Shigir Idol: The Oldest Wooden Sculpture Ever Found

On May 14, 2015 by Tim Newman

Shigir Idol - Oldest Wooden Sculpture - Close Up Face

Unearthed in 1894, the Shigir Idol is the oldest wooden sculpture ever found. Wood doesn’t fare all that well when it’s in the ground, so the fact that this fella managed to remain intact for 9,500 years is pretty spectacular. To give that date a bit of perspective, this carved wooden lump is twice as old as the pyramids in Egypt and more than 4,000 years older than Stonehenge.

The Shigir Idol was made around 7,500 BC (Mesolithic period) and was found in a Siberian peat bog on the Ural mountains around 100 km from Yekaterinburg, Russia. The sculpture was dug up in parts and reconstructed as a 2.8 metre tall tower.

Shigir Idol - Oldest Wooden Sculpture Большой_шигирский_идол

There are seven faces carved in the larch wood Shigir Idol, only one of which is in 3D.

Unfortunately some of the fragments were lost during 20th century political turmoil in Russia and we only have this drawing by scientist Vladimir Tolmachev to remember them by. With the lost fragments the idol might have stood at over 5 metres tall, roughly the same height as a two storey house.

Shigir Idol - Oldest Wooden Sculpture - Drawing 2

No one knows for sure what the geometric patterns on the body mean, or whether indeed they mean anything at all. One theory is that the symbols describe ancient man’s thoughts about the origin of humanity. Svetlana Savchenko, chief keeper of the Shigir Idol at the museum 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.

Shigir Idol - Oldest Wooden Sculpture - Etchings

The purpose of the sculpture and the meaning of the symbols remain a mystery. For now. But Professor Zhilin, a researcher who has spent a lot of quality time with the idol, seems impressively certain that the idol was in no way an icon to an ancient deity’s power:

Forget it. The men — or man — who created the Idol lived in total harmony with the world, had advanced intellectual development, and a complicated spiritual world.

If you want to visit this ancient wooden chap, the Shigir Idol now stands proud in an inert gas-filled case in a museum in Yekaterinburg.





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