World's oldest religious structure unearthed in Poland

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The Independent Online
THE WORLD'S oldest religious structure - surrounded by large numbers of sacred prehistoric wooden figurines - has been found by archaeologists in Poland.

Excavations in a silted-up lake 130 miles north of Warsaw have unearthed what appears to have been a 12,000-year-old wooden platform from which Stone Age people threw votive figurines into the water. So far 100 highly stylised wooden statuettes have been recovered - but archaeologists believe thousands more await discovery. They are the oldest wooden artworks ever found.

The figurines - made of willow - are believed to represent male and female humans. Three have heads carved on them, but most are stylised in the extreme. There are two main types: straight sticks mainly cut obliquely at each end, believed to portray men; and Y-shaped sticks also cut obliquely at the ends, thought to represent women.

Most are under 1ft in length. The largest - 4ft long and 3in thick - has a head with crudely carved facial features, and a carved hood or hair-do.

The excavations, directed by Professor Romuald Schild of Warsaw's Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology, took place this summer near the northern Polish village of Tlokowo, and were financed by the Polish government's State Scientific Committee. It is the first discovery of its type ever made.

The throwing of objects into water was a very common religious practice in prehistoric and later times. Spirits were believed to live in lakes and rivers. Indeed the custom surfaces in Arthurian legend - Excalibur in the Lake - and in surviving folklore practice - throwing coins in wells and fountains.

Thousands of votive objects, thrown into rivers and lakes by Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age people, have been found by archaeologists in Britain and Continental Europe, but nothing prior to about 5,000 years ago. The Polish discovery, which is from the late Palaeolithic (the old Stone Age) era, is more than double that age. What is probably the ritual platform is by far the oldest religious structure ever found anywhere in the world.

Archaeologists suspect the stylised wooden figurines were thrown into the water for them to sink to the bottom of the lake. Dozens of stones measuring about 3in in diameter were found together with them, and it is thought that they may have been attached by cords to the figurines. Many of the stones appear to have been deliberately chipped and one has a grooved design on it.