Beaver's teeth 'used to carve the oldest wooden statue in the world’

Beaver's teeth 'used to carve the oldest wooden statue in the world’

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Dating back 11,000 years - with a coded message left by ancient man from the Mesolithic Age - the Shigir Idol is almost three times as old as the Egyptian pyramids.

New scientific findings suggest that images and hieroglyphics on the wooden statue were carved with the jaw of a beaver, its teeth intact.

Originally dug out of a peat bog by gold miners in the Ural Mountains in 1890, the remarkable seven-faced Idol is now on display in a glass sarcophagus in a museum in Yekaterinburg.

Two years ago, German scientists dated the Idol as being 11,000 years old.

At a conference involving international experts held in the city this week, Professor Mikhail Zhilin said the wooden statue, originally 5.3 meters (17.4 ft) tall, was made of larch, with the basement and head carved using silicon faceted tools.

'The surface was polished with a fine-grained abrasive, after which the ornament was carved with a chisel,' said the expert.

'At least three were used, and they had different blade widths.

The faces were 'the last to be carved because apart from chisels, some very interesting tools - made of halves of beaver lower jaws - were used'.

He said: 'Beavers are created to carve trees. If you sharpen a beaver's cutter teeth, you will get an excellent tool that is very convenient for carving concave surfaces.'

'This is a masterpiece, carrying gigantic emotional value and force'. Pictures: The Siberian Times, Svetlana Savchenko

The professor has found such a 'tool' made from beaver jaw at another archeological site - Beregovaya 2, dating to the same period.

Studying the Idol, he believed the tool is consistent with its markings, 'for example when making holes more circular', said Svetlana Panina, head of the archaeology department at Sverdlovsk Regional Local History Museum.

The idol was put on a stone basement, not dug in the ground, said Zhilin.

It stood like this for around 50 years before falling into a pond, and was later covered in turf.

The peat preserved it as if in a time capsule.

It is a unique sculpture, there is nothing else in the world like this. Pictures: The Siberian Times

Zhilin, leading researcher of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Archeology, has spoken previously of his 'feeling of awe' when studying the Idol, more than twice as old as the Stonehenge monuments in England.

'This is a masterpiece, carrying gigantic emotional value and force,' he said.

'It is a unique sculpture, there is nothing else in the world like this. It is very alive, and very complicated at the same time.

'The ornament is covered with nothing but encrypted information. People were passing on knowledge with the help of the Idol.'

Only one of the seven faces is three dimensional.

While the messages remain 'an utter mystery to modern man', it was clear that its creators 'lived in total harmony with the world, had advanced intellectual development, and a complicated spiritual world', he said.

The Shigir Idol is almost three times as old as the Egyptian pyramids. Pictures: The Siberian Times

Siberia 9,000BC: Secrets revealed on how hieroglyphics were carved into the oldest statue in the world

The huge Shigir Idol, preserved for more than 10,000 years in Siberia, was carved with instruments including beavers' teeth, scientists have found.

The idol dates from the Mesolithic period. It was first discovered in 1894 during investigation of the Shigir region of Siberia's Ural Mountains.

Standing at 5.3 metres tall, the wooden statue has seven faces: one carved in three dimensions at the top, and six more on the body and legs of the idol.

Scientists have been working to discover the tools used to carve the idol's shape and markings. The idol's seven faces were the last to be engraved, and were the ones created with the most unusual instruments.

"Some very interesting tools – made of halves of beaver lower jaws – were used," Mikhail Zhilin of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Archaeology, who has been researching the carvings, told the Siberian Times.

Beavers' teeth make the ideal tool to carve wood, Zhilin said. After all, this is what the animals do in their lifetimes to build their dams.

"If you sharpen a beaver's cutter teeth, you will get an excellent tool that is very convenient for carving concave surfaces."

Although it is 11,000 years old, the statue is thought to have had a relatively short life as a standing idol. The larch tree that made it was about 160 years old when it was chopped down. The wood was then carved into shape before being set in a stone base. Then it stood for just 50 years before falling over into a peat bog.

This bog created the ideal conditions to preserve the wooden statue. Peat bogs are typically very low in oxygen and are acidic, killing any microbes that would break down the statue and make it rot.

The Shigir Idol is currently on display in the Sverdlovsk Regional Museum of Local Lore in the city of Yekaterinburg in Siberia.

The Shigir Idol was unearthed in Siberia in 1984. Siberian Times

"This is a masterpiece, carrying gigantic emotional value and force," Zhilin said.

"It is a unique sculpture, there is nothing else in the world like this. It is very alive, and very complicated at the same time."

Although the method used to make the carvings is being elucidated, the meaning of the carvings themselves remains largely mysterious.

"The ornament is covered with nothing but encrypted information. People were passing on knowledge with the help of the Idol."

These carvings were made with sharp objects, including beavers' teeth. Siberian Times

Gold prospectors first discovered the so-called Shigir Idol at the bottom of a peat bog in Russia’s Ural mountain range in 1890. The unique object—a nine-foot-tall totem pole composed of ten wooden fragments carved with expressive faces, eyes and limbs and decorated with geometric patterns—represents the oldest known surviving work of wooden ritual art in the world.

Hunter-gatherers in what is now Russia likely viewed the wooden sculpture as an artwork imbued with ritual significance.

More than a century after its discovery, archaeologists continue to uncover surprises about this astonishing artefact. As Thomas Terberger, a scholar of prehistory at Göttingen University in Germany, and his colleagues wrote in the journal Quaternary International in January, new research suggests the sculpture is 900 years older than previously thought.

Based on extensive analysis, Terberger’s team now estimates that the object was likely crafted about 12,500 years ago, at the end of the Last Ice Age. Its ancient creators carved the work from a single larch tree with 159 growth rings, the authors write in the study.

“The idol was carved during an era of great climate change, when early forests were spreading across a warmer late-glacial to postglacial Eurasia,” Terberger tells Franz Lidz of the New York Times.

“The landscape changed, and the art—figurative designs and naturalistic animals painted in caves and carved in rock—did, too, perhaps as a way to help people come to grips with the challenging environments they encountered.”

According to Sarah Cascone of Artnet News, the new findings indicate that the rare artwork predates Stonehenge, which was created around 5,000 years ago, by more than 7,000 years. It’s also twice as old as the Egyptian pyramids, which date roughly 4,500 years ago.

As the Times reports, researchers have been puzzling over the age of the Shigir sculpture for decades. The debate has major implications for the study of prehistory, which tends to emphasize a Western-centric view of human development.

The wood used to carve the Shigir Idol is around 12,250 years old. Shigir Idol – the oldest known wooden sculpture in the world.

In 1997, Russian scientists carbon-dated the totem pole to about 9,500 years ago. Many in the scientific community rejected these findings as implausible: Reluctant to believe that hunter-gatherer communities in the Urals and Siberia had created art or formed cultures of their own, says Terberger to the Times, researchers instead presented a narrative of human evolution that centered European history, with ancient farming societies in the Fertile Crescent eventually sowing the seeds of Western civilization.

Prevailing views over the past century adds Terberger, regarded hunter-gatherers as “inferior to early agrarian communities emerging at that time in the Levant. At the same time, the archaeological evidence from the Urals and Siberia was underestimated and neglected.”

