A unique rock carving found in the Teymareh rock art site (Khomein county) in Central Iran has been described as part man, part mantis.
A team of entomologists and archaeologists compared the carving, estimated at 40,000 to 4,000 years old, with others around the world and with the six-legged creatures which its prehistoric artists could have encountered.
The six limbs suggest an insect, while the triangular head with big eyes and grasping forearms are unmistakably like those of a praying mantid.
The researchers report that the extension on its head even helps narrow the identification to a particular genus of mantids in this region: Empusa.
Even more mysterious are the middle limbs, which end in loops or circles. The closest parallel to this in archaeology is the ‘Squatter Man,’ a petroglyph figure found around the world depicting a person flanked by circles.
While they could represent a person holding circular objects, an alternative hypothesis is that the circles represent auroras caused by atmospheric plasma discharges.
One can only guess why prehistoric people felt the need to carve a mantis-man into rock, but the petroglyph suggests humans have linked mantids to the supernatural since ancient times.
As the authors report in the Journal of Orthoptera Research, the carving bears witness, “that in prehistory, almost as today, praying mantids were animals of mysticism and appreciation”.