Is this the original face of god?
IT was found by peat bog diggers in 1894.
It was made of a single trunk of larchwood. It had been carved into a smooth plank.
It was covered with carefully engraved patterns - and topped with a stylised human head.
The Russian archaeologists who have examined it over the past century knew it was old.
Just not how old.
Most thought it dated back just a couple of thousand years.
Known as the Shigir Idol, the only reason it exists is because of where it was found.
The soft peat mud holds powerful antimicrobial properties.
So the wood was able to remain there, perfectly preserved, for millennia.
Encased in its soft embrace, the statue has survived countless bushfires, floods and earthquakes - and the transition of the world out of an Ice Age.
Now a team of researchers in Germany have completed their study on exactly how old it could be.
That's twice as old as Egypt's pyramids - and 6000 years older than Stonehenge.
It must have been built near the end of the last great Ice Age.
And that makes it one of the very earliest known monumental artworks ever made by human kind.
LOST IN TIME
Nobody knows what the totem-like pole represents.
While several fragments have been lost since it was first found, it probably originally stood about 5m tall.
From a distance, it has a clearly recognisable human head and hands.
But it is also covered with symbolic markings. Some are simple patterns. There are about eight different faces - many of them tiny - engraved in its surface.
In 1997, Russian scientists used radiocarbon dating to estimate the object's age.
Their results produced a figure of some 9800 years.
The findings were controversial.
There was little evidence that humanity had emerged from the last Ice Age with the artistic and cultural talents necessary to create such monumental symbology.
Humanity had been on the edge of survival.
So the date had to be double-checked.
Recently, the idol was shipped to Germany's University of Göttingen from its carefully controlled enclosure in the Sverdlovsk Regional Museum in Russia.
Its timbers and materials found surrounding it in the peat bog have since been put through a barrage of tests.
One of them, accelerator mass spectrometry, returned a new date.
It is 11,600 years old.
In anthropological terms, that's the early Holocene - shortly after the last Ice Age reached its peak. The worst had begun to pass. Forests were spreading. Lakes and seas were rising.
Things were getting a little warmer.
"Early Holocene hunter-gatherers clearly inhabited a symbolic world with richer and more complex forms of artistic expression than was previously believed," the study's authors write.
FACE OF GOD
Old drawings of the statue dating from 1914 were made when the statue was in a better condition. They show what appear to be a stack of five faces on its surface.
But ongoing studies have revealed more.
The analysis also revealed a previously undiscovered symbolic face embedded in its engravings.
We now know there are eight faces on the wooden figure.
What the Shigir Idol's symbols mean can only be guessed at.
Even calling it an idol is risky.
We simply don't know the mind of our Ice Age ancestors.
But this is one of the best clues we have yet.
With the end of that era, cave paintings and carvings of lifelike animals simply stopped. New, difficult to interpret, stylised patterns begin to emerge.
"The vertical placement of the faces could indicate the presence of an internal hierarchy among the images, or a sequence of events," the study reads. The Shigir Idol offers "potential for a better understanding of the spiritual world of early hunter-gatherer-fishers of the forest zone of Eurasia," it says.
Co-author Mikhail Zhilin of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow believes the idol shows local forest spirits. The zigzag patterns could be a "keep out!" warning to mark a dangerous or taboo space.
"We have to conclude hunter-gatherers had complex ritual and expression of ideas. Ritual doesn't start with farming, but with hunter-gatherers," Terberger says.
"Wood normally doesn't last ... I expect there were many more of these and they're not preserved."
The study's authors also note similarities between the idol's distinctive style of artwork to that of Gobekli Tepe some 2500km away in southern Turkey. These are humanity's earliest known monumental stone ruins, and date from about the same time.
The Russian Academy of Sciences says it has been conducting new excavations around the site where the Shigir Idol was originally found. Hundreds of new artefacts have been found, including bone spearheads and daggers, elk antlers carved with symbolic animal faces and woodworking tools.