A wooden stick that was carved into the shape of a snake has been found near a lake at Finland’s Järvensuo site. The stick dates back approximately 4,400 years and was possibly used by a shaman in ancient rituals. It was found buried underneath a layer of peat at the wetland site where Neolithic people were believed to have lived between 4,000 and 6,000 years ago.
The snake figure was carved from a piece of wood and measures 21 inches in length by an inch in thickness. The researchers described it in further detail in their paper, “The figurine is very naturalistic and resembles a grass snake (Natrix natrix) or a European adder (Vipera berus) in the act of slithering or swimming away.” However, another researcher named Sonja Hukantaival, who is a postdoctoral researcher in Nordic Folkloristics at Åbo Akademi University in Finland but was not involved with the study, noted that it could have depicted a viper based on “…the shape of its head, the short body and distinguishable tail.”
As for its purpose, it could have been used by a shaman during magical rituals as the researchers noted, “As a preliminary hypothesis, it seems reasonable, however, to place the artifact in the religious sphere,” adding that prior to the Christian religion, “snakes are loaded with symbolic meaning in both Finno-Ugric and Sámi cosmology, and shamans were believed to be able to transform into snakes.”
Others are convinced that the wooden stick was used as part of an offering because of where it was found. Since it was discovered close to a lake, it “supports the idea that this precious artifact was an offering, and not an accidentally lost item,” as stated by Kristiina Mannermaa who is a professor in the department of cultures at the University of Helsinki.
In addition to the snake stick, numerous fishing artifacts were also found at the site which indicates that many fishermen occupied the area in ancient times.
It was actually very surprising that the team found the stick in such good condition as the acidic soil normally doesn’t preserve wooden items for such a long period of time. Additional works needs to be conducted such as figuring out what type of wood the snake figure was made from. A picture of the snake stick can be seen here.
The study was published in the journal Antiquity where it can be read in full.