Offerings to a Stone Snake Provide the Earliest Evidence of Religion

By | December 8, 2006

Offerings to a Stone Snake Provide the Earliest Evidence of Religion

The discovery of carvings on a snake-shaped rock along with 70,000-year-old spearheads nearby has dramatically pushed back the earliest evidence for ritual behavior, or what could be called religion. The finding, which researchers have yet to formally publish, comes from a cave hidden in the Tsodilo Hills of Botswana, a mecca of sorts for the local people, who call it the Mountain of the Gods.

“It’s very big news,” says Sheila Coulson, an archaeologist at the University of Oslo in Norway and leader of the study. Prior to the discovery, researchers had identified signs of ritual practice going back at most 40,000 years from sites in Europe.

Researchers believe that anatomically modern humans emerged from East Africa perhaps 120,000 years ago. “The difficulty was always this incredible time lag between that occurrence and any more complex aspect of the culture other than just basic survival,” Coulson says.

Although some carved ornaments and wall markings from another African site are as old as the new find, they seem to have had no obvious ritual significance. … in a one-meter-wide, two-meter-deep excavation right next to the snake, the researchers uncovered more than 100 multicolored spear points from a total of 13,000 man-made artifacts.

The tips closely resemble those found elsewhere in Africa that researchers have dated at up to 77,000 years old, Coulson says. Judging from the rare colors of the stone points and the pattern of fragments, people from far and wide likely brought them to the cave partially made and finished working them there, she explains. – sciam

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