Ancient Petroglyph of Creature That Is Half Man Half Mantis Discovered in Iran

An ancient petroglyph depicting a creature that is half mantis, half man, has been discovered in central Iran. The rock art dates to somewhere between 40,000 and 4,000 years ago, and suggests the preying mantis has fascinated humans for thousands of years.

The "unique" piece of rock art was found in the Markazi Province during a survey of petroglyphs in the area over 2017 and 2018. After researchers noticed the unusual carving, they enlisted the help of an archaeologist to describe it. Findings are published in the Journal of Orthoptera Research.

While petroglyphs often depict larger animals, those representing a six-legged creature that appeared to be an invertebrate are not. The carving appears to have a triangular head, large eyes and the arms of a preying mantis. By analyzing the features further, the team concluded it is of an Empusa, a species of preying mantis found in Iran. They also note the carving appears to have legs that feature a symbol representative of the "squatting man" motif found in rock art across the world.

"The Iranian motif seems to be a combination of 'praying mantis' and 'squatting (squatter) man,' so it is hereby named 'squatting (squatter) mantis man,'" the researchers wrote.

The zoomorphic petroglyphs found in the mountainous regions of Iran are believed to have been created by nomadic tribes that lived there. The research project to survey them aimed to identify the animals depicted.

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"Humanity's interest in the praying mantis can be dated to prehistoric times," the researchers wrote. "Praying mantids had great value to the Mesopotamian people who established the first civilization. In the Egyptian Book of the Dead (written on papyrus, 1555–1350 B.C.), praying mantids appear as the abyt-bird (bird-fly or bird-dancer), a smaller divinity of the underworld and a guide that accompanies the dead along their path in the Royal Palace of the great divine spirits... The main question is why prehistoric man was fascinated by mantids as far back as at least 4,000 years ago, and, consequently, why did they start scratching their images into solid rocks?"

The team suggests it could relate to a "controversial hypothesis" proposed in the 1980s that says rock art was connected to the consumption of hallucinogenic plants. They also highlight the hunting ability of mantids, so may have been an inspiration to early humans.

"The useless but astonishing praying mantids could have merited petroglyphs of their forms by being part of ancient religions, fears, or admirations," they conclude.