An enigmatic wooden idol that has puzzled archaeologists since it was unearthed in a Siberian bog 125 years ago revealed a little more about itself last week.
New carbon dating has indicated that the 9-foot-tall sculpture is much older than previously thought, though there are still no clues to decode its mysterious markings.
The statue, known as the Shigir Idol, already had the distinction of being the oldest wooden structure in the world. The idol, which dates to 11,000 BC, is more than three times as old as the Pyramids, from 3,000 BC, or Stonehenge, from 2600 BC.
It was discovered 13 feet below a peat bog western Siberia in 1890. It had been broken into pieces, but the anti-bacterial quality of peat had preserved the coding—etched long ago with small stones—that covered its exterior. The symbols formed a complex series of wavy, straight and zig-zagged lines.
The statue first stood over 17 feet tall, but since its discovery some pieces of the statue have been lost to history—though original drawings drafted by a Russian archaeologist remain. The statue wasn’t dated for more than 100 years, until 1997, when a radiocarbon test estimated it to be 9,500 years old. Now, researchers in Germany have added 1,500 years to that, placing its origin at the beginning of the Holocene era.
The German team from the Lower Saxony State Office for Cultural Heritage began work to precisely date the statue last year, using a technique called accelerated mass spectrometry. The testing was done using samples taken in the ’90s and determined when the wood, taken from a larch tree, had grown.
“This is an extremely important data for the international scientific community. It is important for understanding the development of civilisation and the art of Eurasia and humanity as a whole,” Professor Thomas Terberger, one of those who worked to date the idol, said at a press conference announcing the findings on Thursday. “We can say that in those times, 11,000 years ago, the hunters, fishermen and gatherers of the Urals were no less developed than the farmers of the Middle East.”
The statue has one large three-dimensional face and six other flat faces scattered throughout its designs. But the mysterious line etchings have long puzzled historians. It lives at the Yekaterinburg History Museum, where Svetlana Savchenko is the senior researcher and keeper of the idol.
He told The Siberian Times last year that he believes it to be the interpretation of “the creation of the world.”
Researchers at the museum told the paper that one theory dictates the statue was a map or a navigation device leading the user on a journey depicted with landscape indicators and travel time.
Some believe the symbols represent spirits or different mythical stories. Others believe the scratches are writing, which would make it the oldest recorded written language.
Scientific analysis is keeping mum on the rest of Shigir Idol’s secrets. Its markings, Professor Mikhail Zhilin, of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told The Siberian Times, remain “an utter mystery to modern man.”