesia, and Australia, and in doing so happened to cross India. However, I have already critiqued passing through Indonesia and missing New Guinea and creating an unnecessary oceanic voyage. I am addressing a separate argument, wherein some might prefer Robinson’s route because it “works so well” with the Andhra Pradesh rock art.

The problem with the “works so well” argument is that it fails to detach the Andhra Pradesh rock art from the kangaroos migration from the Middle East to Australia. Detachable means that two ideas independently describe the same thing.[11] In the example of the kangaroo route and the kangaroo-like rock art, the two ideas are detachable if we are able to explain each one independently from the other. The kangaroo-like rock art might put kangaroos in Andhra Pradesh. That is one idea, separate from the post-Flood migration of kangaroos. Does the migration from the Middle East to Australia also put kangaroos in Andhra Pradesh? Robinson’s does, mine does not. However, both of our routes were made independently of the Andhra Pradesh rock art: we did not make our routes in order to put kangaroos in Andhra Pradesh. Robinson’s happened to do so, mine did not. However, claiming that Robinson’s “works better” because it passes through Andhra Pradesh presumes that a kangaroo route should pass through Andhra Pradesh. Both ideas (the kangaroo-like rock art and the migration route) are combined into one idea: they are not detachable. Since the two ideas are not detachable, it doesn’t explain anything: kangaroos end up in Andhra Pradesh because the migration route “needs” to pass through Andhra Pradesh in order to explain the kangaroo-like rock art.

If we detach the migration route from the Andhra Pradesh rock art, I see no particular reason to use Robinson’s route. Again, it unnecessarily passes through the Indian Ocean and it fails to pass through New Guinea. Considering Robinson’s route on its own, I do not think that it is a very good possible route for post-Flood kangaroo migration.

I realize that I just gave my opinion. I have little to base it on other than what “seems right” to me. However, I believe that Robinson is in the same boat: it “seemed right” to him for kangaroo migration to pass as directly from the Middle East through Indonesia into Australia. He does not provide any other support for his route: no remains of kangaroos in India or Indonesia (excluding the island of New Guinea), no written records of kangaroos in these locations, and so forth. The fact that both of our routes are speculation shows how little information there is to use to reconstruct a kangaroo migration route. If we put aside the Andhra Pradesh rock art, since its identification is tentative right now, the only things we have are the Middle East (because that is where the Ark landed) and New Guinea and Australia (since that is where kangaroos currently live). That is very little information to go on, meaning that any kangaroo migration route will necessarily be speculative. Thus, whether or not the migration of kangaroos can explain the kangaroo-like art in India is uncertain.

The (Limited) Fossil Record

In the Scroll.in article, paleontologist Sunil Bajpai notes that marsupial fossils have been found in India. I did my own investigation and was able to find articles describing the fossils that he mentions. There is indeed a fossil taxon, Indodelphis, that has been described in India since 2005.[12] Even though Indodelphis is based solely on teeth, its identification as a marsupial appears to have stood the test of time, as a 2022 article continues to identify it as a marsupial.[13] Unfortunately, Indodelphis has nothing to do with kangaroos. Instead, it belongs to the family Didelphidae, the family that includes the Virginia opossum and most of the South American opossums. While it is interesting to note the prior distribution of American opossums, it has no bearing on kangaroos, as kangaroos almost certainly belong to a separate kind from American opossums. Keep in mind, kinds travelled from the Ark to their present distributions, not order or classes. To an evolutionists, the presence of any marsupial in India might have a bearing on kangaroos in India, since he believes that all marsupials share a common heritage. To a creationist, however, while we can classify opossums and kangaroos as marsupials, they share no common heritage as they are separate kinds, and thus the distribution of one does not have a bearing on the distribution of the other.[14]

When all of this information is taken together, I conclude that the kangaroo-like rock art in Andhra Pradesh has no bearing on our understanding of post-Flood kangaroos migration. The kangaroo migration may have passed by India, but that does not necessarily mean that kangaroos were in Andhra Pradesh. The kangaroo-like rock art has not yet been established as true kangaroo rock art. Finally, there are no remains, fossil or otherwise, of kangaroos in India. Thus, the kangaroo-like rock art in India stands alone as an interesting tidbit of information. Further information may confirm or deny the prior existence of kangaroos in India, but until that happens, the explanation that kangaroos are limited to Australia and New Guinea is the best supported idea.

