4,400-year-old shaman's 'snake staff' discovered in Finland

  

Category:  News & Politics

Via:  perrie-halpern  •  one month ago  •  27 comments

By:   Tom Metcalfe

4,400-year-old shaman's 'snake staff' discovered in Finland
A 4,400-year-old life-size wooden snake unearthed in Finland may have been a staff used in "magical" rituals by a Stone Age shaman.

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T



A 4,400-year-old life-size wooden snake unearthed in Finland may have been a staff used in "magical" rituals by a Stone Age shaman, according to a study released Monday.

The lifelike figurine, which was carved from a single piece of wood, is 21 inches long and about an inch thick at its widest, with what seems to be a very snake-like head with its mouth open.

It was found perfectly preserved in a buried layer of peat near the town of Jarvensuo, about 75 miles northwest of Helsinki, at a prehistoric wetland site that archaeologists think was occupied by Neolithic (late Stone Age) peoples 4,000 to 6,000 years ago.

It's unlike anything else ever found in Finland, although a few stylized snake figurines have been found at Neolithic archaeological sites elsewhere in the eastern Baltic region and Russia.

"They don't resemble a real snake, like this one," University of Turku archaeologist Satu Koivisto said in an email. "My colleague found it in one of our trenches last summer. … I thought she was joking, but when I saw the snake's head it gave me the shivers."

"Personally I do not like living snakes, but after this discovery I have started to like them," she added.

The wooden carving of a snake is unlike anything else ever found in Finland.Satu Koivisto

Koivisto and her colleague Antti Lahelma, an archaeologist at the University of Helsinki, are the co-authors of the study on the wooden snake published in the journal Antiquity.

They think it may have been a staff used in supposedly magical rituals by a shaman — someone who communicated with spirits in a similar way to the "medicine people" of traditional Native American lore.

It's thought the ancient peoples of this region practiced such shamanic beliefs, in which the natural world is inhabited by multitudes of usually unseen supernatural spirits or ghosts — a traditional belief that persists today in some of the remote northern regions of Scandinavia, Europe and Asia.

Ancient rock art from Finland and northern Russia shows human figures with what look like snakes in their hands, which are thought to be portrayals of shamans wielding ritual staffs of wood carved to look like snakes. Lahelma said snakes were regarded as especially sacred in the region.

"There seems to be a certain connection between snakes and people," Lahelma told Antiquity. "This brings to mind northern shamanism of the historical period, where snakes had a special role as spirit-helper animals of the shaman … Even though the time gap is immense, the possibility of some kind of continuity is tantalizing: Do we have a Stone Age shaman's staff?"

Archaeologists work at an excavation site in Finland.Satu Koivisto

The figurine from Jarvensuo certainly looks like a real snake. Its slender body is formed by two sinuously carved bends that continue to a tapered tail. The flat, angular head with its open mouth is especially realistic. Koivisto and Lahelma suggest it resembles a grass snake or European adder in the act of slithering or swimming away. The place where it was found was probably a lush water meadow at the time when it was "lost, discarded or intentionally deposited," the researchers wrote.

Wood usually rots away when exposed to oxygen in the air or water, but sediments at the bottoms of swamps, rivers and lakes can cover some organic objects and preserve them for thousands of years.

The site near Jarvensuo is thought to have been on the shores of a shallow lake when it was inhabited by groups of people in the late Stone Age. Recent excavations have yielded a trove of organic remains that have enabled archaeologists to create a more complete record of the site, Koivisto said. The finds have included a wooden tool with a handle shaped like a bear, wooden paddles and fishnet floats made of pine and birch bark.

"What a remarkable thing," said Peter Rowley-Conwy, an archaeologist and professor emeritus of Durham University in the United Kingdom, who was not involved in the research. "The 'head' appears definitely to have been carved to shape."

But he was cautious about ascribing greater meaning to it: "A skeptic might wonder whether the sinuous shape was deliberate, or an accidental result of four millennia of waterlogging," he said in an email. "I have worked on various bog sites with preserved wood, and wood fragments can be considerably distorted."

Koivisto warns that artifacts like the "snake staff" may be lost as many wetland archaeological sites dry up.

"Wetlands are more important to us than ever before, because of their vulnerability and degradation of fragile organic data sources [from] drainage, land use and climate change," she said "We have to hurry, before these valuable materials will be gone for good."


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pat wilson
Professor Guide
1  pat wilson    one month ago

This is so awesome.

 
 
 
cjcold
Professor Quiet
1.1  cjcold  replied to  pat wilson @1    one month ago

As a long-time Arnis practitioner I have an extensive "stick" collection.

I want it!

 
 
 
FLYNAVY1
Professor Expert
2  FLYNAVY1    one month ago

Lived in Finland for two years... Fantastic people, but the food isn't to my taste.

There are three varieties of snakes that are found in Finland, one of which is poisonous.  A type of Adder.  

Vipera berus: The Most Successful Venomous Snake? - Herpetoculture Magazine

While not generally deadly to humans, it can produce a painful bite, and nasty reactions for a number of days.  I can see why a shaman would use this as a prop/symbol.

 
 
 
cjcold
Professor Quiet
2.1  cjcold  replied to  FLYNAVY1 @2    one month ago

Was bit on the leg by a timber rattler way back in the day walking through the woods. 

It didn't even give a warning. Must have been asleep and I stepped on it.

