Ancient Snake Staff Found in Finland

Finds like this are unusual due to the soil.

Near Humppila, Finland, an ancient artifact has been found in remarkably good condition. The item was found in a wetland in southwestern Finland and despite being in moist conditions for thousands of years, the staff has survived in great condition.

finland ancient snake staff
Via: S. Koivisto/Antiquity

The carved, wooden staff is in the shape of a snake. The tool marks show how the item was made by hand. According to the researchers who published their findings about the piece in the archaeological journal, Antiquity, the staff was found in 2020 buried under a layer of peat.

Radiocarbon dating placed the staff as having been made at least 3,900 years ago. The length of the open-mouthed snake staff is around 21 inches- much too short to be a walking stick.

Cave carvings from the Neolithic period in nearby Russia depict snakes being used in religious ceremonies and small wooden figurines of snakes have been found in northern Europe as well. Red ochre paintings inside caves found in Finland and Sweden dating to prehistoric modern humans show what appear to be human figures holding snake staffs. Given this information there is a theory that this staff was used for cultural or religious purposes.

Finland red ochre neolithic rock paintings
Ancient rock painting made of red ochre at Ruokolahti, Finland. Via: Ismo Luukkonen/Finna

Snakes are unique creatures that hold symbolic weight in most cultures around the world. In some religions they depict someone who is evil, but in others these reptiles can represent cunning, fluidity, or even beauty. Finno-Ugric and Sámi traditions of the area both hold the snake in spiritual regard, though it is unclear what purpose the staff would have served.

Other items found nearby are related to commerce and fishing so for now the purpose of the staff will need further research to understand. In the 1980s Neolithic items were uncovered in the bog as well, such as a scoop shaped like a bear head, some pottery, and fishing equipment.

finland ancient snake staff
Via: S. Koivisto/Antiquity

So far the species of wood that the snake is made from has not been identified. Wooden items from antiquity are known to often survive due to the acidic soil found in much of Finland.