Dawn of American religion found

Daily Telegraph (England), Apr. 15, 2003
By Roger Highfield, Science Editor

The oldest image of a deity in the Americas has been discovered by archaeologists – pushing back the origin of religion there by 1,000 years.

A 4,250-year-old gourd fragment found in a looted cemetery on the Peruvian coast, 120 miles north of Lima, bears an archaic image of the Staff God, which was the principal deity in the region for millennia.

“Like the cross, the Staff God is a clearly recognisable religious icon,” said Jonathan Haas, of The Field Museum in Chicago. “This appears to be the oldest identifiable religious icon found in the Americas. It indicates that organised religion began in the Andes more than 1,000 years earlier than previously thought.”

The Staff God is an iconic motif long associated with several Andean cultures. The figure is commonly shown in a frontal view, with a fanged mouth and splayed and clawed feet. Snakes are often part of the figure’s headdress or integrated into its garments. Most commonly, the deity is depicted holding a staff.

The newly found fragment has been radiocarbon-dated to 2,250 BC, the journal Archaeology reported. It bears a simple, incised and painted image of the deity.

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