World’s oldest wooden statue is TWICE as old as Stonehenge: Shigir Idol discovered in Russia in 1890 is even more ancient than first thought

By Nora McGreevy

A wooden statue discovered in Russia in 1890 is more ancient than previously thought, making it twice as old as Stonehenge, researchers claim.

The Shigir Idol was first discovered by Russian gold miners who stumbled upon the large object in the Shigir peat bog 62 miles north of Yekaterinburg.

Radiocarbon dating from the 1990s placed the idol at 9,750 years old, but researchers have since re-dated it, finding it is about 12,100 years old. 

The Shigir Idol, discovered in a peat bog in 1894, is estimated to be at least 11,000 years old.

This makes it always twice as old as Stonehenge in the UK, which had been dated back about 5,000 years. 

The tree that provided the wood to carve the large statue was about 12,250 years old based on the 159 growth rings seen within the statue itself, the team from the University of Gottingen and Institute of Archaeology RAS discovered. 

The coded engravings on the statue have never been deciphered

It is estimated it once stood over 17ft tall when fully assembled and has zig-zag lines etched all over the body, and eight human-like faces carved at the top.

The period the idol was carved was an era of great climate change, according to archaeologist Thomas Terberger, speaking to the New York Times.

It was a time when early forests were beginning to spread across a warmer late glacial to postglacial Eurasia.

‘The landscape changed, and the art – figurative designs and naturalistic animals painted in caves and carved in rock – did, too, perhaps as a way to help people come to grips with the challenging environments they encountered.’ 

People who built the idol had the skills for shaping and carving wood, so while this is the only object of its kind discovered so far, that doesn’t mean they didn’t make more, the authors explained. 

The period the idol was carved was an era of great climate changed, according to archaeologist Thomas Terberger, speaking to the New York Times

It adds to evidence that ancient hunter gatherer communities had a sense of art, ideas and complex rituals to an extent not previously understood, they said. 

‘We have to accept that hunter-gatherers had complex rituals and were capable of very sophisticated expression of ideas and art,’ Terberger told the Guardian.

‘These things didn’t start with farmers, they began with hunter-gatherers much earlier.’

The findings have been published in the journal Quaternary International.

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