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

Researchers said the carved, wooden lifelike snake matches “magical” staffs portrayed in ancient rock art from the region.

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 Järvensuo, 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.

This 4000-year-old wooden carving of a snake was likely used as a staff by a Neolithic Shaman.
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.


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