the lord of the gourd

Archeologists have discovered the oldest known depiction of a deity found in the Americas, a 4,000-year-old gourd fragment incised with an image of the Staff God, a principal god in the South American pantheon. The Staff God, a fanged, splay-footed creature, is usually portrayed with a staff in its hand (hence the name). It remained, in various incarnations, an important deity for thousands of years, until Europeans overthrew the Inca empire in the 16th century. Jonathan Haas of Chicago’s Field Museum and his colleagues unearthed the fragment at a burial site along the coast of Peru. “Like the cross, the Staff God is a clearly recognizable religious icon,” Haas stated in a press release. The fragment bearing the simply drawn, 3 -inch figure has been carbon dated to 2250 BC. “It indicates,” Haas said, “that organized religion began in the Andes more than 1,000 years earlier than previously thought.”

This news brief appeared in the Random Data column of the Boston Globe’s Health/Science section on 4/22/2003.
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