The head of the snake staff discovered in Finland. Credit: Satu Koivisto et al. / Antiquity, 2021

4,400-Year-Old Snake Staff Used In Ancient Rituals Discovered in Finland—10 Things You Need To Know About It

Who do you think owned this eerie object?

Finnish archaeologists have unearthed an elaborate wooden object depicting a snake crawling or swimming, visually resembling an ancient staff. Radiocarbon dating attributed the find to 2471-2291 BC, that is, to the Neolithic era. Scientists suggest that the artifact had a ritual function since, among the local residents, snakes were endowed with symbolic meaning.


The chronological framework of the Neolithic era in Finland differs from the neighboring regions, covering the period between 5200 and 1800 BC when metal processing has already passed on the territory of Russia.

However, this is largely due to the poor archaeological study of the region, given that a significant part of its territory is occupied by wetlands. This era mainly correlates with the cultural and historical community of comb ceramics that spread across North-Eastern Europe in the V-III millennia BC, which many historians associate with the Finno-Ugric tribes.

Depictions of snakes in Neolithic rock art from various North European sites. a) Lake Onega; b) Kola Peninsula; c-e) Finland ; f) White Sea. Credit: Satu Koivisto et al. / Antiquity, 2021
Depictions of snakes in Neolithic rock art from various North European sites. a) Lake Onega; b) Kola Peninsula; c-e) Finland ; f) White Sea. Credit: Satu Koivisto et al. / Antiquity, 2021

Everything you need to know about the mysterious 4,400-year-old “snake staff”

1. The archaeological site of Järvensuo 1 was accidentally discovered during construction work in the 1950s. However, large-scale excavations started here only in 2019. The site has been dated to approximately 4000-4500 BC.

2. The fact is that the prehistoric site is located in a hard-to-reach wetland on the shores of Lake Rautajärvi in ​​southwestern Finland. However, swamp water only plays into the hands of archaeologists.

3. Its unique anaerobic properties make it possible to reliably “preserve” items, including organic ones. Thanks to this, even artifacts dating back thousands of years are perfectly preserved.

4. One of the first Neolithic finds found in this area was a wooden paddle. Subsequently, a number of artifacts were found here, including fishing tackle, pottery, and a wooden scoop, the handle of which is decorated with a carved bear’s head.

5. Satu Koivisto from the University of Turku and Antti Lahelma from the University of Helsinki found an elaborately carved wooden staff depicting a snake in a peat bog at a depth of about 60 centimeters during excavations at the archaeological site of Järvensuo 1. Scientists suggest that this is an ancient snake staff.

The entire snake staff imaged when discovered and after it was extracted from the site. Credit: Satu Koivisto et al. / Antiquity, 2021
The entire snake staff imaged when discovered and after it was extracted from the site. Credit: Satu Koivisto et al. / Antiquity, 2021

6. The artifact, 535 mm long and 25-30 mm thick, was carved from a single piece of wood, its surface was completely finished, but not decorated with anything. The figurine is tapered at the neck and tail, and the body is made with two curves.

7. The flat, angular head is shown in a slightly raised position with the mouth open. The artifact is very naturalistic and resembles the common snake (Natrix natrix) or the common viper (Vipera berus) gliding on the grass or floating on the water.

8. Radiocarbon dating dated the find to 2471-2291 BC.

9. Archaeologists note that the figurine is unique in style and character, although it vaguely resembles some finds from Finland, the Baltic States, and Russia.

10. Scientists believe that it is too early to unambiguously interpret this artifact, but they tend to attribute it to the ritual sphere. This is reinforced by the fact that snakes have a symbolic meaning in both Finno-Ugric and Sámi mythology, where shamans are supposedly capable of transforming into these reptiles.


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Sources:

Chadwick , J. (2021, June 28). Stone age wooden snake ‘staff’ found in Finland. Daily Mail Online.
HeritageDaily. (2021, June 28). Archaeologists discover 4,400-year-old serpent “staff” – HeritageDaily – Archaeology News. HeritageDaily.
Jarus, O. (2021, June 29). Possible shaman’s snake stick from 4,400 years ago discovered in a Finnish lake. LiveScience.
Koivisto, S., & Lahelma, A. (2021, June 29). Between earth and water: a wooden snake figurine from the Neolithic site of Järvensuo 1: Antiquity. Cambridge Core.

Written by Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. My experience as a freelance writer began in 2018 but I have been part of the Curiosmos family since mid-2020. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.

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