The Shigir Idol is the oldest wooden sculpture in the world. But how old is it? Until recently, experts thought they knew. But recent studies are shedding light on this question.
The answer to it is more than unexpected: the Ural Idol is almost three times older than Stonehenge and the pyramids of Giza! What other secrets have scientists revealed about this unusual artifact further in the review?
What is the Shigir Idol
The Idol is about four meters long. It represents a somewhat awkward at first glance arrangement of elements. It is made from a single piece of freshly sawn larch. Some scholars assumed at first that this is a totem pole. Experts disagree with this; they insist that the lower part of the Shigir idol was not dug into the ground to support it. Instead, it leaned against a tree or, more likely, against a rock on the riverbank.
The Idol destroyed scholars’ understanding of the early period of the ritual art of hunter-gatherers at the end of the ice age. Tests have shown that the Shigir Idol is much older than initially thought. Scientists have determined that it is almost twelve thousand years old. These were seven millennia more than Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids. This sculpture unexpectedly reveals the full depth of artistic talent.
The octahedral Idol is decorated with geometric patterns. According to archaeologist Thomas Thurberger, the head “projects authority, possibly a malevolent authority.” The scholar has studied Idol for many years. According to other experts, the Idol was not dug into the ground like other totem poles. He stood on a relatively rigid foundation. Perhaps on a stone plinth because the bottom of the pillar was slightly flattened. The Idol could be tied with straps to secure it in place.
No damage was found on the Idol, no signs of resistance. If support beams or pitchforks were used, there would be clear marks, but the researchers did not find them. Scientists assumed that the Idol was put on a raft, and it floated on the lake. There is no evidence of this. Analysis of the lower part of the pillar shows that, most likely, it stood on some stone found in the open air and did not have any supports.
Experts suggest two options – you can lean it either against a rock or a tree. It is enough to remove a few branches from, say, pine or spruce to create proper support for the Idol. After that, it was most likely fastened with leather straps that would not leave any significant marks. The Idol stood at the very edge of the water, in a somewhat secluded place.
Dendrologist Karl-Uwe Heussner says that the Shigir idol stood like this on the lake for about 20 years. Then a big crack emerges in the middle, followed by a series of smaller ones. The Idol fell into the water, where it swam for about a year, and then sank to the bottom of the lake, and peat deposits formed around it.
The actual age of the world’s oldest wooden sculpture
It used to be assumed that he was about several hundred years old. The radiocarbon dating method used to determine the age of the sculpture in 2018 showed it to be 11,600 years old. Later, experts used several advanced techniques to study the Idol. Even the principles of nuclear physics were tried – the sculpture was investigated at the atomic level.
Of course, it is not strange that the experts came to the wrong conclusion in the beginning. After all, this genuinely ancient miracle is perfectly preserved. These significantly interfered with an accurate assessment. Wax and wood pigments had a significant impact on the results of early research. The Idol seemed much younger than he was. After that, scientists carefully studied the raw samples and determined the actual age of the sculpture.
Shigir idol – a mystery of Siberia
Early research claimed that this Mesolithic Idol depicts demons. In our modern understanding, this word has only a negative connotation. He has an extensive range of meanings – from the devil to a beautiful genius. The age of the sculpture is so solid that it is difficult even to guess its true meaning.
The complex style of performance contradicted all ideas about the culture of that time. Idol was not taken too seriously. Some scientists even called it a fake. The point may be that the ritual art is more diverse than the depictions of animals and hunting scenes associated with the Mesolithic period, also called the Middle Stone Age.
How the Shigir idol was discovered
The Shigir Idol is very remarkable for the position in which it was found among the Ural mountains in Siberia. Miners in search of gold in the Shigir peat bog, hence the sculpture’s name, pulled its fragments out of the silt more than 100 years ago. He lay at a depth of almost five meters. Under these conditions, the Idol was in the archaeological equivalent of an exhibition hall. For centuries, peat has helped to preserve it perfectly. Local enthusiast Dmitry Lobanov restored the Idol. A little later, other experts gave it a more precise and finished form.
Who or what is this sculpture based on? According to scientists, the high cheekbones and straight nose of the Shigir idol may reflect what its creators looked like. The co-author of the study, Svetlana Savchenko, notes the similarities between the Shigir idol and the most ancient place of worship on the planet – Gobekli Tepe. Ultimately, however, the meaning of this mysterious sculpture is still unknown.
Revealing the secrets of the Idol is the next step, and it’s the most difficult one. Is this a sculpture that represents the changing times of ancient peoples? Did they worship him? Or could it be something completely different? Currently, the Idol is in the Sverdlovsk Regional Museum of Local Lore in Yekaterinburg. You can go and see and form your own opinion.
The mysterious Shigir Idol, with its expressive face, O-shaped mouth, and weird zigzag lines, is considered one of the oldest examples of immortal art in the world. The vast ancient wooden statue with eight faces remains a mystery.
Scientists have put forward many versions. They believe that it could be some spirits, and not deities, because the gods appeared later. Also, you can’t underestimate the people who created it. They had all the necessary skills and tools and a rather complex view of the world, which in their understanding was inhabited by spirits. Not only animals or trees were spiritualized, but even stones. Perhaps it was something close to animism.
In any case, the Shigir idol is an image that traces the unity and diversity of the world that surrounded its creators. For them, it was not divided into good and evil spirits.
The scientific world is still extremely far from solving the old code left by the creators of the Shigir idol. There is nothing like it on the earth; no written data remains. Suggestions that it could be something like a totem pole are just a theory. It could also be a hidden sacred site, but there is not enough evidence to support either of these versions.