In 2018, scientists including Terberger used accelerator mass spectrometry technology to argue that the wooden object was about 11,600 years old. Now, the team’s latest publication has pushed that origin date back even further.

As Artnet News reports, the complex symbols carved into the object’s wooden surface indicate that its creators made it as a work of “mobiliary art,” or portable art that carried ritual significance.

Co-author Svetlana Savchenko, the curator in charge of the artifact at the Sverdlovsk Regional Museum of Local Lore, tells the Times that the eight faces may contain encrypted references to a creation myth or the boundary between the earth and sky.

“Woodworking was probably widespread during the Late Glacial to early Holocene,” the authors wrote in the 2018 article. “We see the Shigir sculpture as a document of a complex symbolic behaviour and of the spiritual world of the Late Glacial to Early Mesolithic hunter-gatherers of the Urals.”

The fact that this rare evidence of hunter-gatherer artwork endured until modern times is a marvel in and of itself, notes Science Alert. The acidic, antimicrobial environment of the Russian peat bog preserved the wooden structure for millennia.

João Zilhão, a scholar at the University of Barcelona who was not involved in the study, tells the Times that the artefact’s remarkable survival reminds scientists of an important truth: that a lack of evidence of ancient art doesn’t mean it never existed.

Rather, many ancient people created art objects out of perishable materials that could not withstand the test of time and were therefore left out of the archaeological record.

“It’s similar to the ‘Neanderthals did not make art’ fable, which was entirely based on the absence of evidence,” Zilhão says. “Likewise, the overwhelming scientific consensus used to hold that modern humans were superior in key ways, including their ability to innovate, communicate and adapt to different environments. Nonsense, all of it.”

Head of the Shigir Idol, the world’s oldest known wood sculpture.

The indecipherable message of the Shigir Idol—a statue 3 times as old as the Egyptian pyramids

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The Shigir Idol is an ancient statue carved from larch discovered on January 24, 1894, at a depth of 4 meters in the peat bog of Shigir. At 11,000 years old, it is considered the oldest wooden statue ever discovered, it is covered with an indecipherable message three times as old as the Pyramids of Giza.

According to experts, this ancient time capsule has coded messages that talk about the creation of the world. It is covered with encrypted information that researchers have not yet managed to decode.

Believed to be at least twice as old as the Pyramids of Egypt. Image credit: Constantin Voutsen

One of the most enigmatic statues ever discovered on Earth was discovered by gold miners in the Ural Mountains in 1890.

Carrying a coded message engraved on its surface—the Shigir Idol dates back a fascinating 11,000 years. Making it nearly three times as old as the Pyramids or Stonehenge.

The enigmatic wooden Idol was discovered by chance by gold miners in the Ural mountains in 1890- The mystery seven-faced idol currently is on display in the museum of Yekaterinburg. According to scientists, only one of the seven faces is three dimensional.

The Idol was dated to 11,000 years by two German scientists who studied the artifact in detail for years.

But no one has been able to understand nor decipher the message it carries. Furthermore, no one has been able to explain why the Shigir idol—which was supposedly carved by ancient man from the Mesolithic Age—looks the way it does, with an oval-shaped head, with seven faces, and why it was 5.3 meters originally tall. I mean it really is huge, and you gotta ask why? Why not build something smaller?

At a recent scientific conference in Yekaterinburg, involving international experts, Professor Mikhail Zhilin said the wooden statue, which originally stood 5.3 meters tall, was made of larch, with the basement and head carved using faceted silicon tools.

“The surface was polished with a fine-grained abrasive, after which the ornament was carved with a chisel,’ said the expert. At least three were used, and they had different blade widths,” reports the Siberian Times.

The Seven faces of the Shigr Idol

Experts concluded how the seven faces of the Idol were the “the last to be carved because apart from chisels, some very interesting tools – made of halves of beaver lower jaws – were used.”

Professor Zhilin added that: “Beavers are created to carve trees. If you sharpen a beaver’s cutter teeth, you will get an excellent tool that is very convenient for carving concave surfaces.”

Scientists have discovered “tools” created from beaver jaw at a similar archaeological site called Beregovaya 2, which dates from the same period.

After studying the Shigir Idol. Experts believe the tool is consistent with the markings engraved on the surface of the Idol.

“For example when making holes more circular,” said Svetlana Panina, head of the archaeology department at Sverdlovsk Regional Local History Museum.

And while we may have found out with what the mystery marks were made on the surface of the Idol, we still have failed to understand the exact purpose of the Shigir Idol, the message it carries, and why it looks anything but what ancient man looked like 11,000 years ago.

The mysterious seven-faced Idol is on display in a glass sarcophagus in a museum in Yekaterinburg. Image Credit

What were the creators of the Idol trying to say? What message did ancient man carve 11,000 years ago on the surface of the Idol? And why did its creators decide to “compose” such a massive—5.3-meter-tall—Idol in the first place?

A side-view of the Shigir Idol. Image Credit

Professor Zhilin—who is a leading scientist at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Archaeology has previously expressed his ‘feeling of awe’ when studying the Idol, which is nearly three times as old as the Pyramids of Giza and Stonehenge in England.

“This is a true masterpiece, and it carries a massive emotional value and force,” he said. “It is one of the most unique sculpture ever found there is nothing else in the entire world like this. It is very alive, and very complicated at the same time. The entire statue is covered with nothing but encrypted information. People were passing on knowledge with the help of the Idol,” added Professor Zhilin.

Experts studying the Idol have unanimously concluded how the messages carved on the Idol remain an “an utter mystery to modern man.”


Ivory is by no means just obtained from elephants any animal tooth or tusk used as a material for carving may be termed "ivory", though the species is usually added, and a great number of different species with tusks or large teeth have been used. Teeth have three elements: the outer dental enamel, then the main body of dentine, and the inner root of osteo-dentine. For the purposes of carving the last two are in most animals both usable, but the harder enamel may be too hard to carve, and require removal by grinding first. This is the case with hippopotamus for example, whose tooth enamel (on the largest teeth) is about as hard as jade. Elephant ivory, as well as coming in the largest pieces, is relatively soft and even, and an ideal material for carving. The species of animal from which ivory comes can usually be determined by examination under ultra-violet light, where different types show different colours. [2]

Eurasian elephant ivory was usually obtained from the tusks of elephants in India, and in Roman times, from North Africa from the 18th century sub-Saharan Africa became the main source. Ivory harvesting led to the extinction, or near-extinction of elephants in much of their former range. In early medieval Northern Europe, walrus ivory was traded south from as far away as Norse Greenland to Scandinavia, southern England and northern France and Germany. In Siberia and Arctic North America, mammoth tusks could be recovered from permafrost and used this became a large business in the 19th century, with convicts used for much of the labour. The 25,000-year-old Venus of Brassempouy, arguably the earliest real likeness of a human face, was carved from mammoth ivory no doubt freshly killed. In northern Europe during the Early Middle Ages walrus ivory was more easily obtained from Viking traders, and later Norse settlements in Greenland than elephant ivory from the south at this time walrus were probably found much further south than they are today. [4] Sperm whale teeth are another source, and bone carving has been used in many cultures without access to ivory, and as a far cheaper alternative [5] in the Middle Ages whalebone was often used, either from the Basque whaling industry or natural strandings. [4]

Antiquity and the Early Medieval period Edit

Chryselephantine sculptures are figures made of a mixture of ivory, usually for the flesh parts, and other materials, usually gilded, for the clothed parts, and were used for many of the most important cult statues in Ancient Greece and other cultures. These included the huge Athena Parthenos, the statue of the Greek goddess Athena made by Phidias and the focus of the interior of the Parthenon in Athens. [7] Ivory will survive very well if dry and not hot, but in most climates does not often long survive in the ground, so that our knowledge of Ancient Greek ivory is restricted, whereas a reasonable number of Late Roman pieces, mostly plaques from diptychs, have survived above ground, typically ending up in church treasuries.

