How A 4,400-Year-Old Shaman’s Snake Staff Rewrites Finnish History

To add to the mystery, the style of the staff doesn’t match anything in our archaeological record, as the Cambridge University Press discusses. We also have no way of knowing if it was lost, discarded, or stored and forgotten. The closest comparisons in style come from a clay figurine 100km northwest of the dig site depicting a coiled snake. Within the surrounding region, snakes can also be found in artwork in Russia, Northern Europe, and more, much like in the Bible and ancient Greece.

So, is the staff a “Stone Age shaman’s staff,” as National Geographic puts it? We can only go as far back in the historical record as we know. As co-author of the find’s study Antti Lahelma from the University of Helsinki said, the staff “brings to mind northern shamanism of the historical period, where snakes had a special role as spirit-helper animals of the shaman.” Moreover, as Cambridge University Press says, “Snakes are loaded with symbolic meaning in both Finno-Ugric and Sámi cosmology, and shamans were believed to be able to transform into snakes.” Additionally, the “Land of the Dead was believed to lie underwater,” which is super interesting given the wetlands where the staff was found.

In the end, just like Moses’ Nehushtan or the Staff of Aesculapius, it seems reasonable to assume that the wielder, like all shamans, was a healer and guide taking “sympathetic magic” lessons from our belly-bound animal brother. 

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