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Named the ‘Shigir Idol’, the piece of handicraft was originally found in 1894 in a peat bog in western Siberia. For millennia, the antimicrobial properties in the peat mud preserved the carving until it was discovered, and teams of scientists and historians have been puzzling over it ever since.
After a century of interrogation, scientists had believed the Shigir Idol to be around 9,500 years old in 1997. However, further testing with newer technology dates it considerably older than previously thought. This new information offers us fresh insight into how civilisation developed in the region.
For starters, it tells us that the prehistoric Siberian was no less developed then people living at the same time in Egypt and the Middle East. It indicates that hunters and farmers of that time were able to deal with the extreme elements such as glaciers, ice and snow well enough to develop artistic practices. While they don’t know for sure, archaeologists believe these artistic practices were developed as part of some kind of ritual.
Although the Shigir Idol’s age has baffled researchers, why it was created in the first place has been a puzzle for them, too. The new technology has also revealed that the idol has eight faces carved into its facade, one more than previously thought in 2015. Made from one long piece of larch wood, the Shigir Idol is covered in ancient hieroglyphics and markings that no one can decipher.
At the time of the Shigir Idol’s making, prehistoric artwork transitioned from the more literal cave paintings into symbolic drawings and patterns, which are believed to be connected to spiritual beliefs. Researchers postulate that the vertical positioning of Shigir Idol’s faces could represent a sequence of events or a hierarchy between the images. Or they might not; there is no way of saying for sure.
The Shigir Idol was a lone discovery. Because of this, it is impossible to assess the language and communication systems in the statue’s hieroglyphics beyond theoretical explanations. So, we will never know exactly what the etchings mean, despite the potential they have to inform us about our ancestors. Unless researchers find another one, of course.
Some scientists believe that at one time the Shigir Idol was one of many. However, its preservation was a freak occurrence of nature, and so it is assumed most of the Shigir Idol’s buddies have rotted away with time. Despite this, new digs have commenced around the site where the statue was found, by teams of researchers determined to unearth all the secrets the Shigir Idol contains.
When not being scrutinised by scientists, the Shigir Idol is on display at the Sverdlovsk Regional History Museum.