This amazing artifact was dug up at the wet site of Järvensuo in southern Finland. It measures 53.5 cm long (21 inches) and has been radiocarbon dated to around 4400 years ago, in the Neolithic period.
This site is a peat bog at the edge of a large complex of wetlands, where the land rises up into a sandy ridge. It was discovered by accident in the 1980s and has yielded pottery and a variety of preserved wooden artifacts, including a ladle and a paddle. This led archaeologists to do a scientific dig in 2020-2021, turning up this wonder.
Snakes appear regularly in the rock art of this region, much of which probably dates to this period.
And there are a couple of images of human figures holding snakes. These have traditionally been interpreted as shamans, partly because if you ask Sami elders what they are, that's what they tell you. Besides, who else would be posing with a snake in his or her hand?
There are snakes in that part of the world, including European vipers, but there aren't very many and they are not especially important in the Sami cosmos. So why snakes? Could this have been brought from the Mediterranean world, along with pottery and farming? Fascinating.
Besides, who else would be posing with a snake in his or her hand?
...Neolithic Steve Erwin?
Seriously, though... what about hunters, celebrating a kill by taking a trophy?
Or what if the art doesn't depict snakes, but rather lightning? Rather than shamans, might not such art just as easily depict Ukko, chief deity of Finnish mythology, who is a storm deity, and whose name is the basis for the Finnish word for lightning itself?
There are snakes in that part of the world, including European vipers, but there aren't very many and they are not especially important in the Sami cosmos. So why snakes?
Present day species range, distribution, and population numbers do not necessarily match those of four and half millennia ago.
Additionally, why are you assuming these depictions were made by the Sámi, specifically? If we're discussing southern Finland, the Finns proper, as well as the Karelians, the Vepsians, the Ingrians, the Estonians, the Livonians, etc, are just as likely if not moreso.
Indeed, while the odds aren't as strong, these work might even potentially have less to do with the "Finno" side of the Finno-Ugric culture and language group, and may in fact be some sort of imported influence from their Eastern cousins in Northwestern Asia - particularly considering the prevalence of routine long distance eat-west migration among such cultures.
The depictions are not made by Sami, I'm just saying that's one way rock art gets interpreted; you go to the local indigenous people and ask who knows about rock art and they direct you to a shaman or wise elder (in many societies only such a person would dare interpret traditional lore for an outsider) who says, "That's a shaman with a snake." They could very well be wrong, but it's a good starting point. I don't know much about Baltic rock art but among Native Americans lighting is always jagged, never curvy; curvy lines relate to waves, and in that lore snakes are associated with water.
I don't know much about Baltic rock art but among Native Americans lighting is always jagged, never curvy; curvy lines relate to waves, and in that lore snakes are associated with water.
I have similar holes in my knowledge, but I do know that Northern Eurasian legends and myth strongly associate lightning and ferns, which might have introduced an association of lightning with curved lines, as ferns themselves are curved. From what I've seen of symbols associated with North Eurasian lightning deities, you can find both jagged and curvy elements suggestive of lightning, depending.
There are also some Baltic and other Northern Eurasian traditions that place their storm deities in opposition to serpents, using their lightning to strike at them (and sometimes by extension, protect against disease or poisoning), so there may be some connection or influences there. For example, the rivalry between Perun and Veles - with Veles himself being associated (among other things) with snakes, water, and disease. This ties into the vastly broad collection of "Indo-European" mythological tropes of a "Sky Father" figure fighting a great serpent or dragon.
I also have to wonder about the possible ecological factors of historic peoples encountering snakes in the dense fern growth of the marshes and forests of Northern Eurasia - whether the association was that ferns (associated with lightning) were in league with the storm deity and served to "warn" about the presence of dangerous snakes (servant's of the rival deity); or whether the association was in fact inverted as sometimes happens (ferns themselves are variably said to either attract / cause lightning or repel / protect from it), and the ferns were instead in league with the serpent deity, and therefor "attracted" lightning as retaliation?
Post a Comment