Ivory was used in the Palace of Darius in Susa in the Achaemenid Empire, according to an inscription by Darius I. The raw material was brought from Africa (Nubia) and South Asia (Sind and Arachosia). [8]

No doubt versions of figurines and other types of object that survive in ancient Roman pottery and other media were also made in ivory, but survivals are very rare. A few Roman caskets with ivory plaques with relief carvings have survived, and such objects were copied in the Early Middle Ages - the Franks Casket in bone is an Anglo-Saxon version from the 8th century, and the Veroli Casket a Byzantine one from about 1000. Both include mythological scenes, respectively Germanic and classical, that are found in few other works from these periods.

The most important Late Antique work of art made of ivory is the Throne of Maximianus. The cathedra of Maximianus, bishop of Ravenna (546-556), was covered entirely with ivory panels. It was probably carved in Constantinople and shipped to Ravenna. It consists of decorative floral panels framing various figured panels, including one with the complex monogram of the bishop. [9]

Late Roman Consular diptychs were given as presents by the consuls, civil officers who played an important administrative role until 541, and consisted of two panels carved on the outsides joined by hinges with the image of the consul. The form was later adopted for Christian use, with images of Christ, the Theotokos and saints. They were used by an individual for prayer.

Such ivory panels were used as book-covers from the 6th century, usually as the centrepiece to a surround of metalwork and gems. sometimes assembled from up to five smaller panels because of the limited width of the tusk. This assembly suggested a compositional arrangement with Christ or Mary in the centre and angels, apostles and saints in the flanking panels. Carved ivory covers were used for treasure bindings on the most precious illuminated manuscripts. Very few of the jewelled metalwork surrounds for treasure bindings have survived intact, but reasonably high numbers of ivory plaques once used in bindings survive.

High medieval onwards Edit

Typical Byzantine ivory works after the Iconoclastic period were triptychs. Among the most remarkable examples is the Harbaville Triptych from the 10th century with many figurative panels. Such Byzantine triptychs could only have been used for private devotion because of their relatively small size. Another famous 10th century ivory triptych is the Borradaile Triptych in the British Museum, with only one central image (the Crucifixion). The Romanos Ivory is similar to the religious triptychs but its central panel shows Christ crowning Emperor Romanos and Empress Eudokia. There are different theories about which Byzantine ruler was made for the triptych. One possible solution is Romanos II that gives the date of production between 944 and 949. It seems that ivory carving declined or largely disappeared in Byzantium after the 12th century.

Western Europe also made polytychs, which by the Gothic period typically had side panels with tiers of relief narrative scenes, rather than the rows of saints favoured in Byzantine works. These were usually of the Life of the Virgin or Life of Christ. If it was a triptych the main panel usually still featured a hieratic scene on a larger scale but diptychs just with narrative scenes were common. Western art did not share Byzantine inhibitions about sculpture in the round: reliefs became increasing high and small statues were common, representing much of the best work. Chess and gaming pieces were often large and elaborately carved the Lewis Chessmen are among the best known.

Olifants were horns made from the end of an elephant's tusk, usually carved over at least part of their surface. They were perhaps more for display than use in hunting.

Most medieval ivories were gilded and coloured, sometimes all over and sometimes just in parts of the design, but usually only scant traces survive of their surface colouring many were scrubbed by 19th century dealers. A fair number of Gothic ivories survive with original colour in good condition however. The survival rate for ivory panels has always been relatively high compared to equivalent luxury media like precious metal because a thin ivory panel cannot be re-used, although some have been turned over and carved again on the reverse. The majority of book-cover plaques are now detached from their original books and metalwork surrounds, very often because the latter has been stripped off for breaking up at some point. Equally they are more robust than small paintings. Ivory works have always been valued, and because of their survival rate and portability were very important in the transmission of artistic style, especially in Carolingian art, which copied and varied many Late Antique ivories.

Ivory became increasingly available as the Middle Ages went on, and the most important centre of carving became Paris, which had a virtually industrial production and exported all over Europe. Secular pieces, or religious ones for lay-people, gradually took over from production for the clergy. Mirror-cases, gaming pieces, boxes and combs were among typical products, as well as small personal religious diptychs and triptychs. [7] The Casket with Scenes of Romances (Walters 71264) is an example of a small group of very similar boxes, probably presented by a future bridegroom to his future wife, that brings together a number of scenes drawn from medieval romance literature.

Ivory was never so important after the end of the Middle Ages, but continued to be used for plaques, small figures, especially the "corpus" or body on a crucifix, fans, elaborate handles for cutlery, and a great range of other objects. [7] Dieppe in France became an important centre, specializing in ornate openwork and model ships, and Erbach in Germany. Kholmogory has been for centuries a centre for the Russian style of carving, once in mammoth ivory but now mostly in bone. [11] Scrimshaw, usually a form of engraving rather than carving, is a type of mostly naïve art practised by whalers and sailors on sperm whale teeth and other marine ivory, mainly in the 18th and 19th centuries. Ivory was used for the balls for table ball games such as billiards and snooker until the late 19th century, even as they became far more widely played. Other uses were for the white keys of keyboard instruments and the handles of cutlery, sometimes elaborately carved.

Ivory is a very suitable material for the intricate geometrical patterns of Islamic art, and has been much used for boxes, inlays in wood and other purposes. From 750 to 1258 A.D., [12] the Islamic world was more prosperous than the West, and had much easier access to ivory from both India and Africa, so Islamic use of the material is noticeably more generous than European, with many fairly large caskets, round boxes that use a full section of tusk (left), and other pieces. Openwork, where a panel of ivory is cut right through for parts of the design is very common, as it is in Islamic woodwork. Like many aspects of Islamic ivory this reflects the Byzantine traditions Islam inherited. Islamic aniconism was often less strictly enforced in small decorative works, and many Islamic ivories have delightful figures of animals, and human figures, especially hunters. [13] [14]

Cordoba, Spain Edit

Ivory held significance during the Umayyad caliphate in Cordoba, Spain. The Umayyads were one of the first Islamic dynasties to promote Islam through art, architecture, and political authority. Although primarily present in the Arabian peninsula, Cordoba, Spain, served as a prominent landmark for the Eastern spread of Islam under the Umayyad caliphate. [15] The ivory caskets found on the Iberian Peninsula were likely constructed in the workshops of Madinat al-Zahra, a Umayyad palace in Cordoba. [16] The containers were intricately carved, with motifs of hunting scenes, floral patterns, geometrical designs, and Kufic script. One of the most substantial buildings constructed during Umayyad presence in Spain was Madinat al-Zahra, a palace-suburb in the city of Cordoba. [17] The palace was the center of administrative and political rule. Like other Islamic buildings of the 10th century, the art and architecture surrounding the palace reflected the insertion of Islam into society.

