According to a study published Monday, a 4,400-year-old life-size wooden snake discovered in Finland could have been a Stone Age shaman’s staff used in “magical” rituals.

The lifelike figurine is 21 inches long and about an inch thick at its widest point, with a snake-like head and open mouth. It was carved from a single piece of wood.

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Incredibly preserved detail of the carved snake’s head. The unbelievably well-preserved wooden stick was intricately carved in the shape of a snake slithering away
It was found perfectly preserved in a buried layer of peat near the town of Järvensuo, about 75 miles northwest of Helsinki, at a prehistoric wetland site that archaeologists think was occupied by Neolithic (late Stone Age) peoples 4,000 to 6,000 years ago.

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It’s unlike anything else ever found in Finland, although a few stylized snake figurines have been found at Neolithic archaeological sites elsewhere in the eastern Baltic region and Russia.

“They don’t resemble a real snake, like this one,” University of Turku archaeologist Satu Koivisto said in an email. “My colleague found it in one of our trenches last summer. … I thought she was joking, but when I saw the snake’s head it gave me the shivers.”

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“Personally I do not like living snakes, but after this discovery I have started to like them,” she added.
Koivisto and her colleague Antti Lahelma, an archaeologist at the University of Helsinki, are the co-authors of the study on the wooden snake published in the journal Antiquity.
Side view (a) and top view (b) of the stick, suspected to be a staff. The archaeologists say the object is 4,400-years-old, meaning it dates back to the Neolithic period
They think it may have been a staff used in supposedly magical rituals by a shaman — someone who communicated with spirits in a similar way to the “medicine people” of traditional Native American lore.

It’s thought the ancient peoples of this region practiced such shamanic beliefs, in which the natural world is inhabited by multitudes of usually unseen supernatural spirits or ghosts — a traditional belief that persists today in some of the remote northern regions of Scandinavia, Europe and Asia.

Ancient rock art from Finland and northern Russia shows human figures with what look like snakes in their hands, which are thought to be portrayals of shamans wielding ritual staffs of wood carved to look like snakes. Lahelma said snakes were regarded as especially sacred in the region.

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