12/03/2006

Canadian unearths 70,000-year-old religious snake icon

A Canadian archeologist has discovered what's being hailed as the world's oldest known religious artifact: a six-metre-long, serpentine rock carving made 70,000 years ago by a prehistoric, python-worshipping people in what is now the African nation of Botswana.

The find -- sure to startle Christians steeped in satanic images of snakes -- is described as revolutionary for understanding the origins of human ritual, pushing the roots of religion back 30,000 years and moving its apparent birthplace from Stone Age Europe to ancient southern Africa.

Called a "startling archeological discovery" that "changes our understanding of human history," the snake carving was found in a cave in northwestern Botswana's Tsodilo region, a petroglyph-rich oasis of rock hills in the middle of the Kalahari desert.

"You see these hills jutting out of the sand and you know that this place just had to get your attention as a hunter-gatherer 70,000 years ago," Sheila Coulson, a Vancouver-born archeologist with the University of Oslo, said yesterday.

"You definitely get a feeling about those hills. It's just like walking into a church."

Ms. Coulson, 56, who began her archeology training at Simon Fraser University, revealed the find this week after leading a two-year probe of the site, known to the local San culture as "the Mountain of the Gods."

Canadian unearths 70,000-year-old religious snake icon

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