The huge Shigir Idol, preserved for more than 10,000 years in Siberia, was carved with instruments including beavers' teeth, scientists have found.
The idol dates from the Mesolithic period. It was first discovered in 1894 during investigation of the Shigir region of Siberia's Ural Mountains.
Standing at 5.3 metres tall, the wooden statue has seven faces: one carved in three dimensions at the top, and six more on the body and legs of the idol.
Scientists have been working to discover the tools used to carve the idol's shape and markings. The idol's seven faces were the last to be engraved, and were the ones created with the most unusual instruments.
"Some very interesting tools – made of halves of beaver lower jaws – were used," Mikhail Zhilin of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Archaeology, who has been researching the carvings, told the Siberian Times.
Beavers' teeth make the ideal tool to carve wood, Zhilin said. After all, this is what the animals do in their lifetimes to build their dams.
"If you sharpen a beaver's cutter teeth, you will get an excellent tool that is very convenient for carving concave surfaces."
Although it is 11,000 years old, the statue is thought to have had a relatively short life as a standing idol. The larch tree that made it was about 160 years old when it was chopped down. The wood was then carved into shape before being set in a stone base. Then it stood for just 50 years before falling over into a peat bog.
This bog created the ideal conditions to preserve the wooden statue. Peat bogs are typically very low in oxygen and are acidic, killing any microbes that would break down the statue and make it rot.
The Shigir Idol is currently on display in the Sverdlovsk Regional Museum of Local Lore in the city of Yekaterinburg in Siberia.
"This is a masterpiece, carrying gigantic emotional value and force," Zhilin said.
"It is a unique sculpture, there is nothing else in the world like this. It is very alive, and very complicated at the same time."
Although the method used to make the carvings is being elucidated, the meaning of the carvings themselves remains largely mysterious.
"The ornament is covered with nothing but encrypted information. People were passing on knowledge with the help of the Idol."