Ancestors, the - Art - The Shigir Idol
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
The Shigir Sculpture, or Shigir Idol (Russian: Шигирский идол), is a wooden sculpture dated to 11,500 years ago that may have stood more than 17 feet high. It has been noted that the Shigir Idol's decoration was similar to that of the oldest known monumental stone ruins, at Gobekli Tepe in Turkey.
The Shigir Idol is the oldest known wooden sculpture in the world, made shortly after the end of the last Ice Age. Typically, wood degrades in most environments and does not endure for archaeological discovery, but this sculpture was discovered on January 24, 1894 at a depth of 4 m (13 ft) preserved in the peat bog of Shigir.
The sculpture was made first from the phytoncidic larch, then preserved in the bog with its acid anaerobic environment, which kills microorganisms and also has a tanning effect. There is likely to be only one sculpture of its type in this area, because of its meaning.
Discovery and Reconstruction
Shigir lies on the eastern slope of the Middle Urals, approximately 100 km (62 mi) from Yekaterinburg. Investigations in this area had begun 40 years earlier, after the discovery of a variety of prehistoric objects in an open-air gold mine.
It was extracted in ten parts. Professor D. I. Lobanov originally combined the main fragments to reconstitute a sculpture 2.8 meters high, but in 1914, archaeologist Vladimir Tolmachev [ru] proposed a variant of this reconstruction by integrating the unused fragments. His reconstruction suggested that the original height of the statue was 5.3 metres. Later, some of these fragments were lost, so only Tolmachev's drawings of them remain.
Dating the sculpture has been difficult. Initial radiocarbon dating [carried out by G. I. Zajtseva of the Institute of the History for the Material Culture [ru] in Saint-Petersburg, and confirmed by the Geological Institute [ru] of Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow], gave an age of around 9,500 years.
This first dating was rejected, because no one believed that there were people sophisticated enough to produce sculptures such as this. Perhaps somewhat ironically, a later German analysis gave an age of 11,500 years. A decorated antler was found near the Shigir Idol and dated to the same period, giving credence to the estimated age of 11,500 years.
The discovery has overturned scholars' views on when humans began making ritual art. Scientists had previously believed that complex art comparable to the Shigir Idol began in sedentary farming populations in the Middle East around 8,000 years ago. But they are looking at this of course from the point of view of some sort of ascension of man and not a decline from a spiritually more advanced era.
The sculpture is carved from larch. As identified from the annual rings, the tree was at least 159 years old. The top portion is a head with a face with eyes, nose, and mouth. The body is flat and rectangular now, but gives an indication of a slightly more curved shape originally - a bit like a flat Humpty Dumpty.
Geometrical motifs decorate its surface, including zigzag lines. The zig zag lines are an extremely well known decoration, common in aboriginal art and in the Japanese shide, depicting spiritual energy – people or things having considerable spiritual energy – things of potency. There are horizontal lines at the level of the thorax and lines broken in chevrons cover the rest of what often is described as the body.
So there are three parts to the statue indicating it is representing the three worlds and that he represents the Egg with the top face as the Ultimate Intelligence - God.
This is further supported by the fact that along with the face at the top, several faces are visible at various points along the sculpture indicating that this is a representation of the Intelligence hierarchy, with all the other gods or Intelligences. It is significant that a tree of this age was selected as there is clearly meant to be a connection between the idea of the Tree of Life and the Intelligence hierarchy.
The size of the tree used, the number of carvings and their intricacy, along with the fact that all this decoration had to be achieved using stone tools simply confirms the meaning of the carving. This ‘idol’ was a representation of the Tree of Life – God and all the angels – and must have had the same spiritual importance as Buddha does or the carving of Jesus in a cathedral. The ornamentation on the sculpture was carved using three different sizes of chisels. In addition, the faces were carved using tools made from the lower jaw bones of a beaver, with sharpened incisor teeth. Belief must have been total to spend this time, with tools this difficult, on a statue of this size
It is currently displayed in the Sverdlovsk Regional Museum of Local Lore [ru] in Yekaterinburg, Russia.
The source of the experienceThe Ancestors
Concepts, symbols and science items
Levels and layers
Levels and layers correspondences
The Three Worlds
Tree of life