Wednesday, March 24, 2021

History of art, very old art

The New York Times has a long report on new studies of the Shigir Idol, a carved wooden monument found east of the Ural mountains of Russia in 1890, and now reliable confirmed to be about 12,500 years old -- that is, when the area was still deglaciating and the larch tree it was carved from had barely gained a foothold locally.  It is by far the world's oldest piece of wooden statuary, more than twice as old as Stonehenge or the Egyptian pyramids.

As its researchers point out, ancient societies that worked in stone or ivory have a much better chance of being respected for their art and culture than those, particularly hunting/gathering peoples, who would work with wood or cloth. The Shigir Icon, "a nine foot totem pole" with multiple carved faces and other ritual marks, nicely proves the point.

The story also has a nice closing touch about who gets to do archaeology.

“What do you think is the hardest thing to find in the Stone Age archaeology of the Urals?”
A pause: Sites?
“No,” he said, sighing softly. “Funding.”

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