Objects produced in courtly settings were made for elite political and religious figures, often proclaiming the endurance of the caliphate at that time. [18] Pyxis of al-Mughira depicts these themes, utilizing symbolic imagery of lions, hunting, and abundant vegetal ornaments. This Pyxis is heavily detailed and completely covered in decoration. Like the bands of text along the top of the container, the imagery is meant to be perceived from right to left, containing various scenes that complete a unified display. [16] The use of symbolism was successful in these works because instead of celebrating one specific caliph, the figures and animals are reminiscent of the prevalence of Islam as a whole. [19] Lions were a common symbol of success, power, and monarchy. Additionally, vegetal and floral imagery displayed abundance, and in the context of many ivory carvings, fertility and femininity. [16] Women of the court were often the recipients of these ivory containers, for weddings or ceremonies. The containers were used to hold jewelry or perfumes, thus embodying an intimate environment for the container, the owner, and the contents. The delicate character of the ivory was utilized to create a relationship between the object and the woman it was created for. Many containers also included poetic phrases that activated the object, calling attention to its visual characteristics. In one Pyxis of Zamora (right), the inscription reads, "The sight I offer is of the fairest, the firm breast of a delicate maiden. Beauty has invested me with splendid raiment that makes a display of jewels. I am a receptacle for musk, camphor, and ambergris." [16]

India was a major centre for Ivory carving since ancient times, as shown by the Begram ivories.

Murshidabad in State of West Bengal, India was a famed centre for ivory carving. A set of ivory table and chairs, displayed at Victoria Memorial, Kolkata is an exquisite example of carving done by Murshidabad Carvers. This chair is a five legged arm chair, where three legs culminate into Tiger's claw while remaining two culminate into open mouthed tiger's head. The table as well as chair has excellent perforated floral motif (jaali work) with traces of gold plating. This table and chair was presented to the museum by Maharaja of Darbhanga. The carvers of Murshidabad called solid end of the elephant tusk as Nakshidant, middle portion as Khondidant and thick hollow end as Galhardant. [20] They preferred using the solid end of elephant tusk for their work. Spectacular examples of this craft can still be seen on the Darshan Door of the Golden Temple at Amritsar and on the entrance door of the Memorial of Tipu Sultan at Mysore.

Ivory carving was also prevalent in South India, especially in Mysore and Tamil Nadu, and also in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. Sri Lankan ivories were also a noted tradition.

Ivory was not a prestigious material in the rather strict hierarchy of Chinese art, where jade has always been far more highly regarded, and rhinoceros horn, which is not ivory, had a special auspicious position. [21] But ivory, as well as bone, has been used for various items since early times, when China still had its own species of elephant — demand for ivory seems to have played a large part in their extinction, which came before 100 BC. From the Ming Dynasty ivory began to be used for small statuettes of the gods and others (see gallery). In the Qing Dynasty it suited the growing taste for intricate carving, and became more prominent, being used for brush-holders, boxes, handles and similar pieces, and later Canton developed large models of houses and other large and showy pieces, which remain popular. [22] Enormous examples are still seen as decorative centrepieces at government receptions. Figures were typically uncoloured, or just with certain features coloured in ink, often just black, but sometimes a few other colours. A speciality was Chinese puzzle balls, consisting of openwork that contained a series of smaller balls, freely rotating, inside them, a tribute to the patience of Asian craftsmen.

In Japan, ivory carving became popular around the Edo period in the 17th century. Kimono worn by people at that time had no pockets, and they carried small things by hanging containers called sagemono and inro from obi. The kiseru, a smoking pipe carried in a container, and the netsuke, a toggle on a container, were often decorated with fine ivory carvings of animals and legendary creatures. [23] With the start of modernization of Japan by the Meiji Restoration in the mid-1800s, the samurai class was abolished, and Japanese clothes began to be westernized, and many craftsmen lost their demand. Craftsmen who made Japanese swords and armor from metal and lacquer, and those who made netsuke and kiseru from ivory needed new demand. The new Meiji government promoted the exhibition and export of arts and crafts to the World's fair in order to give works to craftsmen and earn foreign currency, and the Imperial family cooperated to promote arts and crafts by purchasing excellent works. Japanese ivory carvings were praised overseas for their exquisite workmanship, and in Japan, Ishikawa Komei and Asahi Gyokuzan gained a particularly high reputation, and their masterpieces presented to the Imperial Family are housed in the Museum of the Imperial Collections. [23]

The oldest chainsaw artist records go back to the 1950s, which include artists Ray Murphy and Ken Kaiser. In 1952 Ray Murphy used his father's chainsaw to carve his name into a piece of wood. In 1961 Ken Kaiser created 50 carvings for the Trees of Mystery.

Many new artists began to experiment with chainsaw carving, including Brenda Hubbard, Judy McVay, Don Colp, Cherie Currie (former Runaways lead singer), Susan Miller, Mike McVay, and Lois Hollingsworth. At this time chainsaw carvers started loading up their carvings in the back of their trucks, functioning as traveling galleries.

In the 1980s the art form really began to grow with Art Moe getting much exposure for the craft at the Lumberjack World Championships held in Hayward, Wisconsin. This event was broadcast nationally. The addition of carving contests from the west coast to the east coast brought carvers together to test their skills and learn from each other. The first Chainsaw Carving World Championships was held in 1987 and won by then 24-year-old Barre Pinske. The 1980s also saw the development of the Cascade Chainsaw Sculptors Guild and their newsletter, The Cutting Edge, mailed out to many members throughout the Pacific Northwest and the rest of the United States. The 80's also brought the first book on chainsaw carving, Fun and Profitable Chainsaw Carving by William Westenhaver and Ron Hovde, published in 1982. [1] Other books soon followed, including a book by Hal MacIntosh published in 1988 titled Chainsaw Art and in 2001 Chainsaw Carving: The Art and Craft. He published material on chainsaw carving that predated the popularity of the Internet.

The first booking agency dedicated to promoting and preserving the integrity of performance chainsaw art was founded by Brian Ruth in 1992. It was appropriately named Masters of the Chainsaw. The company has represented some of the most respected artists in the U.S., such as Brian Ruth, Ben Risney, Josh Landry, Mark Tyoe and Marty Long, as well as select artists from other countries. In 2007, Masters of the Chainsaw, under the direction of Jen Ruth, created the first international group of female sculptors under the name Chainsaw Chix. [2] Featured in this all-female team are greats like Stephanie Huber, Angela Polglaze, Lisa Foster, Alicia Charlton, Uschi Elias, and Sara Winter.

