Oldest Wooden Statue in the World: The 11,000-Year-Old Shigir Idol
The Shigir Idol is considered to be one of the most important and mysterious pieces of pre-historic art from ancient Europe. The ancient wooden carving, which today sits in a museum in Russia, has been dated at around 11,000 years old, making it 5,000 to 6,000 years older than Britain’s famous Stonehenge monument and twice as old as the Egyptian pyramids.
Not only is it the oldest wooden statue in the world, but standing as tall as a two-story building, it is also the highest wooden statue from the ancient world. Covered with strange markings and geometric symbols using beaver teeth tools, some researchers believe this carving contains coded information about the creation of the world left behind by man from the Mesolithic era.
Discovery of the Shigir Idol
The Shigir Idol was discovered in January 1890 in the Sverdlovsk region, in the western fringes of Siberia, Russia. It was preserved, as if in a time capsule, about 4 meters (13.5 feet) below the surface, and protected through the millennia by a layer of peat bog on the site of an open air gold mine. Its survival was due to the anti-bacterial effects of the peat, which prevented it from rotting.
When it was discovered, the idol was in numerous fragments. A Russian professor by the name of Dmitry Lobanov, pieced together the fragments to reconstruct a figure roughly 2.8 meters in height. Unfortunately, almost 2 meters of the artifact had gone missing during Russin's 20th century political turmoil. However, Siberian archeologist Vladimir Tolmachev, had carefully recorded all the pieces through sketches, and in 1914, he was able to incorporated other unused fragments into the finished work, increasing its height to 5.3 meters (17.4ft). Later, some of these pieces were accidentally destroyed, so Tolmachev’s drawings are all that remain of them.
The Shigir Idol (Screengrab from YouTube video: Nemesis Maturity )
Shigir Idol: An artistic masterpiece
Today, the Shigir Idol stands at 2.8 m (9.2 feet), though it was originally 5.3 m (17.4 feet) tall. It was carved from larch timber and was shaped using tools made from beaver jaws. Beavers have exceptional abilities to carve through trees due to their very strong and sharp cutter teeth. Ancient people made use of halves of beaver lower jaws with teeth intact in order to create a very useful tool that was convenient for carving concave surfaces.
Its body is flat and rectangular with a series of horizontal lines at the approximate level of the thorax, which appear to represent ribs. According to researchers, there are seven faces represented in this statue. On both the front and back, there are three figures located one above the other, with the upper seventh figure connecting both sides, completing the composition. It is believed that the Idol reflects what its creators looked like, with straight noses and high cheekbones. The impression of the top three-dimensional face, with a gaping mouth, looks Aztec, but this is only because part of the nose on the face has been broken off.
The face of the Shigir Idol. (Screengrab from YouTube video: Nemesis Maturity )
The wooden surface of the Shigir Idol is decorated with Mesolithic symbols and geometrical motifs such as chevrons, herring-bone, straight lines, squiggly lines, and other abstract symbols, none of which have been deciphered to date. According to researchers, these symbols were not just decorative but had meaning for the creator(s). Some believe that the structure's faces carry encoded information from ancient man in the Mesolithic era concerning their understanding of the creation of the world. If so, this would make the Shigir Idol the world’s oldest code on the planet, written around 9,500 years ago.
Markings on the Shigir Idol. (Screengrab from YouTube video: Nemesis Maturity )
If there is indeed coded information about the origin of humans and the world, the vertical arrangement of the images may reflect the sequence of events and relate to some kind of hierarchy. Some have even claimed the Idol includes primitive writing, which, if true, would be amongst the first on Earth. A leading researcher and professor of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Archaeology, Mikhail Zhilin, explained his experiences and gave his thoughts on the Shigir Idol:
“This is a masterpiece, carrying gigantic emotional value and force. It is a unique sculpture, there is nothing else in the world like this … The ornament is covered with nothing but encrypted information. People were passing on knowledge with the help of the Idol. ”
Does the Shigir Idol contain coded messages? (Screengrab from YouTube video: Nemesis Maturity )
An ancient map?
Others have postulated that the Shigir Idol may have been an early map, and that the straight lines, wavy lines, and arrows, indicate ways of getting to a destination and the number of days for a journey. According to one theory, which has yet to be fully researched, waves on the statue mean water, straight lines mean ravines, and arrows indicate hills.
Another theory is the possibility that it may be an early prototype of the totem pole, popularized by North American Indians who may also have originated in Siberia. However, the problem of these various interpretations lies in the multiple meanings behind the symbols. According to ethnography, a straight line could denote land, or horizon; the boundary between earth and sky, water and sky, or the borderline between worlds. A wavy or zigzag line might symbolize the watery element, a snake or lizard, or determine a certain border. In addition, a zigzag can signal danger, like a pike. Cross, rhombus, square, circle can depict the fire or sun, and so on.
Oldest wooden art in the world
The Shigir Idol has been radiocarbon dated to 7,500 B.C. by the Institute of the History for the Material Culture in St Petersburg, and Institute of Geology in Moscow, making it the oldest art of its type in the world.
In 2014, German researchers from the Lower Saxony State Office for Cultural Heritage began a new series of tests using accelerated mass spectrometry (AMS), to pinpoint the exact date of the statue to within a matter of decades.
There is no doubt that the anthropomorphic Shigir Idol is one of the greatest sculptures of ancient times and stands as a testament to ancient man’s creativity and ingenuity. At present, the Shigir Idol is on display at the Yekaterinburg History Museum in Russia in a special glass sarcophagus filled with inert gas.
Top image: The Shigir Idol (Screengrab from YouTube video: Nemesis Maturity )
By Bryan Hill
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