4,000 Year Old Serpent-Shaped Stick Discovered In Southern Finland


Archaeologists working at an excavation site near Järvensuo in southwest Finland have unearthed a 4,000 year old wooden stick shaped like a snake.

Radiocarbon dating of the object suggests it was made 4,400 years ago [Credit: Satu Koivisto, Antiquity Publications Ltd]

The carefully-carved, 50-centimetres-long sculpture from the Neolithic Stone Age was found under a layer of peat by the shore of Muinaisjärvi lake.

"The snake looks like it's crawling or swimming to escape," University of Turku postdoctoral researcher Satu Koivisto said in a press release announcing the find. "Based on the composition of the discovery deposit, the sculpture has either been lost, abandoned or placed in the dense coastal vegetation."

Based on the radiocarbon dating of the object, it was made approximately 4,400 years ago.

From time to time, animal and human sculptures made of bone, horn, wood, stone or amber can be found in the prehistoric sites of the Fennoscandian Peninsula, which is the geographical peninsula comprising the Scandinavian and Kola Peninsulas, mainland Finland, and Karelia.

Neolithic carved wood snake in situ (top) and recovered (below) [Credit: Satu Koivisto, Antiquity Publications Ltd]

However, the 'Järvensuo snake' is currently the only one of its kind ever found. The discovery expands modern-day understanding of the worldview, artistic expression and ritual imagery of the Stone Age populations of the northern regions.

Snakes are often depicted in the Stone Age rock art of Northern Europe, in addition to other animal and human figures. A number of rock paintings from the era appear to show a human figure either holding a real snake or a snake-shaped rod in its hand.

"We can of course never be certain of any connection between the Järvensuo snake and these paintings," Koivisto said. "However, the snake sculpture and a few other discoveries from Järvensuo last summer currently point to possible ritual activities alongside fishing and other everyday chores on the ancient lake shore."

In addition to the snake sculpture, other well-preserved objects and scientific research materials have been discovered at the same site.

Excavation work will continue during the summer of 2021 [Credit: Satu Koivisto, Antiquity Publications Ltd]

"These latest excavations have unearthed exceptionally well-preserved organic artefacts from the Stone Age era in the north, and such materials are a rarity in archaeological excavations," Koivisto added.

The three-year University of Turku study of the Stone Age site at Järvensuo is a continuation of work that began over 35 years ago after the site was drained in the 1950s.

"During the Stone Age, the place was located on the southern shore of Rautajärvi, which was overgrown and later dried up as arable land. Very rare Stone Age wood, bark and tusk objects have been recovered," Koivisto said.

The lack of effective methods for excavating sites buried deep in wetlands has limited research in the area in Finland.

"More work should have been done earlier, as sensitive wetland sites are being destroyed at an accelerating rate. The biggest threats to survival are drainage, peat extraction, soil acidification and climate change," Koivisto added.

The snake staff has been published in the journal Antiquity.

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