An ancient artifact known as the Shigir Idol is likely one of the oldest art samples on Earth, according to a new study published in the journal Antiquity. Gold prospectors working in Russia first found the relic — known as the Shigir idol — in 1894. However, though more than a century has passed since that time, dating the item has proven to be a real challenge. Now, thanks to recent advancements in science, researchers believe it to be 11,600 years old.
The idol — which measures 16 feet long — is a carved wooden statue covered with distinct markings of human faces and hands. Originally, researchers believed it to be a few thousand years old. Then, a radiocarbon analysis conducted in the 1990’s showed it to be 9,800 years old. However, many scientists rejected the results because they did not believe hunter-gatherers could have created such a large statue.
To finally settle that debate, a group of international researchers took a sample from the sculpture’s core in 2014 and used brand new techniques to date it once again. That then revealed it to be 11,600 years old.
In addition, the analysis also showed that the sculpture is likely made from a single larch tree log and has eight five human-like face carvings. These findings are important because they reveal the statue came from post-glacial Eurasia, and shed light on what hunter-gatherers may have been like during that time.
“We have to conclude hunter-gatherers had complex ritual and expression of ideas,” said study co-author Thomas Terberger, a researcher at the University of Göttingen, according to Tech Times. “Ritual doesn’t start with farming, but with hunter-gatherers.”
However, as interesting as the new dating is, researchers are still not sure of the meaning behind the sculpture. There is a chance the carvings are meant to symbolize forest spirits or demons, but some scientists believe it could have been a warning. Either way, the idol is one of the oldest pieces of art on Earth and gives a glimpse back into a lesser-known period of time.