Tall and slender – the Shigir Idol stands proudly with its height of 9.2 ft at the Sverdlovsk Regional Museum of Local Lore, in Yekaterinburg, Russia. And historically, this impressive work of art is actually more than twice as old as the Great Pyramid (while being 6,000 years older than even Stonehenge), thus making it the oldest (known) wooden sculptural project in the entire world. And the odd part was, instead of some high-end complex or burgeoning settlement, the antediluvian statue was originally discovered (in fragments) in a peat bog in 1894, at a depth of 13 ft, along the eastern slope of the Middle Urals. And even more tantalizing is the notion put forth by some researchers that relates to how the sculpture possibly carries some form of ‘encrypted code’.
The incredible age of the Shigir Idol was actually determined in a precise manner by a group of German researchers in 2015, with the use of advanced methods like Accelerated Mass Spectrometry. On further analysis, the scientists also noted how the wooden statue was made from a phytoncidic larch, and the tree itself was around 157 years old. Quite fascinatingly, while the extant height of this specimen is about 9.2 ft, some historians (including Siberian early 20th century archaeologist Vladimir Tolmachev) believe that the statue originally rose to a height of 17.3 ft – equivalent of almost two floors. Furthermore from the historic perspective, the workmanship exhibited by the Shigir Idol aptly represents the refined scope of art practiced by the native fishermen and hunters of the Urals in the Mesolithic era. In fact, on many levels, it can be compared to the cultural achievements of the ‘sedentary’ farmers of Middle East and Anatolia, including the builders of the Gobekli Tepe – the world’s oldest monument.
As for the ambit of ‘encrypted code’ on the antediluvian wooden idol, historians have long been puzzled by the inscriptions on the statue. To that end, while the top part clearly comprises a three-dimensional representation of a human’s face, the rectangular profile along the ‘torso’ region is marked by variant geometric patterns. According to some scholars (like Professor Mikhail Zhilin, lead researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Archaeology), these etchings might have denoted some singular form of passing (spiritual or natural) knowledge, like the story of creation, down the generations – thus possibly entailing a unique communication system developed by the builders themselves.
Simply put, the patterns might have had some symbolic connotations. For example, a straight line could have symbolized a horizon, the defining threshold between sky and land or sky and water. Likewise, squares, circles and crosses might have represented fire and sun (and so on), while zig-zag patterns may have alluded to snakes or lizards (or even danger). Intriguingly enough, the Shigir Idol also boasts six other human faces that are carved along the elongated rectangular profile at certain intervals. But unlike the three-dimensional visage at the top, these carvings showcase two-dimensional depictions of the face. According to researcher and author Petr Zolin –
If these [faces] 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. Images on the front and back planes of the Shigir 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.
Unfortunately, all of these symbolic scopes belong to the realm of hypotheses and conjectures. So in other words, the world’s oldest wooden statue still remains undecipherable, thus alluding to an enchanting mystery that complements the uniqueness of a Mesolithic era sculpture found in a peat bog. In essence, Shigir Idol almost espouses a time-capsule of human progression and knowledge, albeit presented in a perplexing form that defies the conventional boundaries of our modern insights.
The article originally appeared on our sister site, Realm of History.