A rare rock carving discovered in Iran depicts what looks like a six-legged mantis-man because it has long, oddly-bent arms and legs and a triangular head like a praying mantis. On the other hand – which it doesn’t seem to have – some experts think it’s a depiction of a Squatter Man, which is not rare but one of the most common petroglyphs in the world. You’ve never heard of the Squatter Man? Let’s find out about both of these strange creatures.
“A 14-cm motif of a six-legged creature with raptorial forearms was discovered in the Teymareh rock art site in central Iran (Markazi Province) during a 2017 and 2018 survey of petroglyphs or prehistoric stone engravings.”
Did we forget to mention the “raptorial forearms? This creature gets creepier by the minute, which is why entomologists Mahmood Kolnegari, Islamic Azad University of Arak, Iran; Mandana Hazrati, Avaye Dornaye Khakestari Institute, Iran; and Matan Shelomi, National Taiwan University were brought in to help archaeologist and rock art expert Mohammad Naserifard attempt to identify the petroglyph. Their findings are published in the open access Journal of Orthoptera Research and they read like a special effects shopping list for a Jurassic Park movie. (Photos of the petroglyph can be seen here.)
The earliest known rock art petroglyphs in Iran are in the central-west area of Teymareh and date back 7000 years ago, although the range may be much wider. This particular one stuck the initial discoverers as resembling a “Empusa hedenborgii” mantid native to this region that has an odd-shaped head like the carving. Mantids are mystical insects in many cultures and the upper arms and lower legs should close the deal on the identity … but then there’s those round things on the ends of the middle arms/legs.
“The closest parallel to this in archaeology is the 'Squatter Man,' a petroglyph figure found around the world depicting a person flanked by circles.”
The press release on the paper suggests this is just another form of a Squatter Man or Squatting Man petroglyph – which has been drawn by virtually all ancient cultures around the world. Figure is usually a stick man with the normal number of arms and legs and it definitely looks to be squatting. Because of that, the researchers eventually began referring to the Iranian figure as a Squatting Mantis Man. While humans are known to squat for a wide variety of reasons, it’s a mystery why Squatting Man or Squatting Mantis Man does it.
“The symbol is named “squatter man” (“squatting man”), and some archaeologists believe that the motif is associated with aurora phenomenon due to plasma discharge, specifically a “Z-pinch instability.”
Well, certain forms of discharging require squatting, but a plasma discharge? What they’re referring to is an atmospheric pressure glow discharge – an electrical ionized gas formation, the best known of which are the aurora borealis and aurora australis. It’s possible that this particular physical form of plasma discharge is long-lasting, allowing ancient cultures to observe them, fear them and draw them. In fact, if there was a period when these were frequent and widespread, it could explain why so many cultures drew them on walls at about the same time.
The authors of the paper like the Squatting Mantis Man idea better. The large insects -- with their ability to fly, prey on other large bugs and still look they’re praying for them – generated the kind of fascination that would draw them to drawing them. And, since they somewhat resemble humans, considering them to be some sort of hybrid is not all that far-fetched.
Didn’t Squatting Mantis Man tour with Adam and the Ants?