|12 February 2011
Stone Age ritual object found in Poland
A Stone Age-era artifact carved with multiple zigzags and what is likely a woman with spread legs suggests that fertility rituals may have been important to early Europeans, according to new research. The object is made out of a large elk antler and has been radiocarbon dated to about 10,900 years ago. "The ornament is composed of groups of zigzag lines and a human representation, probably a woman with spread legs with a short zigzag nearby," lead author Tomasz Płonka said.
Płonka, a University of Wroclaw archaeologist, and his colleagues analyzed the object, unearthed by a farmer at Swidwin, Poland. At first the scientists believed the geometrical figure carved onto the antler could have been either the mentioned woman, or a nude man raising his arms. Measurements to determine the ratio of the stick figure limbs, in addition to comparisons with other early human representations, lead the researchers to support the woman interpretation. "I think our zigzag lines are connected with water and life symbolism," Płonka said, adding that the lines also appear to have been carved by different individuals: that may suggest that some group effort was involved in the creation of the object.
A geological study found that in ancient times there was a number of water bodies in the region. "Consequently, the role of aquatic environment as the source of food (fish, mammals) and perhaps transport thoroughfare gained importance," the scientists concluded. Giant elks were the most imposing animals of the European Plain, perhaps symbolizing 'the power of life,' according to Płonka. The scientists believe the elk was selected and killed on purpose to make the object, which may have served a role in rituals for many years.
Co-author Krzysztof Kowalski of the National Museum in Szczecin said that he and his colleagues are not certain what culture produced the piece, but they've narrowed it down to two probable candidates: the Federmesser or the Ahrensburg cultures. The Federmesser culture is known for its distinctive flint blade tools, while the Ahrensburg people were famous for their animal-hunting prowess. Intact Ahrensburgian reindeer skeletons with arrowheads in their chests suggest some animals were sacrificed during rituals.
The researchers aren't yet certain if the images on the carved antler are associated with Venus figurines, statuettes of women with exaggerated sexual features that date to as early as 35,000 years ago. Some Venus figurines have been excavated in Poland not too far from the Swidwin site.
Edited from Discovery News (4 february 2011)
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