Mystery figure finally dated

Updated: Jun 28

This image shows a wooden statue carved in the form of a human, discovered from the Shigir bog during gold mining in Russia’s Ural Mountains in 1894. The figure was recovered in ten fragments, some of which are now lost. Unfortunately, the site is inaccessible today owing to flooding. The surviving, reconstructed portion of the figure is 3.4m tall and bears eight carved faces on its flat surfaces, the topmost being a round, carved head.

The split trunk of a larch tree formed the figure, which was probably displayed upright until it collapsed under its own weight, floated in water for perhaps for a yar or so, then was buried in underlying deposits. The figure itself was created using a polished stone adze and several chisels. A modern study has radiocarbon dated the figure, using samples from eh innermost portions of the tree. The suggested date is about 9200 BC, close to the date when the world began to warm around 9600 BC – making it one of the oldest-known monumental anthropomorphic sculptures in the world.

Quite what the figure signifies is a mystery, but the figure and carved antler objects from elsewhere in the Urals are some of the few remains of what must have been widespread tradition of carving humans and animals over a wide area soon after the Ice Age. Indeed, the well-documented anthropomorphic figures from Göbekli Tepe in southwestern Turkey testify to the existence of such a tradition to the south at the time.