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Ural Life & Culture
All You Need to Know about Yekaterinburg and the Ural Region
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Irina Bobrova (Russia)
Glimpses of Ural History
Historian, translator, teacher of English
03.06.2013
Shigirsky ldol. Part 2

New Symbol of Ural Cultural Heritage
Read the previous post...
 
But Shigirsky Idol is not only the oldest, it is also the tallest. When it was discovered it was just over 5 meters, now at the museum we can see only 3, 35 meters. The middle part of the Idol has been lost. Fortunately we have a drawing of the entire object, which was made by an archaeologist Vladimir Tolmachev. He was one of the first experts to work with the sculpture.
 
The idol has a three-dimensional oval head with thin eyes, nose and a small round mouth. He has a neck and the rest of his body is almost a straight and very long plank. Using stone axes ancient carpenters carved him out of a whole larch tree and covered his body with intricate ornament.
 
The ornament is on all four sides of the Idol. The long body is clearly divided into several parts by horizontal lines. You also cannot help noticing human-like features that are carved 5 times at different places on the front and on the back of the Idol. In 2003 Svetlana Shavchenko – the chief curator of the sculpture and the collection itself – discovered the 6th feature. It is the feature of an animal. Thus, together with the head the Idol depicts 7 faces.
 
Now it is hard to say what all this actually means. What was the whole idea behind the Idol in general? But in my humble opinion, the clearness of different “floors” along the object as well as the presence of the faces perhaps, implies that the Idol is a portrayal of the universe.
Perception of the universe as of one that consists of different layers was very common at the dawn of human history. In the past in many communities all over the globe, the idea of coexistence of different worlds-levels was often embodied in the image of the tree of life. This kind of trees represented order and stability.  
 
Perhaps the most famous of them is the Scandinavian tree of life - Iggdrasil. Its roots are inhabited by a dragon - symbol of water, underworld and death. The tree trunk is home to people and animals. And finally, in the tree’s crown the eagles represent the top level of the universe. It is where the gods live.
 
Shigirsky Idol is a great mystery. We do not know anything about the origins of the people who worshiped it. Ethnic picture of Ural in such ancient times is unknown. Besides the Idol is an accidental discovery (That is why radiocarbon dating analysis was so important to do). It was found by gold miners, which means that all necessary from archaeological point of view procedures were not conducted. This adds difficulty to identifying the people that created him.
 
But despite the problems, archaeologists and historians are working hard to solve them. The chief curator Svetlana Shavchenko says that new ideas about the purpose of the Idol are being suggested. The latest method of dating is about to be applied to confirm or make the sculptures age more accurate. Hopefully soon some of the Idol’s secrets will be revealed.
Meanwhile, come to Yekaterinburg and visit the exhibition. You will be amazed to find yourself instantly transferred to the far gone eras of the Ural Stone Age. You will see the wonderful results of scrupulous work of many ancient hunters and fishermen. And of course you will have a chance to look into the eyes of the world’s oldest sculpture –the Great Shigirsky Idol.
 
The Museum’s address is
                              The Museum of History and Archaeology of the Middle Ural
                              69/10 Lenina Prospect, Yekaterinburg, Russia. 
 


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