A prehistoric rock carving described as a half-man, half praying mantis with six limbs and “raptorial forearms” discovered in Iran constitutes one of the few known petroglyphs depicting an insect. Though it sheds a light into the understanding of ancient humans, its discovery presents more questions than answers.
The aptly nicknamed “Squatting Mantis Man” was found in 2017 at a well-known rock site called Teymareh in Central Iran. A year later, archaeologists consulted with entomologists in order to identify its unusual shape.
“Characteristics of the petroglyph are a large triangular head equipped with a vertical extension, large eyes, opened forelegs, intermediately looped mid-legs, and curved hind-legs,” write the study authors in the Journal of Orthoptera Research. “The motif seems to have raised and opened its forelegs laterally, so it may depict a menacing mantid.”
Measuring just 14-centimeters (1.5-inches), the insect appears to represent an insect with middle limbs ending in what looks like a half-circle. But petroglyphs of invertebrates are rare, typically archaeologists find mammals, large game, or plants that would have been used by early humans for food or survival purposes. Rather, the closest image that represents Squatting Mantis Man is “Squatter Man,” a petroglyph figure found around the world depicting a person surrounded by circles. Theories for this humanistic depiction range from simply a person holding circular objects to those that believe the circles represent auroras “associated with aurora phenomenon due to plasma discharge,”
Current regulations in Iran prohibit the use of radioactive materials needed for radiocarbon dating, but experts believe the carvings may have been made between 4,000 and 40,000 years ago. It is unclear why ancient humans would have created such an image in the first place, though it appears that the praying mantis may have been linked to the supernatural.
“While it is difficult to interpret prehistoric petroglyphs, morphological similarity and distinct features suggest the inspected petroglyph likely symbolizes a praying mantid. Mantid-like motifs have been found in several regions around the world – some were even considered as alien symbols – but humanity’s interest in the praying mantis can be dated to prehistoric times,” conclude the researchers, adding that perhaps of larger interest is the understanding of why humans “start scratching their images into solid rocks” in the first place.
Rock art is found around the world and remains an integral part of the history of humankind, serving as both nonverbal and visual communication to express feelings and opinions, add the authors.