Human-Like Statue Discovered In Siberia Is Older Than Stonehenge And Pyramids

Russia's Siberia region has a reputation for being a harsh, cold environment but those conditions have made it invaluable to our understanding of science and history.

As we've discussed several times in recent years, that's because Siberia has proven time and time again to be a place where artifacts from the distant past can be extraordinarily well-preserved for hundreds if not thousands of years.

But long before that became increasingly clear to us, one of the secrets the region once held remained a curiosity for over 100 years. And it's only recently that we've learned just how important it was all along.

Back in 1890, gold miners were checking out a peat bog near the Siberian town of Kirovgrad.

As The New York Times reported, this was after gold was discovered nearby and the land's owner Count Alexey Stenbok-Fermor hired workers in the hopes that more could be found.

But perhaps his most important order was to save anything else that turned up in the bog.

And that's exactly what they did when they found this unsettling human-like sculpture that depicted several faces throughout its nine-foot frame.

According to The New York Times, researchers were stumped at how old the statue — known as the Shigir Idol — could possibly be until Russian scientists were able to subject it to carbon dating in 1997.

At the time, it was considered about 9,500 years old, which some scholars considered so preposterous that they figured it had to be a forgery.

That's because they believed hunter-gatherers at the time weren't capable of such expressive art. Instead, they were operating under the assumption that much of the beginnings of what now makes up European culture emerged 8,000 years ago from a region of the Middle East known as the Fertile Crescent.

However, further tests in 2014 using accelerator mass spectrometry revealed that if anything, the carbon dating in 1997 had lowballed its age.

The team was led by Dr. Thomas Terberger, who described the idol as "carved during an era of great climate change, when early forests were spreading across a warmer late glacial to postglacial Eurasia."

In other words, his team discovered that the idol was at least 11,600 years old. Upon further review in a new study, the date of the sculpture's creation was pushed back another 900 years to 12,500 years ago.

Terberger suggests that the end of the ice age at the time led people who would have otherwise scrawled on cave walls to become familiar with newer, more wooded environments.

And since wood can be fairly perishable as a building material, that means we never would have discovered their ancient woodworking skills if the Shigir Idol hadn't fallen where it did.

The effects of the climate seen during this time were particularly evident in the larch tree that the sculpture was carved from.

In Terberger's words, "The rings tell us that trees were growing very slowly, as the temperature was still quite cold."

The study's co-author, Mikhail Zhilin of the Russian Academy of Sciences, deduced that the tree was cut down by three sharp chisels, two of which were likely made from polished stone adzes.

He floated the possibility that the other chisel was made from a beaver jaw, but Terberger said no beavers were likely to exist in the region at the time.

This makes the idol not only the first known piece of ritual art, but also something that predates other famously ancient monuments by millennia.

Wikimedia Commons | Hajotthu, garethwiscombe

According to the Smithsonian Magazine, this makes the Shigir Idol about 7,000 years older than Stonehenge and more than twice as old as the pyramids of Egypt constructed about 4,500 years ago.

As Terberger and other paleoanthropologists see it, this finding serves as a direct challenge to ethnocentric assumptions about hunter-gatherers in Siberia and around the Ural Mountains.

As João Zilhão from the University of Barcelona told The New York Times, "It’s similar to the ‘Neanderthals did not make art’ fable, which was entirely based on absence of evidence.

"And then the evidence was found and the fable exposed for what it was. Likewise, the overwhelming scientific consensus used to hold that modern humans were superior in key ways, including their ability to innovate, communicate and adapt to different environments. Nonsense, all of it."

h/t: The New York Times

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