Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

The Aging of the Staff God. (Upfront)

Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

The Aging of the Staff God. (Upfront)

Article excerpt

RESEARCHERS IN Peru's Patavilca River Valley have uncovered a four-thousand-year-old-gourd fragment that appears to be the oldest identifiable religious icon in the Americas. The fragment bears the image of the Staff God, which was the main religious figure in South America until the Europeans arrived in 1532. Radiocarbon dating of the gourd to 2250 B.C. suggests that organized religion began in the Americas some thousand years earlier than previously determined.

Members of the Proyecto Arqueologico Norte Chico--Jonathan Haas of the Field Museum in Chicago, Winifred Creamer of Northern Illinois University, and Peruvian archaeologist Alvaro Ruiz--discovered the icon while they were collecting artifacts at a looted burial ground along the coast of Peru.

"We did some surface collection and found this gourd fragment," Haas says. "We looked at it and everybody's jaw dropped, and we said, 'This has all the characteristics of the Staff God.'"

The drawing's simplicity hinted at its age, and radiocarbon dating proved that this was the oldest image of the Staff God any researcher has uncovered so far. The team found a similar image also painted on a gourd at a nearby cemetery.

Worshiped as the creator, the Staff God appears in temples and artifacts throughout Andean cultures spanning thousands of years. The Staff God is recognizable by its fangs, splayed feet, and snake iconography. It is usually drawn with a staff in one or both of its hands and with snakes on a belt, on its hands, or coming out of its head. The icon Haas and his team found has splayed feet, a fanged mouth, and holds a staff. The left hand is curved in the form of a snake.

"The Staff God undergoes change and evolution over the course of two thousand to three thousand years. It emerges during the Inca time as the Creator God," Haas explains. …

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