Monday, August 31, 2015

The 11,000-Year-Old Shigir Idol

The Shigir Idol, found in 1890 in a peat bog in the Urals, has been redated with new radiocarbon methods and determined to be 11,000 years old.

The whole idol is huge, 17 feet (5.3 meters) tall.

The announcement of the new date by Russian archaeologists was accompanied by a lot of blaph about how advanced the people who made it must have been:
with the new date, the Idol will get a huge recognition in the world and will show that the centre of cultural development in Eurasia was not only the Middle East but also in the Urals.
Which is just silly. All modern humans have made art, and the idol doesn't really bear comparison with cave paintings 10,000 years older. As you can tell by glancing at minimalism or pop art, the power of a society's art is not a good measure of its complexity or "advancement." The Russians also made much of some faces and other carvings on the idol, saying that they are "encoded information." And they may be, in the same way that a northwest coast totem pole encodes information. But they are not writing.

But anyway the idol is very cool.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

It always boggles my mind when I think that we have organic materials which are still extant after even just a few hundred years. To look at a carved hunk of wood and be told that it is 11,000 years old just blows my mind.

Sure, it was in a peat bog, so decomposition couldn't really happen. But to think that the bog was left undisturbed for 11,000 years, without drying out from drought or being churned up by flooding, or suffering any of countless natural catastrophes which might have changed conditions enough to cause the object to become exposed and rapidly begin decaying is ming boggling.

And yet, geologically speaking it's barely a blip on the chart! And in trying to wrap my head around such timescales, it throws human development into such an absurd contrast of speed!

All of written history played out in the single, relatively short period of time in which this hunk of wood was stuck in the deoxygenated muck at the bottom of a bog. Every single major technological advance from metalworking to nuclear energy was invented within that timeframe. Untold billions have lived and died, civilizations have risen and fallen, cultures have been born and gone extinct, and this totem sat through it all in statis.