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Shigir Idol is oldest wooden sculpture monument in the world, say scientists

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26 August 2015


The Idol is more than 6,000 years older than the UK's Stonehenge. Picture: The Siberian Times 

One of Russia's greatest treasures, the Big Shigir Idol, has been dated by German scientists - and the results are 'sensational'.

More than twice the age of the Egyptian pyramids, the wooden monument - found in a peat bog in the Urals in 1890 - is 1,500 years older than previously suspected, according to the world's most advanced dating technology. 

'We can say the results are sensational,' said a source at Sverdlovsk Regional History Museum, where the breathtaking monument is on display. 

'The first attempt to date the idol was made 107 years after its discovery, in 1997. The first radiocarbon analyses showed that idol was 9,500 calendar years old, which led to disputes in scientific society.  To exclude doubts, and to make the results known and accepted, a decision was made to use the most modern technologies to date the Idol again. 

'Researches were conducted in Mannheim, Germany, at one of the world's most advanced laboratories using Accelerated Mass Spectrometry, on seven minuscule wooden samples. The results were astonishing, as samples from inside parts of the Idol showed its age as 11,000 calendar years, to the very beginning of the Holocene epoch. We also learned that the sculpture was made from a larch which was at least 157 years old.

'Clear cuts on the tree trunk leave no doubts that the Idol was made from a freshly cut tree, by stone tools'.

THE oldest wooden statue in the world 
There is nothing else in the world like this. Picture: The Siberian Times 

More details will be revealed at a press conference on Thursday but the source insisted: 'The research proves that the Big Shigir Idol is the world's oldest wooden sculpture, and an outstanding discovery, a key to understanding Eurasian art.'

The Idol is around the same age as anthropomorphic stone stelae found at the ancient site of Gobekli Tepe in modern-day Turkey. 

'This confirms that hunters and fishermen from Urals created works of art as developed and as monumental as ancient farmers of the Middle East,' said the museum.

The Idol - more than 6,000 years older than the UK's Stonehenge - was preserved 'as if in a time capsule' in the peat bog on the western fringes of Siberia.

Experts have surmised that its hieroglyphics contain encoded information on the 'creation of the world' from ancient man. It stands 2.8 metres in height but originally was 5.3 metres tall, as high as a two storey house. Almost two metres of the artifact went missing during Russian's 20th century political turmoil, though Siberian archaeologist Vladimir Tolmachev drew images of all the pieces.

THE oldest wooden statue in the world

THE oldest wooden statue in the world
The Idol was preserved 'as if in a time capsule' in the peat bog on the western fringes of Siberia. Pictures: The Siberian Times

Professor Mikhail Zhilin, leading researcher of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Archeology, has said previously: 'We study the Idol with a feeling of awe. 

'This is a masterpiece, carrying gigantic emotional value and force, a unique sculpture; there is nothing else in the world like this.

'It is very alive, and very complicated at the same time.

'The ornament is covered with nothing but encrypted information. People were passing on knowledge with the help of the Idol.'

While the messages remain 'an utter mystery to modern man', the Russian academic said its creators 'lived in total harmony with the world, had advanced intellectual development, and a complicated spiritual world'.

With Svetlana Savchenko, chief keeper of Shigir Idol at Yekaterinburg History Museum, he concludes that 'a straight line could denote land, or horizon - the boundary between earth and sky, water and sky, or the borderline between the worlds.

'A wavy line or zigzag symbolised the watery element, snake, lizard, or determined a certain border. In addition, the zigzag signaled danger, like a pike.

'Cross, rhombus, square, circle depicted the fire or the sun, and so on'.

Big Shigir Idol, Yekaterinburg History Museum

Big Shigir Idol, Yekaterinburg History Museum

THE oldest wooden statue in the world
This is a masterpiece, carrying gigantic emotional value and force, a unique sculpture'. Pictures: The Siberian Times 

But the marks could have multiple meanings for the ancient statue-makers who gave the Idol seven faces, only one of which is three-dimensional. 

'If these are images of spirits that inhabited the human world in ancient times, the vertical position of figures (one above the other) probably relate to their hierarchy,' said author Petr Zolin, citing scientific work by Savchenko and Zhilin.

'Images on the front and back planes of the Idol, possibly indicate that they belong to different worlds. If there are depicted myths about the origin of humans and the world, the vertical arrangement of the images may reflect the sequence of events. Ornaments can be special signs which mark something as significant.'

The results of the German analysis are stunning in scientific terms, but the testing procedure has caused political controversy in Russia. A criminal case was opened on 'damaging world's oldest wooden statue' amid claims the samples used for testing were 'illegally obtained'.

Since last year, the Culture Ministry in Moscow has been seeking legal redress over the way samples of the wooden statue were taken, and then exported by eminent German scientists for analysis. 

A source in the Culture Ministry in Yekaterinburg said: 'The examination of the idol was conducted without coordination with the relevant ministries and even the director of the Yekaterinburg History Museum Natalia Vetrova was not informed about the methods of the expertise.' 

It is unclear if this legal action is why the German scientists who conducted the testing are not expected to attend Thursday's press conference.

