11,500 years old wooden sculpture is old-new archeological treasure

As recently confirmed, the Shigir Idol exhibited in Sverdlovsk Regional Museum in Yekaterinburg is the one of the oldest pieces of monumental art ever uncovered. It could only survive  due to the unique conditions of the Shigir peat bog located 100 km north of Yekaterinburg, where the wooden sculpture was discovered in1894 during gold mining. Since then, the idol has been an object to archeological studies but the unusual character of the sculpture made it difficult to assign a date from its typology, and indeed it remained undated for decades, until in the 1990s, scientists removed a portion and used radiocarbon detectors to date it. It produced an age of about 9,800 years. Any scholars rejected the result as implausible. Hunter-gatherers did not have the ability to make such a huge work or have the complex symbolic imagination to decorate it in the way that the idol has been adorned, skeptics argued.

The latest major study on the sculpture published by the Cambridge university estimates the age even with 11,500 years. More sophisticated dating technics were used, so there is almost no doubt. The results attracted not only great attention in archeologists circles, the Guardian dedicated an article with a sensational headline “Carved idol from the Urals shatters expert views on birth of ritual art”, in which archaeologist Professor Thomas Terberger is quoted:“Our analysis indicates that the Shigir Idol is around 11,500 years old. At that time, Europe and Asia were still emerging from the ice age. There were no farmers then. The only humans in this part of the world at this time were hunter-gatherers. Yet they created the Shigir Idol. The discovery of its antiquity therefore changes, dramatically, – our views about the birth of ritual art.”

Studies cast new light on hunter-gatherers at the end of the ice age. We can be excited about new theories and views about the human history. In this regard, the significance of Shigir Idol is to be reevaluated.

For more please read the Guardian article and the Academic paper.