Shigir Idol
March 26, 2015 4:10 PM   Subscribe

The oldest wooden statue in the world was found in a Russian bog in 1890. The Shigir Idol is believed to be about 9500 years old. It is 2.8 meters high; an additional 1.93 meters of statue were lost during the turmoil of the 20th century.
posted by Blue Jello Elf (22 comments total) 64 users marked this as a favorite
 
Slender Man!
posted by Atom Eyes at 4:58 PM on March 26, 2015 [12 favorites]


Wow! Older than the pyramids. Amazing.
posted by irisclara at 5:43 PM on March 26, 2015


Nine thousand years.

It's got to be frustrating in a way, being an ancient historian. We will just never really have a good understanding of what was going on back then.
posted by something something at 5:45 PM on March 26, 2015 [4 favorites]


Never heard of this. Very cool.

Here's the world's oldest action figure.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:55 PM on March 26, 2015 [5 favorites]


When I was about ten, I went exploring in the woods behind my grandparents' home. I was feeling kind of smug having ventured much farther than I had ever dared to go before, when I looked up and spotted a beech tree about a fifty feet out with a crude face carved into the bark. As an adult, it's easy to dismiss something like that as a product of bored teenagers, but seeing that unexpected face staring back at me with it's blank, expressionless eyes filled my kid mind with supernatural dread and enough fear to turn around and run. For weeks afterwards it filled my nightmares and it was a while before I ventured that far into the woods again.

This statue reminds me of that face.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 6:00 PM on March 26, 2015 [31 favorites]


I'm kind of hoping someone on Metafilter will pop into the thread and deliver a dissertation on this thing.

Most of what I could find on google was in an unfortunate Erich-von-Daniken vein. It's a giant nephilim from the book of genesis! No, wait, it's a statue of an alien! Etc.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 7:13 PM on March 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Fascinating piece of art . . . I can't help wondering why they claim the decorative elements are informational rather than decorative. Wish they elaborated a bit more.
posted by pt68 at 7:30 PM on March 26, 2015 [4 favorites]


I love the idea that it could be a map. That really captures my imagination, but I have so many more questions: Why assume it stood upright, instead of being horizontal like a table or a central gathering point? Could it be telling stories (or a memory aid to story/legend/myth) instead of a map? Was it a symbol? Practical? All questions without reasonable answers.

I want someone to do some archaeological work on that bog to see what else can be found, if anything after 125 years and who knows what activity.
posted by julen at 8:36 PM on March 26, 2015 [4 favorites]


There are archives of various ancient tree rings from around the world, I'd think that they could match the 159 years of rings somewhere nondestructively. But I'm not that kind of scientist.
posted by TheAdamist at 8:50 PM on March 26, 2015


TheAdamist, it would be cool if that's how it worked but it doesn't. Tree ring dating (aka dendrochronology, such a cool word) is done with regional tree ring sequences and so a tree ring record from one part of the world isn't applicable to another, due to local climate and weather histories. So you'd need a good tree ring record from that part of Russia to compare against -- and I'm guessing they don't have one.

C14 dating is remarkably non-destructive these days, though. With Accelerator Mass Spectrometry methods you need a remarkably small sample size. Beta Analytic, for example, says their recommended sample size for wood is 10-20 mg (and 20mg is 0.0007oz, if you prefer thinking that way).
posted by barnacles at 9:16 PM on March 26, 2015


Made of 159 year old larch, it is covered with Mesolithic era symbols, which are not yet decoded.

Not yet decoded? Are they expecting to decode them, and if so, how?
And how do they know it's an "idol"? Why does everything have to be some mystical unknowable obscure religious thing, maybe it was just a table? Or a big map?
posted by bleep at 10:07 PM on March 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


Maybe somebody REALLY wanted to complain about the crappy bronze they'd received. A giant idol makes a great impression, or so say all the giant idol salesmen.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:11 PM on March 26, 2015 [9 favorites]


http://www.irish-society.org/home/hedgemaster-archives-2/places-artifacts/the-ogham-alphabet

I wonder if the markings are a lost alphabet similar to ogham?

I believe the statue was upright.
It may have served a religious purpse, and also been an indicator of the status if the people who made it.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 10:35 PM on March 26, 2015


I like this--very cool!
posted by Meatafoecure at 10:45 PM on March 26, 2015


But even the size is it now makes it the highest wooden statue in the world.

Surely lots of totem poles are bigger? The record totem pole is about 40m. I think they are the most obvious comparison, btw.
posted by Segundus at 12:36 AM on March 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


Fascinating piece of art . . . I can't help wondering why they claim the decorative elements are informational rather than decorative. Wish they elaborated a bit more.

Not yet decoded? Are they expecting to decode them, and if so, how?
And how do they know it's an "idol"? Why does everything have to be some mystical unknowable obscure religious thing, maybe it was just a table? Or a big map?


I think the compulsion to create is the fundamental human aspect of monuments like this. Utilitarian or even religious explanations are not only not needed, they are beside the point.
posted by Jeff Dewey at 3:08 AM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think they assume it has a religious component because much of the ancient decorated items we find have a religious component, cross-culturally. It seems to be a characteristic of artwork in general for much of early history. Could be wrong, though. I would assume they have other items from local culture they're basing this hunch off, but of course they would be much newer. Also, if it was mostly functional, there would probably be wear marks on it. People are more likely to treat something with symbolic significance nicely than, like, a kitchen table.
posted by blnkfrnk at 6:03 AM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


The name Shigir idol just kept nudging my memory, 'til I finally remembered the name of the horrid assasin in No Country for Old Men. I think Shigur was the name. Now I am free of thread dread.
posted by Oyéah at 9:22 AM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Nine thousand years.

It's got to be frustrating in a way, being an ancient historian. We will just never really have a good understanding of what was going on back then.


Seriously, it's got to be nigh-impossible to figure out how people managed to craft a statue three thousand years before the Earth was even formed. The world is full of mysteries!
posted by FatherDagon at 1:23 PM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Seriously, it's got to be nigh-impossible to figure out how people managed to craft a statue three thousand years before the Earth was even formed.

Clearly the answer is: the statue is God. We'd better start bringing it some fatted calves.
posted by lovecrafty at 1:57 PM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I look at a lot of the crazy things random individuals create these days, be it those stones in Georgia that someone created for the end of the world or works of art that are made of someone resilient materials, and none of these have strong significant meaning to our world and culture. Sometimes I wonder if some of the incredible discoveries we find, like this statue, could just be the work of one or a few odd people who just felt like doing something which in their time, had no significant religious or cultural meaning.

I don't think it's the case here, but it always echoes in my brain.
posted by Atreides at 1:59 PM on March 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


I would venture to say that the reason archaeologists look for meaning behind the markings on and existence of such icons is that in prehistoric times, energy and time were very valuable resources. Assuming that the culture that produced this was at a subsistence level, in such an environment, one generally didn't put as much effort into creating something as large and intensive as icon this unless it had significance.

While there are various world examples of prehistoric decorative arts (cave art, some petroglyphs & runic carvings, little figurines probably carved during downtime, etc), I think Segundus makes a good correlation with PNW Native American totem poles and the Shigir idol as an expression of the culture, landscape, worldview and/or religious beliefs.
posted by Queen of Spreadable Fats at 10:43 AM on March 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


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