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9,000 year old 'ritual' spear found in Poland

A ritual spear dating back 9,000 years - made of wood, decorated with engraved ornament, has been discovered by archaeologists in Bolków near lake Świdwie (West Pomerania). "This is the only find of this type known in Europe", said Prof. Tadeusz Galiński, head of the excavations.

9,000 year old 'ritual' spear found in Poland
The wooden spear in situ [Credit: T. Galiński]
The spear was more than a meter below the peat surface. Its shape resembles an elongated paddle blade. A very large section has been preserved, about 40 cm long and almost 10 cm wide. According to preliminary analysis, the object is made of ash wood, commented Prof. Tadeusz Galiński.

The spear found in Bolków is an unusual artefact. Prof. Galiński noted that similar objects from this period had not been discovered in Europe before. The unique aspect of the find is the rich decoration on its outer, slightly convex side: interwoven geometric and zoomorphic patterns.

"The construction of the spear, and above all the presence of ornamentation indicate that it was a ritual object associated with the beliefs of Mesolithic peoples inhabiting the lakeside settlements and hunting camps", said Prof. Galiński.

Communities living in the Mesolithic period often adorned items they used. In Europe there are known carvings made on various objects made of antlers and animal bones, wood, and rarely also on objects made of amber, flint and on stone pebbles. They represent the wealth of stylised depictions of forest animals, birds, fish and plants, as well as human figures. "But only few of them can be deciphered", added Prof. Galiński.

9,000 year old 'ritual' spear found in Poland
The recovered spear after cleaning [Credit: T. Galiński]
This time, to decipher the carvings on the spear found in Bolków researchers used X-ray images.

"They showed the presence of different combinations of geometrical patterns in the form of single and grouped triangles, zigzags, herringbone, horizontal and vertical short notches and the dominant theme of short perpendicular incisions, arranged along the lines. Also visible are depictions of stylised human and animal figures", added the researcher.

The analysis shows that central place in the image formed by the carvings has a ritual scene with three human figures. One of them is wearing a characteristic mask, made of widely branched antlers. "It certainly symbolizes a shaman - a spiritual guide of the community", said Prof. Galiński.

The second figure is shown without clothes - drawn with a single thick line. Its position suggests performing a ritual dance. Hands are raised upwards. The third figure is presented in a long robe and carrying a bundle, possibly an offering, suggested Prof. Galiński. The scene takes place on the shores of a lake, by two boats. On the opposite side, in the background, there is an encampment composed of at least four shelters, presented in the form of several adjoining slender triangles.

9,000 year old 'ritual' spear found in Poland
Detail of the carvings on the spear [Credit: T. Galiński]
In the maze of cuts and carvings, archaeologists also noticed images of forest animals and birds.

"Extremely interesting it is a series of original, unprecedented characters, occurring in one line in the immediate vicinity of the ritual scene. Perhaps they express spells", said the researcher.

The spear was discovered during excavations in the vicinity of previously studied shamanic sanctuary from the early Mesolithic. According to archaeologists about 9,000 years ago mysterious rituals were performed in this place. Archaeologists have been studying traces of these enigmatic activities since 2012. During that time they discovered, among other things, a meteorite located inside one of the huts, a wooden censer used during rituals, an unusually shaped stick, and even an object is made of birch bark, which is described as a fragment of a ritual mask.

Only expert analysis of the age of wood, from which the spear had been made, will ultimately allow to determine whether the artefact should also be associated with the shamanic sanctuary.

This year's excavations in Bolków were carried out in the summer with the support of the Regional Director of Environmental Protection in Szczecin.

Author: Szymon Zdziebłowski | Source: PAP - Science and Scholarship in Poland [September 30, 2016]

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1 comment :

  1. This object strongly resembles the objects used in oral cultures to store information. Australian churinga / tjuringa, African lukasa, Native American song boards and birchbark scrolls ... Interpretations based on "mysterious rituals" and shaman's spiritual links obscure the factors common right across all oral cultures of rational intellect. My research shows how these objects were used as mnemonic technologies for maintaining the vast store of pragmatic information needed for the survival of the society, both physically and culturally.

    Australian Aboriginal Elders, like the fully initiated elders of oral cultures the world over, essentially maintained field guides to all the animals (including hundreds of invertebrates), plants (including a pharmacopeia), navigational routes of hundreds of miles, complex genealogies, laws, beliefs ... all in memory. Recent research shows Australian Aboriginal knowledge of events over 7,000 years ago in terms of landscape changes (see research by Patrick Nunn and Nick Reid among others).

    How did they manage such extraordinary feats of memory? They used the landscape, skycape and a range of objects just like those described in this article, as structured memory spaces much like the method of loci well known from the ancient Greek orators. 'Rituals' are repeated events - they repeat the songs, dances and mythology (often as masked dances) which aid memory in ceremonies to ensure the information is retained. Decorated objects serve as mnemonic technologies for those ceremonies and rituals. I have reported this research in two books.

    We need to recognise the rational intellect of non-literate cultures, past and present.


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