Wooden idol found in Russian bog is even older than thought (and twice as old as Stonehenge)

Rob Waugh
·2-min read
The Shigir idol was unearthed in a Russian bog (Terberger)
The Shigir idol was unearthed in a Russian bog. (Terberger)

The Shigir Idol, a mysterious carved slab of wood discovered in a Russian bog is even older than previously thought - and is twice as old as the Pyramids and Stonehenge.

The 16-foot statue was found in a peat bog in 1890 by gold miners, and was initially carbon-dated to 9,500 years ago.

It’s covered in carved faces and symbols, and researchers have been surprised at the complexity of the symbols.

Later carbon dating pushed that date back to 11,600 years ago, based on advanced accelerator mass spectrometry.

But new research suggests that the statue is even older at 12,500 years old, making the idol by far the oldest piece of ritual art in the world.

The research was published in Quaternary International.

Read more: Shigir idol 'may be first depiction of demons'

The idol is carved from larch wood, and is covered in geometric patterns, along with eight human faces.

New research published this week suggests that the idol marks a turning point in the way humans made art and perhaps perceived the world.

Speaking to the New York Times, lead author Thomas Terberger, an archaeologist and head of research at the Department of Cultural Heritage of Lower Saxony, said: “The face at the very top is not a passive one.

“Whether it screams or shouts or sings, it projects authority, possibly malevolent authority. It’s not immediately a friend of yours, much less an ancient friend of yours.”

Watch: World famous Stonehenge illuminated in dedication to unsung champions of UK heritage

Read more: Inbreeding and small populations could have led to Neanderthal extinction

The new carbon date was based on samples taken from the centre of the idol - uncontaminated by previous attempts to preserve it.

The research suggests that the statue – which stands 16 feet tall – was created just after the Ice Age, at the very beginning of the human ‘Holocene’ era.

Terberger said, “The idol was carved during an era of great climate change, when early forests were spreading 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.”

Previous research by Terberger examined imagery on the statue’s surface, suggesting that its hunter-gatherer creators had relatively complex religious beliefs.

Read more: Suspected Neanderthal footprints have been found in Gibraltar

Terberger said, ‘We have to conclude hunter-gatherers had complex ritual and expression of ideas. Ritual doesn't start with farming, but with hunter-gatherers.’

Little is known about the people who carved the statue, but researchers believe that there may have been many more of the statues.

Watch: Neanderthals used a familiar tool to practise dental hygiene