Comments (29)

what about ogham icelandic runestaves it kinda reminds me of those aswel
Tim Dewulf, België
16/11/2018 22:20
Seems like people often say ancient creations had some religious (spiritual) significance for the person/people who created them if they aren't functional (like pottery or shelter). But I'm more inclined to think people have always made things because of something about humans that makes creativity fun. That, and aversion to boredom, and an interest in beauty, in my truly humble opinion, would be stronger motivators overall to make art than idol worship would.
Annie, U.S.
28/04/2018 12:10
Is it possible the wood was not carved until later? How did the wood last for 11,000 years? How common or uncommon is it for wood to last 11,000 years? Is it possible someone carved the wood after it was already very old? I have no knowledge of the subject. Just very curious.
Annie, U.S.
28/04/2018 12:01
The connection to "Native American" is real in that people all over the world have carved themselves and their symbols in to wood and stone and ceramics and metal for many many thousands of years. And to play politicks with it is as old as time as well. Good going and good reporting, thank you for sharing.
Richard D. Fisher, Tuson Arizona
28/08/2017 00:16
A few commenters have noted that this idol looks very much like Native American or Aboriginal art. It does seem to resemble a Native American totem pole, but the totems I've seen are cylindrical, like the entire tree was carved. The question is, if it has some relation to Native American or Aboriginal art, what exactly is it doing in Russia?? Last, while I'm certainly not an expert, I doubt the "encrypted codes" thing. While the Tribal looking carvings on the idol certainly mean SOMETHING, I doubt there is a ton of info "encrypted" in them.
Ethan, Orlando, FL
18/12/2016 07:45
I love these blogs .... Anyone who knows anything about aboriginal art will recognise this for what it is. Basically, it is a totem pole of the American Indian style still prevalent in North America - no doubt marking its origins. The carvings are pretty similar to those to be found on my Australian boomerang, my Barotseland stool, my New Guinea door post and here, too, on unglazed pottery. We may like to look for the most outlandish ideas but, generally, "the present is the key to the past". Enjoy it for what it is.
John Ross, Lecrin, Granada, Spain
27/09/2015 22:33
Bear in mind only miniscule parts were radiodated. I for one strongly doubt the validity of the findings, given who has provided the samples.
Konrad Letzte, Helsinki
05/09/2015 02:03
How long before some goof declares it was made by space aliens, or declares they had to have been black.
Eldarion Lathria, Atlantis
03/09/2015 03:18
I think that this carving represents a family tree (pun not intended) and that is it. There were probably a lot of these around and each geenration probably carved the successor, supplanting the previous once the elders died, maybe even burning it along with the previous owner/maker.

Just a thought. While "others" try to read all sorts of preceived messages in this, in reality it is probably much simpler that you think.
Ellis Davidson, Granby Connecticut USA
02/09/2015 19:54
Humans were few and so were these carvings.From the tribe that made it, migrants left Siberia for America.bearing their culture. And their DNA..Read this:--

mtDNA Diversity in Chukchi and Siberian Eskimos: Implications for the Genetic History of Ancient Beringia and the Peopling of the New World

Yelena B. Starikovskaya1, Rem I. Sukernik1, Theodore G. Schurr2, 3, Andreas M. Kogelnik2, 3, Douglas C. Wallace2, 3, ,
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The mtDNAs of 145 individuals representing the aboriginal populations of Chukotka—the Chukchi and Siberian Eskimos—were subjected to RFLP analysis and control-region sequencing. This analysis showed that the core of the genetic makeup of the Chukchi and Siberian Eskimos consisted of three (A, C, and D) of the four primary mtDNA haplotype groups (haplogroups) (A–D) observed in Native Americans, with haplogroup A being the most prevalent in both Chukotkan populations. Two unique haplotypes belonging to haplogroup G (formerly called “other” mtDNAs) were also observed in a few Chukchi, and these have apparently been acquired through gene flow from adjacent Kamchatka, where haplogroup G is prevalent in the Koryak and Itel'men. In addition, a 16111C→T transition appears to delineate an “American” enclave of haplogroup A mtDNAs in northeastern Siberia, whereas the 16192C→T transition demarcates a “northern Pacific Rim” cluster within this haplogroup. Furthermore, the sequence-divergence estimates for haplogroups A, C, and D of Siberian and Native American populations indicate that the earliest inhabitants of Beringia possessed a limited number of founding mtDNA haplotypes and that the first humans expanded into the New World ∼34,000 years before present (YBP). Subsequent migration 16,000–13,000 YBP apparently brought a restricted number of haplogroup B haplotypes to the Americas. For millennia, Beringia may have been the repository of the respective founding sequences that selectively penetrated into northern North America from western Alaska.
james palmer, usa
02/09/2015 17:42
First of all the chance that is the the only one of these, or that these were not common is pure hubris. What are the chances that the one very important thing of this society survived, much less was preserved in a bog? If millions of these were created we probably still would have not found them 11,000 years later. We are lucky, but have to assume these were common and used for who knows what, but probably had some religious significance and at least showed they survived well enough to spend the time and energy creating it and had some level of sophistication to decorate it. It would be interesting to know the level of communication these people used as genetically they were probably quite similar to us.
chris silva, usa
02/09/2015 04:38
This wooden statue is old enough to be from a civilization before the Great Flood being that it was dated about 11K years old. Of course, scientists will not see it that way. It shows that people at that time were very intelligent and able to create stuff like we are today. It also would show how man has a heart bent idolatry and also that man is looking for his Maker, if indeed it is a religious artifact.
Luis, USA
01/09/2015 23:58
My guess is that it's from the ancient, little known about, flat-faced tribe of lower Slobovia.
Awwa1, Virginia, USA
01/09/2015 19:52
Do anyone know more about old high woodhouses (4 or higher)?
If so,please send me information about it to me:

Best regards
Jerry Cortinovis
Jerry Cortinovis, Sweden
01/09/2015 14:29
My guess..from a farm, hunting and trapping it was a moon cult..with the various ..phases of such a cold climate..being important to best hunting..would be..on the brightest nights. Look at the exact 'shapes' would the concave the..phases. Also the lines-designs.indicate.the type of meat and pelts..found..within..a full season.
ina puustinen-westerholm, springfield, oregon usa
01/09/2015 07:31

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