Brian Ruth introduced the art as a performance art to Japan in 1995. Since then, he has established a division of Masters of the Chainsaw and a chainsaw carving school in Tōei, Japan. [3]

Although the general impression of the public is that it is largely performance art (because of the noise, sawdust, and very fast carving results), there are a few chainsaw carvers now producing stunning works of art. These works can be produced in a fraction of the time that would normally be expected if only conventional tools such as mallet and gouges were used. Although many carvers continue to use other tools alongside the chainsaw, the chainsaw remains the primary tool.

With the growth of the Internet, chainsaw carving has become a worldwide phenomenon with chainsaw carvers all over the world. Most Notably in Canada Carver Kings Paul and Jacob take the stage performing on HGTV's "Carver Kings" and OLN's "Saw Dogs". Along with creating large scale semi abstract center pieces that have made it to many major states. You can follow them on Youtube Here

In the United Kingdom, the English Open Chainsaw Competition draws thousands of visitors annually. In 1989 Duncan Kitson was the first British carver, with notable success, to represent Wales and The UK in international competition. His work is recognized for its individual, engineered and tactile qualities. [4] English chainsaw artist Matthew Crabb has carved the largest wooden statue of the Virgin Mary in the world, at 9 meters high, in Schochwitz, Germany. [5] Welsh veteran, Harry Thomas of Thomas Carving is highly respected in the industry and specialises in bears, along with his son Danny Thomas. Harry has appeared on ITV's Daybreak, where he carved Queen Elizabeth II's head, in celebration of her Diamond Jubilee.

In Canada, many wooden statues produced by the chainsaw artist Pete Ryan decorate the small town of Hope, British Columbia. Glenn Greensides, another Canadian artist, branched out into Japan in 1995 and visited Japan each year for 12 consecutive years to create one 5 meter tall sculpture from an exported British Columbia log depicting the upcoming year's Japanese zodiac symbol.

In Japan, the Toei Chainsaw Art Club established the World Chainsaw Art Competition, which was the first chainsaw carving competition in the country. The 2011 World Chainsaw Art Competition at the Toei Dome was to be dedicated to raising money for disaster relief due to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster that has affected the country. [6]

1999 marked the first year of the Ridgway Chainsaw Carving Rendezvous. [7] Every February hundreds of carvers go to a small town in the mountains of Pennsylvania for this event. The Chainsaw Carver Rendezvous is the biggest gathering of chainsaw carvers in the world and takes over the small town of Ridgway, Pennsylvania.

In 2010 American sculptor Bob King was awarded a "Star/Sprocket" on the Carvers Walk of Fame in Mulda, Germany, the location of the World Cup competition. This award confirms Bob has won more carving competitions than any other carver in the world to date.

In 2013, American chainsaw carver, Josh Landry, was awarded first place at the "Rally in the Valley" chainsaw carving competition. In previous years, Josh Landry was the youngest chainsaw carver participating in national and international chainsaw carving competitions.

As the art has evolved, special chainsaw blades and chains have been developed for carving. In Finland such equipment is affectionally called konepuukko ("mechanical puukko").

The chainsaw "blades" are technically known as "guide bars". For chainsaw carving these bars have very small noses (typically around 25 mm diameter). This enables the artist to create detail in the carving that would be impossible with a standard guide bar. The chains that are used on these guide bars are normally modified by reducing the length of the teeth in order that they are able to cut efficiently at the tip of the bar. The reason for this modification is that all chains manufactured currently (circa 2007) are made to be used on standard guide bars only. These "carving bars" are manufactured by "Cannon", "GB", and by a companies in Japan supplying "Stihl" and others. The other very important advantage with these guide bars is that they do not "kickback" when using the tip. they are therefore very safe to use in comparison with standard guide bars.

In order to reach the high levels of skill required to be a "chainsaw carver", a considerable amount of instruction and practice is required in the safe operation of a chainsaw. This is then followed by plenty of study and practice in carving basic shapes which then ultimately leads on to more ambitious projects. Chainsaw carvers wear protective clothing. A cut from a chainsaw is not just a cut, it actually removes a whole centimeter or more of flesh and bone. A victim can die very quickly from blood loss.

Two guilds have formed for chainsaw artists. The Cascade Chainsaw Sculptors Guild (CCSG) [8] is a nonprofit organization that was founded by a group of chainsaw artists in 1986. In 1993, the CCSG started putting out a bimonthly newsletter, "The Cutting Edge". Another nonprofit guild, United Chainsaw Carvers Guild, [9] was established in 2002 and published a quarterly newsletter titled "The Chainsaw Letter", but has since stopped publishing its newsletter. Both guilds claim to promote chainsaw art and the sharing of ideas amongst fellow artisans.


The idol is three times as old as the Egyptian pyramids and was sculpted with the jaw of a beaver, its teeth intact.

“The word ⟞mon', for example, has a very wide range of meanings even in English - from devil to good genius,” said Dr Zhilin, a leading researcher of the academy’s Age Archeology Department.

‘‘In fact, given that we do not know the context 11,500 years ago, we cannot say exactly what the [markings on the idol] depicted.”

But he added: “Apparently these were some kind of spirits.

“Not deities, because we think that deities appeared later.”

"We must not underestimate the people who created the idol.

“They had all the necessary tools and skills - and they had a rather complicated world view.

“All the world was inhabited with different spirits.

“And not only the animals and the trees but even the stones were animated.

“We think it was something close to animism… I see in these images unity and diversity of the world around.

“And it was definitely not divided just into kind and evil spirits.”

He told the Siberian Times: “It is unlikely to be possible, at least in the near future, to speak seriously about deciphering of what is depicted there.

They had all the necessary tools and skills - and they had a rather complicated world view

Dr Mikhail Zhilin

“We do not have any written data, we do not have any analogues.”

New artists’ impressions show how the idol may have looked propped up against a rock face.

“Based on the the facts I can clearly say that it was not dug into the ground, like Totem poles,” he said.

“It was standing on a relatively hard, presumably stone, pedestal, because the lower part is flattened by strong pressure and this sculpture was quite heavy.

“It stood in this way but not for a very long time.”

German dendrologist Karl-Uwe Heussner discovered it was on display like this for no more than around two decades.

“After that a crack appeared in the middle - and a series of smaller cracks,” said Dr Zhilin.

“Then it fell into the water… there was a big Shigir paleo-lake.”

Another theory is that the idol could have been floated on a raft on the lake but “‘we have no data to confirm this”, he said.

“It was definitely standing on some stone base in the open air and there were no supports.”

How the World’s Oldest Wooden Sculpture Is Reshaping Prehistory

At 12,500 years old, the Shigir Idol is by far the earliest known work of ritual art. Only decay has kept others from being found.

Four views of the head of the Shigir Idol, a nine-foot-tall totem pole made of larch and discovered in a Russian peat bog in 1890. Credit. Sverdlovsk Regional Museum

The world’s oldest known wooden sculpture — a nine-foot-tall totem pole thousands of years old — looms over a hushed chamber of an obscure Russian museum in the Ural Mountains, not far from the Siberian border. As mysterious as the huge stone figures of Easter Island, the Shigir Idol, as it is called, is a landscape of uneasy spirits that baffles the modern onlooker.

