4000-year-old ‘snake stick’ found in Finland | Smart News
Researchers have found a 4,400-year-old wooden stick shaped like a snake near a lake in southwest Finland.
As Owen Jarus reports for Live Science, archaeologists Satu Koivisto, Antti Lahelma and their research team discovered the sculpture under a layer of peat in Järvensuo, a Stone Age site about 75 miles northwest of Helsinki. Experts used radiocarbon dating to determine that the 21-inch-long snake dates from the Neolithic period, about 4000-6000 years ago, and I think an ancient shaman may have used the object for magical rituals. The team published its findings on June 29 in the journal antiquity.
“I have seen a lot of amazing things in my work as a wetland archaeologist, but the discovery of this figurine left me speechless and gave me chills,“ Koivisto, co-author of the study and postdoctoral researcher at University of Turku in Finland, tell Live Science in a report.
Scientists believe that Stone Age peoples occupied the area where staff were located from 4000 BC to 2000 BC, Jesse Holth notes for ARTnews. In the 1950s, a team of ditch diggers accidentally discovered the archaeological site, but experts did not fully excavate it. Then, in 2019, researchers began digging in Järvensuo for the first time in 35 years, writes George Dvorsky for Gizmodo. The wetland has yielded several well-preserved artefacts, including wood, bark and bone artefacts that date back thousands of years.
According to ARTnews, the craftsmen worked the sculpture of the animal from a single piece of wood. The life-size snake has an open mouth and a long, slightly curved body, as if it is sliding or swimming in the distance. Researchers involved in the study hypothesize that the coin depicts a grass snake (Natrix Natrix) or a European adder (Vipera berus). However, other researchers have suggested that another classification may be more precise.
“I would say that a viper is more correct, by the shape of its head, its short body and its recognizable tail,“ Sonja hukantaival, postdoctoral researcher in Nordic folklore at Bo Akademi University in Finland which is not affiliated with the study, says Live Science in an email. “This is interesting, because the viper has an important role in much later folk (historical) religion and magic.“
Experts believe that a shaman would have used the staff in a religious or spiritual ceremony. They also speculate that a mystical leader could have used it to speak to the dead, as the region’s elders believed that a “land of the dead” existed in the wetlands, notes ARTnews. Additionally, the shamans assumed that they could transmute into snakes, which also connects the ritual object and the magical realm.
Other highlights from the most recent excavations include a wooden spoon, wooden vessels and paddles, fishing tools, ceramics and other artifacts, according to the study.
“There seems to be some connection between snakes and humans,” says Lahelma, study co-author and archaeologist at University of Helsinki, in a press release, quoted by National Geographicis Kristin Romey. “It is reminiscent of Nordic shamanism from the historical period, where snakes had a special role as animal spiritual assistants of the shaman… Even if the time lag is immense, the possibility of some kind of continuity is enticing: have we a stone Age Shaman’s staff? “
Other Stone Age civilizations worshiped snakes and included them in shamanic rituals. As ARTnews underlines, many sites in Northern Europe present Neolithic rock art with patterns of snakes; a site in Finland contains an image with a human figure carrying a snake in his hand. And in 2019, archaeologists find a 1,500-year-old piece of fossilized human excrement, which contained the remains of an entire rattlesnake. After analyzing the feces, experts determined that someone likely ate the animal for ritual reasons and not for food.