Saturday, December 02, 2006

Archaeologist claims Pythons worshipped 70,000 years ago


An ar­chae­ol­o­gist claims to have found evi­dence of what may have been man­kind?s ear­li­est rit­u­als: wor­ship of the py­thon, 70,000 years ago in Af­rica.

Un­til now, schol­ars have large­ly held that the first ri­t­u­als oc­curred over 40,000 years ago in Eu­rope, ac­cord­ing to Shei­la Coul­son of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Os­lo in Nor­way.

Coul­son ar­gues that an­cient wor­ship­pers saw the like­ness of a py­thon in this rock, and pock­marked it to mim­ic snake skin. (Full image here. Pho­to: Shei­la Coul­son)

Coul­son said she turned up ev­i­dence of the py­thon cer­e­mo­n­ies while stu­dy­ing the or­i­gin of the San peo­ple of Nga­mi­land, a sparse­ly in­hab­it­ed part of north­west­ern Bot­swa­na.

?Our find means that hu­mans were more or­ga­n­ised and had the ca­pac­i­ty for ab­s­tract think­ing? much ear­li­er than pre­vi­ously as­sumed, she said.

Coulson said she found the ev­i­dence while seek­ing Mid­dle Stone Age ar­ti­facts in the Ka­la­ha­ri De­s­ert?s Tso­di­lo Hills, an iso­lat­ed clus­ter of small peaks with the world?s larg­est con­cen­tra­tion of rock paint­ings.

The hills are still sa­cred to the San, who call them the ?Moun­tains of the Gods? and the ?Rock that Whis­pers.?

San mythology holds that man­kind de­scended from the py­thon. An­cient, ar­id stream­beds around the hills are said to have been made by the snake as it cir­cled, cease­less­ly seek­ing wa­ter. Coul­son said her find shows lo­cal peo­ple had a spe­cif­ic place for py­thon-re­lated rit­u­als: a small cave on the hills? north­ern side, so se­clud­ed and hard-to-ac­cess that it was was un­known to ar­chae­ol­o­gy un­til the past de­cade.

The spear­heads were de­scribed as par­ti­cu­lar­ly beau­ti­ful, and as brought to the site from hun­d­reds of kilo­me­ters away. (Pho­to: Shei­la Coul­son)

When she en­tered it this sum­mer with three mas­ter?s stu­dents, they no­ticed a rock re­sem­bling a huge py­thon?s head, she said.

The six-meter-long by two-meter-tall (20 feet by 6.6 feet) stone bore more than 300 dents that she ar­gues are man-made.

?You could see the mouth and eyes of the snake. It looked like a real py­thon. The play of sun­light over the in­den­ta­tions gave them the ap­pear­ance of snake skin. At night, the fire­light gave one the feel­ing that the snake was ac­tu­al­ly mov­ing.?

There was no sign of re­cent work on the rock; its sur­face was heav­i­ly worn, she said.