Dug out of a peat bog by gold miners in 1890, the relic, or what’s left of it, is carved from a great slab of freshly cut larch. Scattered among the geometric patterns (zigzags, chevrons, herringbones) are eight human faces, each with slashes for eyes that peer not so benignly from the front and back planes.

The topmost mouth, set in a head shaped like an inverted teardrop, is wide open and slightly unnerving. “The face at the very top is not a passive one,” said Thomas Terberger, an archaeologist and head of research at the Department of Cultural Heritage of Lower Saxony, in Germany. “Whether it screams or shouts or sings, it projects authority, possibly malevolent authority. It’s not immediately a friend of yours, much less an ancient friend of yours.”

In archaeology, portable prehistoric sculpture is called “mobiliary art.” With the miraculous exception of the Shigir Idol, no Stone Age wood carvings survive. The statue’s age was a matter of conjecture until 1997, when it was carbon-dated by Russian scientists to about 9,500 years old, an age that struck most scholars as fanciful. Skeptics argued that the statue’s complex iconography was beyond the reach of the hunter-gatherer societies at the time unlike contemporaneous works from Europe and Asia featuring straightforward depictions of animals and hunt scenes, the Shigir Idol is decorated with symbols and abstractions.

In 2014, Dr. Terberger and a team of German and Russian scientists tested samples from the idol’s core — uncontaminated by previous efforts to conserve the wood — using accelerator mass spectrometry. The more advanced technology yielded a remarkably early origin: roughly 11,600 years ago, a time when Eurasia was still transitioning out of the last ice age. The statue was more than twice as old as the Egyptian pyramids and Stonehenge, as well as, by many millenniums, the first known work of ritual art.

A new study that Dr. Terberger wrote with some of the same colleagues in Quaternary International, further skews our understanding of prehistory by pushing back the original date of the Shigir Idol by another 900 years, placing it in the context of the early art in Eurasia.

“The idol was carved during an era of great climate change, when early forests were spreading across a warmer late glacial to postglacial Eurasia,” Dr. Terberger said. “The landscape changed, and the art — figurative designs and naturalistic animals painted in caves and carved in rock — did, too, perhaps as a way to help people come to grips with the challenging environments they encountered.”

Written with an eye toward disentangling Western science from colonialism, Dr. Terberger’s latest paper challenges the ethnocentric notion that pretty much everything, including symbolic expression and philosophical perceptions of the world, came to Europe by way of the sedentary farming communities in the Fertile Crescent 8,000 years ago.

“Ever since the Victorian era, Western science has been a story of superior European knowledge and the cognitively and behaviorally inferior ‘other,’” Dr. Terberger said. “The hunter-gatherers are regarded as inferior to early agrarian communities emerging at that time in the Levant. At the same time, the archaeological evidence from the Urals and Siberia was underestimated and neglected. For many of my colleagues, the Urals were a very terra incognita.”

To João Zilhão, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Barcelona who was not involved in the study, the take-home message of the research is that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

“It’s similar to the ‘Neanderthals did not make art’ fable, which was entirely based on absence of evidence,” he said. “And then the evidence was found and the fable exposed for what it was. Likewise, the overwhelming scientific consensus used to hold that modern humans were superior in key ways, including their ability to innovate, communicate and adapt to different environments. Nonsense, all of it.”

Dr. Zilhão said the Shigir Idol findings revealed the extent to which preservation biases affect our understanding of Paleolithic art. “Most of the art must have been made of wood and other perishables,” he said. “Which makes it clear that arguments about the wealth of mobiliary art in, say, the Upper Paleolithic of Germany or France by comparison to southern Europe, are largely nonsensical and an artifact of tundra (where there are no trees and you use ivory, which is archaeologically visible) versus open forest environments (where you’d use wood, which is archaeologically invisible).”

Olaf Jöris, of the Leibniz Research Institute for Archaeology, agreed. “The new Shigir evidence makes archaeologists daydream of how the archaeological record may have looked if wooden remains had been preserved in greater abundance,” he said.

The Shigir Idol, named for the bog near Kirovgrad in which it was found, is presumed to have rested on a rock base for perhaps two or three decades before toppling into a long-gone paleo-lake, where the peat’s antimicrobial properties protected it like a time capsule. In the mid-19th century, gold was discovered beneath the mire, and the landowner, Count Alexey Stenbok-Fermor, hired laborers to mine the open-air site for ore. He instructed them to save any other objects they unearthed.

Thirteen feet down the idol was discovered, and retrieved in 10 fragments. The pieces were carted 60 miles to Yekaterinburg, the city where, 28 years later, the last czar of the Russian Empire, Emperor Nicholas II his wife, Alexandra and their children would be executed by the Bolsheviks. In Yekaterinburg, the count’s donation was displayed with bone arrowheads, slotted bone daggers, a polished elk antler and other ancient bog finds at the Urals Natural Sciences Society, today known as the Sverdlovsk Regional Museum of Local Lore.

The director of the museum allowed the railroad stationmaster, Dmitry Lobanov, an aspiring archaeologist, to assemble the main fragments into a nine-foot-tall figure with legs crossed tightly in a pose that potty-training parents of any epoch might recognize.

“It was not a scientific construction,” said the archaeologist Mikhail Zhilin of the Russian Academy of Sciences, a co-author of the new study. The idol stayed locked in that uncomfortable position until 1914, when the archaeologist Vladimir Tolmachev suggested incorporating the remnants into the finished work — increasing its height to almost 17 and a half feet. Much of the bottom half later went missing Mr. Tolmachev’s sketches of the section are all that remain.

For more than a century, the Shigir Idol was considered a curiosity, assumed to be at most a few thousand years old. The radiocarbon analysis in 1997 was greeted with derision by some scientists who found the conclusions implausibly old. Some doubters even suggested that the statue was a forgery.

Dr. Terberger and his colleagues have settled that question in their new study, demonstrating conclusively that the larch was a literal tree of knowledge. The timber was at least 159 years old when the ancient carpenters began to shape it.

“The rings tell us that trees were growing very slowly, as the temperature was still quite cold,” Dr. Terberger said. Given the speed with which larch logs rot and warp, the researchers determined that the idol was fashioned from a tree that had just been cut. And from the widths and depths of the markings, Dr. Zhilin deduced that the cuts were made by at least three sharp chisels, two of which were probably polished stone adzes and the other possibly the lower jaw of a beaver, teeth intact. (On the subject of beaver mandibles, Dr. Terberger respectfully disagrees. “During the period of rapid cooling from about 10,700 B.C. to 9,600 B.C. that we call the Younger Dryas, no beavers should have been around in the Transurals,” he said.)

And what do the engravings mean? Svetlana Savchenko, the artifact’s curator and an author on the study, speculates that the eight faces may well contain encrypted information about ancestor spirits, the boundary between earth and sky, or a creation myth. Although the monument is unique, Dr. Savchenko sees a resemblance to the stone sculptures of what has long been considered the world’s oldest temple, Göbekli Tepe, whose ruins are in present-day Turkey, some 1,550 miles away. The temple’s stones were carved around 11,000 years ago, which makes them 1,500 years younger than the Shigir Idol.

