In publica commoda

Press release: Oldest wooden sculpture in the world is 11,500 years old

Nr. 97/2018 - 03.05.2018

German-Russian research team organises systematic radiocarbon dating

(pug) For over 100 years, a monumental wooden sculpture, discovered in 1894 by gold miners about 50 kilometres north of the city in the Shigir Moor, has been displayed in the Yekaterinburg Museum. Its age couldn't be defined for several decades. For the first time now, a German-Russian research team with participation of the University of Göttingen, has organised a systematic radiocarbon dating of the sculpture: with an age of approximately 11,500 years, the figure is much older than expected, making it the oldest known wooden sculpture in the world. The results were published in the journal Antiquity.

Made from a larch trunk, the wooden sculpture is still an imposing 3.80 metres tall. It has a large round head and its body is decorated with zigzagged ornamental patterns and anthropomorphic faces. The scientists were able to prove that, at the time of sculpting, the wood was processed in a fresh state. It is apparent that the sculpture stood in an upright position for a long period of time and likely served as a ritual stake. From Europe, mostly geometrically decorated objects made of bones and antlers are known from that time, and only rarely are people depicted by small stick figures.

"With its monumental appearance, the Shigir idol shows a hitherto unknown side of the art of the first post-glacial hunter-gatherer communities," explains Professor Thomas Terberger from the Seminar of Pre- and Protohistory at Göttingen University. “At the same time, it makes clear that the cave paintings of the Ice Age found a continuation in a new form within the post-glacial period." Up until this point, the approximately 11,000-year-old stone stelae at the Göbekli Tepe site in the southeast of Turkey had remained the only monumental evidence from that time. "Regardless of this, the sculpture from the Shigir Moor now shows that similarly complex objects were made in the Urals," says Terberger. “Thus, we are now seeing the hunter-gatherer communities of the early post-glacial period in a completely new light."

Original publication: Mikhail Zhilin et al. Early art in the Urals – new research on the wooden sculpture from Shigir. Antiquity 92/263, 2018, 334-350.

Professor Thomas Terberger
Georg-August-Universität Göttingen
Faculty of Humanities – Seminar of Pre- and Protohistory
Nikolausberger Weg 15, 37073 Göttingen, Germany
Phone: +49 (0)171 35 65 493