Thoughts from Steven

[1]Sure, once they left the Ark, they were no longer under Noah and his family’s care. However, if the kangaroos immediately began migrating, were they actually living in the Middle East, or were they just passing through? Again, this is a semantic question.

[2]Anupama Chandrasekaran (2019) “Did kangaroos ever live in India? A new discovery has some archaeologists hopping with excitement” Scroll.in, retrieved from https://scroll.in/magazine/921926/did-kangaroos-ever-live-in-india-a-new-discovery-has-archaeologists-hopping-with-excitement on July 14, 2022

[3]Philip Robinson (2019) “Kangaroos in India?” Creation.com, retrieved from https://creation.com/kangaroos-in-india on July 15, 2022

[4]Brian Thomas (2019) “Indian Kangaroo Pictographs Challenge Evolution” ICR.com, retrieved from https://www.icr.org/article/indian-kangaroo-pictographs-challenge-evolution/ on July 16, 2022

[5]Dadi (2021) “Rock Painting Sites in Andhra Pradesh” retrieved from https://www.blacktronica.com/rock-painting-sites-in-andhra-pradesh/ on July 16, 2022

[6]Larry Vardiman (2005) “Introduction” in Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth: Results of a Young-Earth Creationist Research Initiative Larry Vardiman, Andrew Snelling, Eugene Chaffin, eds, Institute for Creation Research, El Cajon, California, pg. 14-15

[7]There are a few species of tree kangaroos in New Guinea. They are the only naturally occurring populations of kangaroos outside of Australia.

[8]There are probably other creationist ideas for why kangaroos are limited to Australia, but that explanation is the one that I think has the most merit. The point is, creationists have explained the limited distribution of kangaroos.

[9]Brian Thomas (2019) “Indian Kangaroo Pictographs Challenge Evolution” ICR.com, retrieved from https://www.icr.org/article/indian-kangaroo-pictographs-challenge-evolution/ on July 16, 2022

[10]Rafting is riding floating mats of vegetation as they drift along ocean currents. Such a method of travel is quite reasonable and features quite prominently in creationist explanations for post-Flood distribution of animals. Evolutionists also cite rafting as a possible method of animal dispersal, so it is an accepted idea in biology.

[11]William Dembski (1998) The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance Through Small Probabilities Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, pg. 145-151. Dembski’s description of detachability is very technical: I am using a very simplified explanation. While Dembski used it to build his design inference argument, I think that it has explanatory power outside of design inference.

[12]Sunil Bajpai, Vivesh Kapur, J. G. M. Thewissen, B. N. Tiwari, and Debasis Das (2005) “First fossil marsupials from India: Early Eocene Indodelphis n. gen. and Jaegeria n. gen. from Vastan lignite mine, district Surat, Gujarat” Journal of the Palaeontological Society of India 50(1): 147-151

[13]Vivesh Kapur, N. Carolin, S. Bajpai (2022) “Early Paleogene mammal faunas of India: a review of recent advances with implications for the timing of initial Indian-Asia contact” Himalayan Geology 43(1B): 337-356

[14]Earlier in this post, I explained the kangaroo’s restriction to Australia as a result of marsupials taking refuge in Australia. Why did I talk about marsupials as a group then but I am drawing a distinction between marsupials kinds now? Because Didelphidae is one of the few marsupials kinds that is not restricted to Australia. They are not found in Australia at all. Thus, there is no reason to think that their global distribution, pre- or post-Flood, mimicked that of kangaroos.

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