Article By Olga Gertcyk for the Siberian Times
20,000 year old prehistoric effigies shows people of all ages and the larger figurines of the basic large grandmothers (which in all archeology are so inappropriately called Venus). These Siberian art effigies include men, women, teenagers and children, the new research shows. It’s true that in the past some of the woolly mammoth tusk carvings were known to be clothed as they were dressed for protection from the Siberian winter, and are possibly the oldest known images anywhere in the world of sewn fur clothing.
Famous Mal’ta and Buret are located in about 25 kilometers from each other, close to Lake Baikal. In rich poetic vein, he continued:
“Her face, carved so unexpectedly gentle and tender, had a barely noticeable smile. The feeling of vitality and mystery coming from this fragment of mammoth tusk was getting even deeper because the statuette radiated the warmth of a living creature as most likely all cultures were ruled by women.”
It wasn’t yellow or brown, like dozens of ancient sculptures from mammoth tusks that lie behind the museum glass window. It was pink and almost warm, like a live human body. This is exactly how a piece of a fossil ivory looks, soaked with the millennial Earth’s juices.’ But now deeper study using modern technology has been conducted by Dr Lyudmila Lbova and trace analysis specialist Dr Pavel Volkov.
‘In the collection of Malta figurines, the overalls are more typical for small sculptures (those of 2-4 cm in height), depicting children.’ Picture: Lyudmila Lbova
And a striking new light has been cast on the Mal’ta and Buret figurines – found from the 1920s to the 1950s by the Angara River close to Lake Baikal in modern-day Irkutsk region. Notably, the research disputes the widely-held believe that some of the figures are nude.
‘There were many attempts to understand the idea of these figurines, and their symbolism,’ she said. ‘And there were many interpretations. Totally there are 40 known figurines found both on Mal’ta and Buret: we have (so far) studied 29 of them, using microscopes and macro shooting.
She explained: ‘We worked with sculptures from the collections of the State Hermitage Museum at St Petersburg. First, we found out how these figurines were made and checked our conclusions with experiments. Some of the figurines are just work pieces, to the finished works. In other words, they are prototypes and ‘this allowed us to reconstruct all the steps in their creation.
‘Yet the most unexpected result was that we saw traces on the surface of the figurines that were not spotted earlier, as they are not visible to the naked eye, due to the ravages of time. These traces showed more details of clothes than we had seen previously: bracelets, hats, shoes, bags and even back packs.
Dr Lyudmila Lbova: ‘We decided to pay more attention to some material things, to study the surface, to understand how these figurines were made. This approach allowed us to reveal many interesting new details and review some ideas about these sculptures,’ she said. ‘Previously, there had been different approaches to the classification of these figurines, but the basic was a division into ‘dressed’ and ‘naked’. ‘Our research showed that all of them are more or less ‘dressed’. We saw the different types of hats, hairstyles, shoes and accessories, which were depicted with thin lines. The ancient masters used different techniques to highlight the different materials – fur, leather, and decorations.
‘In the realistic elements of clothing and hats are obviously seen the details of traditional outerwear of Nordic peoples. The most ‘popular’ outerwear on the figurines are fur overalls’ – similar to ‘kerkery as worn by Koryak children and women in the extreme east of Siberia. ‘In the collection of Malta figurines, the overalls are more typical for small sculptures (those of 2-4 cm in height), depicting children. Besides, all the figures dressed in overalls have a disproportionately large head.
Mikhail Gerasimov [the archaeologist who found the first figurines] on the excavations at Mal’ta in 1958. ‘Such proportions we see in children under 5 years old, dressed in overalls with high hoods. These sculptures show small childfren in clothes typical for them and in the right proportions. ‘On other sculptures, we can see overalls made of guts, probably from fish or seals, which women wore in summer along with short parkas. We see similar ones in the culture of the indigenous people who live in the Russian north-east, like the Koryaks and Itilmens.’
The most common are these fur hats that cover the head, neck, ears, cheeks and chin.
The detail spotted on these figurines is intriguing. ‘Most interesting are the hats and hairstyles. There are fur ‘hats’ meaning a hat that covers the head and shoulders – ‘hats and hoods.
On the figurines ‘we can also see the bags and in one case an outline of a traditional back pack with two straps. It has not so much detail, and it is not clear if this is male or female, yet the proportions of bodies show that this is definitely a younger person.
‘All the figurines were found within the living facilities of ancient settlements, some of them even in ritual places in the home: they were covered with mammoth scapula bone or sprinkled with ocher.’
‘What we can say for sure is that these realistic details of clothes, accessories, hairstyle clearly show that ancient masters made the figurines of some real people, maybe their relatives. I strongly doubt that these were the images of abstract goddesses or spirits’ in the sense often used.
Source: Dr Lyudmila Lbova is a researcher and Dr Pavel Volkov is a leading researcher both at the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, part of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The research was conducted by the Laboratory ‘Interdisciplinary Study of Primitive Art of Eurasia’, which is a joint project of Novosibirsk State University’s Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography and University of Bordeaux. The Laboratory is based in Novosibirsk State University. Pictures: Kunstkamera Museum, Lyudmila Lbova and Jokersy/Panoramio