KEY POINTS

  • A 'Mantis Man' petroglyph was discovered at a site in Iran
  • The Mantis Man appears to depict a mantid with six limbs, a triangle head and forearms
  • The rock art shows humans' fascination with mantids since prehistoric times

A team of archaeologists and entomologists came together to identify a unique rock art that was discovered at the Teymareh rock art site in central Iran. The petroglyph has been described as part man and part mantis.

The so-called Mantis Man was first spotted during the surveys of sites in 2017 and 2018. However, the 14-centimeter petroglyph could not be identified because of how unusual it looks. It had six limbs that each end in circles, a triangle head with big eyes and grasping forearms.

The rock art easily looks like a praying mantis and experts have since narrowed down its possible genus to Empusa, a genus local to the region. It is possible, researchers say, that the Empusa genus was already present in the region at the time that the carvings were made. On the other hand, it is also possible that the carvings were inspired by another mantid species that lived in the region but no longer exists today.

Mantis Man Image: "Mantis Man" petroglyph discovered in Iran (left) and Empusa hedenborgii (right). Photo: Mohammad Naserifard/Pensoft Publishers

The researchers note that it is so far not possible to tell exactly how old the Mantis Man petroglyphs are because Iran prohibits the use of the materials that are needed to conduct radiocarbon dating. However, they estimate that the Mantis Man carvings were likely created between 40,000 and 4,000 years ago based on a chronological survey.

'Squatter Man'

According to the researchers, the Mantis Man's middle limbs that end in circles are reminiscent of another archaeology wonder: the "Squatter Man." The Squatter Man is another petroglyph figure that has been found in various parts of the world such as in Arizona, New Mexico, Armenia, Spain, Italy, Venezuela, and United Arab Emirates.

A possible explanation for the Squatter Man is that it depicts a human holding circular objects. Some archaeologists, however, believe that I could be linked to the aurora phenomenon due to plasma discharge.

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

'The World Of Men And Gods'

As for the reasoning behind why they were created in the first place, the researchers say that it is possible that the ancient humans linked mantids to the supernatural.

For instance, praying mantids were of great value to the Mesopotamian people, while in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, praying mantids to appear as the abyt-bird, a divinity of the underworld that guides the dead.

"The praying mantis has since ancient times been a symbol for the supernatural, or that which stands between 'the world of men and gods,'" the researchers wrote.