Marcel Niekus, an archaeologist with the Foundation for Stone Age Research in the Netherlands, said that the updated, older age of the Shigir Idol confirmed that it “represents a unique and unparalleled find in Europe. One could wonder how many similar pieces have been lost over time due to poor preservation conditions.”

The similarity of the geometric motifs to others across Europe in that era, he added, “is evidence of long-distance contacts and a shared sign language over vast areas. The sheer size of the idol also seems to indicate it was meant as a marker in the landscape that was supposed to be seen by other hunter-gatherer groups — perhaps marking the border of a territory, a warning or welcoming sign.”

Dr. Zhilin has spent much of the last 12 years investigating other peat bogs in the Urals. At one site he uncovered ample evidence of prehistoric carpentry — woodworking tools and a massive pine plank, roughly 11,300 years old, that he believes had been smoothed with an adze. “There are many more unexplored bogs in the mountains,” Dr. Zhilin said. Unfortunately, there are no ongoing excavations.

During a recent video conversation from his home in Moscow, Dr. Zhilin asked his interviewer in the United States: “What do you think is the hardest thing to find in the Stone Age archaeology of the Urals?”

Ivory Carving (35,000 BCE - present)

Close-up of Queen Figurine from the
12th-Century walrus ivories, known as
The Lewis Chessmen.
British Museum.

Introduction: What is Ivory? Characteristics, Uses

Ivory is a type of dentine - a hard, dense bony tissue which forms most of the teeth and tusks of animals - which has been used for millennia as a material for carving sculpture (mostly small-scale relief sculpture or various types of small statue) and other items of decorative art (such as carved ivory covers for illuminated manuscripts, religious objects, and boxes for costly objects), as well as a range of functional items (piano keys, billiard balls). Ivory was valued by both artists and patrons for its rarity, exceptional durability, and was especially prized among sculptors for its creamy colour, smooth texture and soft sheen. The art of ivory carving (including scrimshaw engraving) has been part of the cultures of many different civilizations including those of Egypt, Ancient Greece, Rome, Russia, Japan, China, and India. In addition it was an integral element in the plastic art of Islam, the Medieval Carolingian and Ottonian eras, as well as the Byzantine, Gothic and Renaissance periods. It also features in American Indian art, notably of the Inuit and northwest USA. Although less common than bronze or marble sculpture, ivory carving has produced some of the greatest sculptures in the history of art. The fact that ivory - unlike other precious materials - cannot be melted down or re-used was a major factor in its endurance as one of the most specialized of traditional crafts.

As far as prehistoric art was concerned, mammoth tusks and reindeer horn were the most commonly used types of ivory. Since then, elephant ivory has predominated, with appalling consequences for the African elephant in particular. In 1831, the demand for ivory in Britain, alone, led to the deaths of an estimated 4,000 elephants, while during the decade of the 1980s, roughly 70,000 African elephants a year were killed for their tusks. Today, thanks to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), ivory carving is now illegal in most circumstances around the globe. Since 2007, as a result of pressure from the International Fund for Animal Welfare, all ivory products, including carvings and sculptures, have been banned from eBay. The illicit ivory trade continues, however, so looking ahead, one can only hope that vegetable ivory (the nickname for a type of hard nut found in Columbia, Ecuador and Peru) will gradually replace the use of animal tooth and tusk ivory from endangered species.

Ivory Carving Techniques

Ivory carving tools and methods changed little up until the end of the 19th century. Carvers used an adz, axe or chisel for stripping the outer rind from the tusk, then a saw for cutting the tusk into manageable sections and then an implement known as a float to pare the surface. Only then would the carver resort to his fretsaws, gauges and hand chisels in order to actually carve the piece. All this changed, however, around 1900, when power-driven rotary saws and dental-type drills were introduced. These fast, powerful, labour-saving machine tools revolutionized ivory carving and, by 1950, were in widespread use around the world.

History/Traditions of Ivory Carving

Stone Age Ivories
Although wood carving was the main type of prehistoric sculpture, little evidence of it survives, due to its perishable nature. But Stone Age art does feature a wide range of works carved from tusks and bone, as exemplified by the Ivory Carvings of the Swabian Jura (c.33,000-30,000 BCE) - a variety of human and animal figures found in a number of different Paleolithic rock shelters, including the famous Lion Man of Hohlenstein-Stadel (c.38,000 BCE). Other well known examples of this type of Paleolithic art include several of the mysterious Venus figurines, such as the Venus of Hohle Fels (35,000 BCE), the Venus of Brassempouy (23,000 BCE), the Venus of Kostenky (22,000 BCE), the Avdeevo Venuses (20,000 BCE), the Zaraysk Venuses (c.20,000 BCE) and the Mal'ta Venuses (20,000 BCE). For a later Russian ivory carving, see: Venus of Eliseevichi (14,000 BCE).

Ancient Egypt (c.5500-700 BCE)
Carvings from elephant ivory and hippopotamus teeth appeared at a very early stage in Egyptian sculpture (c.5500 BCE onwards), especially during the Naquada I Period (4000-3500 BCE) of Neolithic art. Noted works have included: statuettes of King Khufu, relief sculptures engraved on ivory slabs, decorative items like casket inlays, amulets, and a range of utensils. Ivories were also carved in Mesopotamian sculpture (3000-500) - see Carved Ivory Lid of a Syrian Cosmetics box (1250, Louvre Museum, Paris). The Egyptian traditions of ivory carving in relief and ivory inlays/overlays were developed further by Phoenician artists (see for instance Lioness Devouring a Boy, c.800 BCE, British Museum, London), by Syrian artists (see for instance the Cosmetics Box Lid, c.1250 BCE, Louvre Museum, Paris), and by Minoan and Mycenean sculptors, during the period (c.1700-700 BCE). Note: In China, during this period, jade carving was the most prestigious form of carving.

Ancient Greece (c.500-100 BCE)
Ivory carving was a regular feature of Greek sculpture, although few ivories of any significance have survived. However, known masterpieces include the large-scale Chryselephantine sculpture (made from ivory, for the flesh parts and whites of the eyes, and gold for clothes) made by Phidias (c.488-431 BCE), the foremost Greek sculptor of the period. These included the statue of a seated Zeus in the temple at Olympia, and the figure of the Greek goddess Athena in the Parthenon at Athens.

Rome (c.100 BCE - 300 CE)
Roman sculpture was designed to encapsulate the glory and grandeur of Ancient Rome, and thus focused on large scale historical reliefs, imperial statues and busts. As a result, Roman sculptors added little to the tradition of ivory carving, except for the production of a number of personal ivory plaques, or hinged panels (in diptych style) - a sort of ancient business card issued by the Consuls. (A typical example is, for example, the Plaque from the Diptych of Consul Areobindus, 506 CE, National Museum of Middle Ages, Paris.) During the era of early Christian art (c.150-550), these engraved ivory panels were adapted by Christian sculptors, for use as devotional items.

Early Christian Ivories (c.300-450)
Persecution of the early Christians compelled early Christian sculpture to be small-scale and portable, a form to which ivory was ideally suited. Moreover, the Old and New Testaments of the Bible provided carvers with a rich source of iconographic imagery, as exemplified by the Brescia Casket (c.300-400 CE). Indeed, from hereon, small-scale religious images dominated ivory carving up to the Renaissance era.

