The large Shigir Idol is the oldest wooden monument on the planet. It dates back to approximately 11 000 years ago to the Holocene – the line between the last Ice Age and the modern era.
“The latest research provided answers to many of our questions. For example, we figured out that the monument is made from the trunk of a larch tree, which was no less than 157 years old at the time. Visible traces of stone-tool cuts leave no doubt that the sculpture was made from a recently cut down tree,” explained Mikhail Zhilin, leading researcher of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Archeology.
Scientists suggest that the illustrations on the surface of the idol expose the overall view of the world as seen by our ancient ancestors. Researchers point out characters, related to the Upper (heavenly) and Lower (underground) worlds. There are figures, signifying the male and female origin, as well as flora and fauna. It was not possible to interpret all illustrations and that’s why until this day the Shigir Idol remains a mystery.
“This is a one of a kind sculpture and there is no other like it in the world. The Shigir Idol is both vivid and very complex,” says Zhilin. “The ornamentation on its surface is actually encrypted information. The ancients used this ornament to convey their knowledge. It is extremely hard to decipher these kinds of messages.
According to prof. Valery Chudinov the Shigir idol is actually a female. He believes that it is an image of Mara, goddess of diseases and death. The Slavonic people were pagans by nature and idolation was especially characteristic of the Ural mountains. The larch was considered a holy tree.
Locals believed that deities lived in the fibres of that tree and appeared as protectors of the human soul. As an act of homage, food or something of value had to be brought to the Shigir Idol.
The inscription ‘Mara’ could be seen on numerous places on the Idol, however the most interesting was found on its left cheek and it states ‘God of the afterlife’. According to Chudinov, the wooden sculpture was located in the middle of a swamp and had to be seen from afar. Apparently the swamp was believed to be the Kingdom of the Dead.
Scientists have discovered a new mysterious image on the face of the Idol.
“Up until now it was believed that there are seven illustrations, placed on different parts of the sculpture. There are three faces (or masks) on the front and three on the back. These six along with the Idol’s face form a series of figures. Now we know that there is one more mask,” says Svetlana Savchenko, chief keeper of Shigir Idol at Yekaterinburg History Museum.
The new face was discovered with a microscope during the latest examinations. It is located on the upper part of the monument and denotes a completely different meaning from the rest of the figures.
“Most probably the spiritual world of the people of Ural was far more complex than we imagined”, explains Savchenko.
However, the Shigir Idol’s origin and purpose is still quite a mystery to scientists. Who created it? Was it erect, hanging, or buried like the famous Native American totem poles?