Pre-Islamic Middle Eastern regions were home to mysterious snake cults, according to two papers published in this month's Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy journal.From at least 1250 B.C. until around 550 A.D., residents of what is now the Persian Gulf worshipped snakes in elaborate temple complexes that appear to have been built for this purpose, the studies reveal. The first paper, by archaeologist Dan Potts of the University of Sydney, describes architecture and relics dating to 500 B.C. from Qalatal-Bahrain in Bahrain.Two rooms in what is now known as the Late Dilmun Palace each contain 39 pits, some of which surround what appears to have been an altar.
At least 32 of the pits housed ceramic vessels containing bones from rat snakes and sea snakes.
The remains showed no signs of mutilation.
"They were in cloth bags,
now badly decomposed, and that might suggest that they had been buried
alive, i.e. put into a bag, placed in a bowl, and then buried in the
ground," Potts told Discovery News.
Some bowls found at the
site have been identified as "wine-drinking" cups. Potts, however, does
not necessarily think that wine consumption accompanied the snake
rituals, which he speculates were meant to confer protection and good
decorated with snakes, snake artwork and even ancient oral traditions,
such as the Epic of Gilgamesh, which originated at early Arabic sites
and paid homage to snakes.
In the second paper,
archaeologist Anne Benoist of the Eastern Archaeology Laboratory at the
National Center for Scientific Research in France describes yet another
Iron Age temple complex linked to snake cults.
Excavation of the site, at
Al Bithnah in the United Arab Emirates, revealed both indoor and
open-air altars, chapel-like structures, incense burners, man-made
pools of water and numerous vessels and objects decorated with snakes.
Most of the snakes were
depicted with triangular heads and scales, which Benoist said suggests
"a viper species, which is striking, as they are venomous and therefore
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