Byzantine Ivory Carving (c.450-1100)
The sack of Rome (c.450) left the Eastern Roman capital of Byzantium (Constantinople) as the centre of Christianity and Christian art. This Eastern Orthodox world of Byzantine art continued to disapprove of large-scale religious sculpture and therefore embraced smaller-scale ivory carving. See, for example, the figurative masterpiece Ariadne and Her Cortege (510 CE, National Museum of Middle Ages, Paris) and the Barberini Diptych (c.500-550, Louvre Museum, Paris). A major work of religious art, from this period, made in Constantinople and shipped to Ravenna, is the Throne of Maximianus, bishop of Ravenna (546-556). (See also: Christian Art, Byzantine Period.) No important Byzantine ivory carving has survived from the period (c.600-800), although there are a number of magnificent surviving reliefs from the 10th and 11th centuries, as well as several outstanding triptychs. These include the Harbaville Triptych (c.900-1000) and the Borradaile Triptych.

Anglo-Saxon Ivory Carving (c.700-900)
If Constantinople continued to disapprove of large-scale religious sculpture, things were different in the West. Beginning with the culture of King Charlemagne at Aachen, ivory carving lost its dominance while monumental sculpture gradually became more important. Even so, small-scale sculpture in metalwork, bone and ivory was still popular among Anglo Saxon artists, who created works using imported walrus and whale ivory, as exemplified by the Franks Casket (c.700-800). This work contains an extraordinary mixture of pagan, historical and Christian imagery, with inscriptions in Old English and Latin. Another Anglo-Saxon masterpiece, which illustrates the trend away from small scale reliefs and the like, is the set of walrus ivory Lewis Chess Pieces (c.1175, British Museum, London).

Carolingian (750-900): Ottonian (900-1050)
Walrus tusks remained a popular feature in Carolingian art. Carvers turned them into religious objects such as crucifixes, reliquaries and other containers for holy relics, as well as cover panels for illuminated manuscripts and prayer books. These traditions were maintained and developed during the era of Ottonian art. Examples include the Carolingian ivory plaques David and St Gerome (c.790, Louvre Museum, Paris) and St Gregory with His Scribes (c.865, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna), and the Ottonian ivory relief sculptures Otto I Presenting a Model of His Church to the Enthroned Christ (c.965, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) and Coronation of Emperor Otto II and Theophanu (c.982, National Museum of Middle Ages, Paris).

Romanesque and Gothic (1000-1400)
Fine art changed direction during the period of Romanesque art and the subsequent era of Gothic art. The emphasis on decoration of religious and ecclesiastical objects was supplanted by a focus on architectural decoration, triggered by the new and widespread building of cathedrals and monastic churches. Stone sculpture, monumental painting and stained glass art now took centre stage, while ivory sculpture was seen as a minor art, albeit a highly specialized one. It was during this period that Paris became the leading centre for ivory carving, exporting works throughout Europe and the Mediterranean, including gaming pieces, small boxes, devotional diptychs, crucifixes, plaques, and other utilitarian objects. (A typical Romanesque religious plaque is the Journey to Emmaus and the Noli Me Tangere, 1120, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.) Other centres of medieval ivory engraving were Dieppe (France) and Erbach (Germany).

Decline in the West (1400-present)
As you might expect, Renaissance sculptors (1400-1600) took ivory carving to a new level of sophistication, although demand remained stagnant. This was partly because of the greater availability and lower cost of wood which became the leading medium for small sculpture, especially north of the Alps, under master carvers such as Veit Stoss (1445-1533), Tilman Riemenschneider (1460-1531) and Gregor Erhart (c.1470-1540). A brief revival in ivory carving occurred in Germany and Flanders during the period of Baroque sculpture, during the 17th century, but it slumped once more during the 18th and 19th centuries, and has not recovered since, despite the growing demand for functional items. As a semi-illicit technical craft it continues to flourish in certain areas of the world, though its aesthetic worth is minimal.

Ivory Carving in the East

From the time of Muhammad onwards, if not before, ivory was an idea material for the intricate abstract patterns favoured by Islamic art, and was used extensively in the Middle East, North Africa and Islamic Spain. The relative prosperity of the Islamic world coupled with its easier geographical access to both African and Indian ivories allowed its carvers to produce larger pieces, frequently incised with geometric, floral and zoomorphic arabesques.

Although ivory carving has been practiced in India for more than 4,000 years, few carved pieces have survived to illustrate this tradition. Those that have, however (see for instance, the mythological figure of the Hindu god Ganesha, c.1400, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), display imaginative designs, exquisite craftsmanship and a profligate use of precious materials! The main centres for ivory carving in India included Murshidabad, Mysore, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.

Although ivory is not considered quite as prestigious as other materials, such as jade or rhinoceros horn, ivory carvers have been active in China since before the era of Shang dynasty art (18th-12th century BCE) - see for instance the Shang ivory and turqoise goblets in the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing. Elephants roamed the forests around the Yellow River for millennia until they became extinct during the Sung dynasty, so artists had easy access to a regular supply of tusks. During the Han Dynasty (206-220 CE) ivory tablets became a regular feature of formal dress, and even grew in size during the T'ang (618-907) and Sung (960-1279) dynasties. During the era of Ming dynasty art (1368-1644), ivory was used to create small statuettes of the gods and other figures. See also Chinese Buddhist Sculpture (c.100-present). During the era of Qing dynasty art (1644-1911), when Beijing and Guangzhou established themselves as the leading centres of Chinese ivory carving, the craft became more intricate and widespread. Objects carved included decorative handles, brush-holders, table screens, cylindrical brush boxes, as well as a wide range of delicately carved figurines, often coloured with stains and lacquers. Later, Chinese carvers produced snuff bottles, stands for porcelains, perfume boxes, accessories for opium smokers, as well as Mah-Jong sets and seals.

Examples of Ivory Carving can be seen in some of the best art museums and sculpture gardens around the world, notably the Louvre Museum, Paris, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

• For more about the crafts of ivory tusk and tooth carving, or scrimshaw, see: Homepage.

What is the legacy of Ancient Greek Sculpture?

Greek sculpture broke with the artistic conventions that had prevailed for centuries in many civilizations, and instead of reproducing figures according to a prescribed formula, they were free to pursue the idealized form of the human body. Likewise, the hard, lifeless material was magically transformed into intangible qualities such as balance, humor and grace by creating some of the great masterpieces of universal art and inspiring and influencing the artists who would follow in Hellenistic and Roman times to produce more masterpieces such as the Venus de Milo. In addition, the perfection in the proportions of the human body achieved by Greek sculptors continues to inspire artists even today. The great Greek works are still consulted by 3D artists to create accurate virtual images and by athletes in sports and entertainment, who have compared athletic bodies with Greek sculptures to check the abnormal muscle development achieved through the use of banned substances such as steroids.

Watch the video: Ο οδοντίατρος της Play Doh τρώει πολλά παγωτά και γλυκά! - Παιδική χαρά (December 2022).

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