The Shirgir Idol, a wooden statue that you may see at the Sverdlovsk Regional Museum of Local Lore has now been re-dated, pushing its age back to 12,500 years before present. In North American terms, that is about the time of the “Clovis culture,” when hunters with big spearpoints pursued big animals that no longer exist.
In 2018, more advanced accelerator mass spectrometry technology testing the pristine core of the larch wood statue—rather than the surface, which had undergone numerous conservation treatments over the more than 100 years since its discovery—determined that it was actually even older: closer to 11,600 years old.
Now, a new study published in Quaternary International has pushed that date back by a further 900 years—making it more than twice as old as Stonehenge or the Egyptian pyramids.
The idol is nine feet tall, made of wood, with humanoid faces and geometric markings. It survived because it was in a peat bog, where gold miners found it in 1890s. There might be others still unfound.
In regions with large forests, wood would have been readily available to Paleolithic artists, but quick to deteriorate over the centuries. That means that our understanding of these ancient peoples is shaped by preservation biases, and might have been very different had more wooden artifacts like the Shigir Idol survived.
“Wood working was probably widespread during the Late Glacial to early Holocene,” the paper argues. “We see the Shigir sculpture as a document of a complex symbolic behavior and of the spiritual world of the Late Glacial to Early Mesolithic hunter-gatherers of the Urals.”
To be fair, as British historian Francis Young pointed out on Twitter, “And even if [the Shengir idol and similar] did serve a religious purposes, are they gods or ancestors? Was there a distinction? I rather doubt it. We certainly can’t impose our Classically-derived assumptions about gods with distinct personalities and names, etc.”