Archaeologists from Taiwan’s National Tsing Hua University have discovered a 4,000-year-old snake made of ceramic that experts believe may have been used in prehistoric rituals, Newsweek reports.

The artifact, which may have been the handle to a ceramic pot, appears to represent the Taiwan Cobra, which, according to Heritage Daily, “is the only species of cobra from the family Elapidae native to Taiwan.”

The discovery announcement was first made via the university’s Facebook page, where the institution often posts new discoveries, several outlets reported.

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The ceramic artifact was discovered in an excavation site made up of sand dunes in Taoyuan City’s Guanyin District, on Taiwan’s northwest coast, an area where many artifacts that date back millennia have been discovered.

According to Chiu, the snake, and particularly it’s ability to shed its skin, was often embraced as a symbol of life, death, and rebirth by ancient societies. 

“Snakes are often regarded as symbolic animals in religion, mythology and literature, and are considered to be the bridge between heaven and man,” Hung-Lin Chiu, an associate professor at the Institute of Anthropology at Tsing Hua, told Newsweek.

Chiu said the snake handle was likely used by tribal shamans during sacrificial rituals. “This reflects that ancient societies incorporated animal images into ritual sacrificial vessels to demonstrate their beliefs and cognitive systems.” 

In September of last year archaeologists in Mexico found a large stone block, likely the cover to a vault, that was decorated with the image of a snake. In 2021, a wooden staff carved to look like a snake over 4,000 years ago was found in the wetlands of southwest Finland.