Still have the nightmare of slamming its head into a tree over and over and over.

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
3  Kavika     one month ago

Fascinating find. 

The indigenous people of Finland, the Sami would IMO be connected to this ''snake''.

Finding it in a peat bog is intresting. A NA grave yard of the coast of Florida was found and it had be preserved because it was buried in peat.

 
 
 
cjcold
Professor Quiet
3.1  cjcold  replied to  Kavika @3    one month ago

Peat is a great preserver. It tends to deplete O2.

 
 
 
bccrane
Freshman Silent
4  bccrane    one month ago

They think it may have been a staff used in supposedly magical rituals by a shaman

Or a stick to hang their loin cloth up to dry after swimming when there were no trees  around.

 
 
 
Nerm_L
Senior Principal
5  Nerm_L    one month ago

Interesting.  Slithering history.  These finds are fascinating because they show that stone age people were more socially sophisticated than we commonly think.

 
 
 
Gsquared
Sophomore Principal
5.1  Gsquared  replied to  Nerm_L @5    one month ago

Today, there is a small fraction of rural charismatic Protestants who engage in snake handling as part of their church services showing that some contemporary people are less socially sophisticated than we commonly think.

 
 
 
Nerm_L
Senior Principal
5.1.1  Nerm_L  replied to  Gsquared @5.1    one month ago
Today, there is a small fraction of rural charismatic Protestants who engage in snake handling as part of their church services showing that some contemporary people are less socially sophisticated than we commonly think.

Well that does require an understanding of how to interact with snakes that is more sophisticated than shrieking and running.  

 
 
 
devangelical
PhD Principal
5.1.2  devangelical  replied to  Gsquared @5.1    one month ago

there should be a national effort to encourage more of that practice among activist evangelicals.

 
 
 
Hallux
Freshman Principal
6  Hallux    one month ago

When asked, Ismo Leikola replied, "That's my shtick!"

 
 
 
Ender
Professor Principal
7  Ender    one month ago

Only 21 inches? I want a full size staff like Gandalf.

 
 
 
cjcold
Professor Quiet
7.1  cjcold  replied to  Ender @7    one month ago

I have experienced "staff envy" before. It never works out well.

 
 
 
Hallux
Freshman Principal
8  Hallux    one month ago

Throughout mythology the snake/serpent had been a symbol of rebirth and wisdom, then along came Yahweh to confuse the symbolism with Himself and recast all that slithers with death and Beelzebub. Eve has been paying a heavy price ever since this sleight of hand.

 
 
 
FLYNAVY1
Professor Expert
8.1  FLYNAVY1  replied to  Hallux @8    one month ago

I've always thought that the reason why women hate snakes so much goes all the way back to Eve taking bad advice about biting the apple.  All the snake had to do was convince Eve that there was a sale price on taking a bite out of the apple, and she took it!   "Look how much I saved!"

What really pisses me off was once she took the bite out of the apple, she realized she was out of line, decided she that if she was going down, she wasn't going to go alone, and convinced Adam to take a bite.

(yes.... all sarcasm.  BTW..... Anybody ever find Kane's wife, or where she came from...????)

 
 
 
Hallux
Freshman Principal
8.1.1  Hallux  replied to  FLYNAVY1 @8.1    one month ago

She hooked up with Abel's wife and fled the crime scene.

 
 
 
Trout Giggles
Professor Principal
8.1.2  Trout Giggles  replied to  FLYNAVY1 @8.1    one month ago

I think that if he had told her about the shoe sale at Macy's she would have been all over that apple like a fruit fly

 
 
 
FLYNAVY1
Professor Expert
8.1.3  FLYNAVY1  replied to  Hallux @8.1.1    one month ago

I guess the short roll in the hay with Kane turned her into a lesbian.....  Imagine that!  

 
 
 
FLYNAVY1
Professor Expert
8.1.4  FLYNAVY1  replied to  Trout Giggles @8.1.2    one month ago

This is what I've suspected for years Trout!

 
 
 
devangelical
PhD Principal
8.1.5  devangelical  replied to  FLYNAVY1 @8.1    one month ago

... next garden of eden culdesac over...

 
 
 
Freefaller
PhD Participates
8.1.6  Freefaller  replied to  Hallux @8.1.1    one month ago
She hooked up with Abel's wife and fled the crime scene.

That is fine and I support their decision but I hope they hung around and continued performing her female duties of breeding with all their male relatives for the remainder of their 700ish year lifespan

 
 
 
cjcold
Professor Quiet
8.1.7  cjcold  replied to  Freefaller @8.1.6    one month ago

Reading the bible never fails to make me hard. Great porn!

 
 
 
devangelical
PhD Principal
8.2  devangelical  replied to  Hallux @8    one month ago

if you can believe the same way as the YEC's, she was a lot more familiar with another type of snake.

 
 
 
cjcold
Professor Quiet
8.3  cjcold  replied to  Hallux @8    one month ago

I had to lay down with Eve. How else would we have a little genetic diversity (sorry Adam).

 
 
 
cjcold
Professor Quiet
8.4  cjcold  replied to  Hallux @8    one month ago

There have been snake worshipers for thousands of years. 

Just no accounting for some folk's taste.

 
 
 
Gsquared
Sophomore Principal
9  Gsquared    one month ago

Great find.

 
 
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