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Mysterious 2,000-Year-Old Wooden Arm Discovered In Well May Be Religious Offering

There are some things that are just weird. One of those things is finding a 2,000-year-old wooden arm in an ancient well. It’s just a weird find. Especially considering it seems to have been placed there intentionally, rather than evidence of an unfortunate accident at a time before high-quality prosthetics. Archaeologists believe that the arm was placed in the well as a sort of spiritual offering, which implies a pantheon of gods that accept wooden arms as payment, which is also kind of strange.

The wooden arm was found in a well in Northamptonshire, England built by the Romans. Initial carbon dating appears to place the crafting of the arm at somewhere between A.D. 86-240, according to a statement from Oxford Archaelogy. It is a representation of an entire human right arm with an open palm and appears to be singularly crafted, rather than part of a larger wooden sculpture. Archaeologists believe that the arm may have been some sort of votive offering, although it is unknown to who it was offered or for what purpose.

The wooden arm

The mysterious wooden arm. Credit: Michael Bamforth

Archaeological wood expert Michael Bamforth of the University of York analyzed the arm and found that it was likely an entire sculpture consisting of just the single arm. Bamforth says that if the arm is life-size than it likely represents the arm of an adolescent or a small adult. According to the statement:

It had been finely carved from a single branch, which makes use of a natural curve to form the elbow, and is very well made, as no tool marks are visible on its surface. The hand is also relatively slender and gracile and so, if it’s a life-sized piece, it seems to mimic the arm and hand of a small adult or adolescent. Intriguingly, the upper end of the object has no trace of any jointing, or other methods that could be used to attach the arm to a larger sculpture.

The well where the arm was found.

The well where the arm was found. Credit: Michael Bamforth

According to Oxford Archaeology, other votive offerings of carved wooden body parts have been found on the European continent, but few have been found before in England, and none have been found dating to this period. Because of that, they say “this wooden arm represents an incredibly rare artifact that holds at least national, and perhaps even international, importance.”

The specific religious significance of this wooden arm, and other similar artifacts is still unknown. But it needs to be said that any god who demands wooden body parts as an offering is an objectively weird god.