Re-Examined Museum Piece Discovered to Be Older Than the Pyramids

The Pleistocene Epoch is the term scientists use to describe the last ice age that ended about 11,700 years ago. It was at about this time, almost 12,000 years ago that a group of people in Siberia (the land where the ice age never really ended), carved a tree into a human like wooden idol almost 5 meters long.

Fast forward to 1894, when gold prospectors discovered the idol while digging up a peat bog near the Russian city Yekaterinburg.

Science Magazine describes what they found:

“Carefully smoothed into a plank, the piece was covered front and back with recognizable human faces and hands, along with zigzag lines and other mysterious details. It also had a recognizably human head, with its mouth open in an ‘o.'”

Ever since that time the treasure has been on display at a museum in Yekaterinburg with the assumption that it was no more than a few thousand years old at the most.

Yet, when radiocarbon dating was done on the idol during the 1990’s, scientists were shocked to discover that the tests revealed it to be 9800 years old!

Many scholars dismissed this as an inaccurate reading, arguing that hunter-gatherers of the time period couldn’t have produced such a sculpture and didn’t have the complex symbolic imagination to decorate it in the manner this one had been decorated.

Tests were conducted once again in 2014, and this time the results pushed the date of origin back even earlier.

More from Science Magazine:

The new dates come from samples taken from the core of the log, uncontaminated by earlier efforts to conserve the wood.

“The further you go inside, the older [the date] becomes—it’s very indicative some sort of preservative or glue was used” after discovery, says Olaf Jöris, an archaeologist at the Monrepos Archaeological Research Centre and Museum for Human Behavioural Evolution in Neuwied, Germany, who wasn’t involved with the study.

An antler carving discovered near the original find spot in the 19th century yielded similar dates, adding credibility to the result.

The date places the statue at a time when forests were spreading across a warmer, postglacial Eurasia. As the landscape changed, art did, too, perhaps as a way to help people come to grips with the unfamiliar forest environments they were navigating, says Peter Vang Petersen, an archaeologist at The National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen who was not involved with the study.

“Figurative art in the Paleolithic and naturalistic animals painted in caves and carved in rock all stop at the end of the ice age. From then on, you have very stylized patterns that are hard to interpret,” Petersen says. “They’re still hunters, but they had another view of the world.”

At a conference in Yekaterinburg last year, experts debated the meaning of the Shigir symbols, comparing them to other art from the period and more recent ethnographic examples. The most similar finds from that time are those at Göbekli, more than 2500 kilometers away, where hunter-gatherers gathered for rituals and carved similar stylized animals on stone pillars more than 5 meters high.”

The findings were recently published in a paper in Antiquity Magazine. In it the authors argue that the statue was crafted from a single larchwood log 11,600 years ago, making it one of the world’s oldest examples of monumental art. In age and appearance although not material, the authors write, the so-called Shigir Idol resembles the stone sculptures of Göbekli Tepe in Turkey, which are often cited as the first monumental ritual structures. Both monuments represent a leap beyond the naturalistic images of the ice age.

All Giza Pyramids

If the dating of the idol is accurate, that would make it twice as old as the Great Pyramids of Giza.