Thursday, November 30, 2006
Archaeologists have found a stone snake that was carved long ago inside a cave in the Kalahari Desert of Botswana. It is as tall as a man and 20 feet long.
Scientists believed that human intelligence had not evolved the capacity to perform group rituals until 40,000 years ago. But this discovery of 70,000 year-old artifacts appears to represent the first known human rituals.
"You could see the mouth and eyes of the snake. It looked like a real python," said Sheila Coulson of the University of Oslo. "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."
They also found spearheads made of stone that would have been brought to the cave from hundreds of miles away, and then burned.
There was no sign of normal habitation or ordinary tools at the site.
The modern San people of the region have legends that mankind descended from the python. They believe that the ancient dry stream beds around the hills were created by their python ancestor as it circled ceaselessly, looking for water.
"Our find means that humans were more organized and had the capacity for abstract thinking at a much earlier point in history than we have previously assumed," Coulson said. "All of the indications suggest that Tsodilo has been known to mankind for almost 100,000 years as a very special place in the pre-historic landscape."
The scientists found a secret chamber behind the python carving, where the shaman could have hidden himself. He would have had a good view of the inside of the cave while remaining invisible himself. When he spoke from his hiding place, it would have seemed as if the voice came from the snake. There was also a small shaft off the back through which he could leave the chamber.
What is most amazing to me is that mankind has had the capacity for nearly 100,000 years to create rituals involving abstract thinking, but has evolved into a race that ritually watches moronic TV shows while burning out brain cells. Our shamans speak to us from within the large box while the airwaves circle ceaselessly, creating arid places in our minds.
The Wizard of Oz, the Holy Grail, and the Kalahari Python got nothin' on us. With such brilliant beginnings, we could have done better.