The National Archaeological Museum in Athens, Greece, has taken one of their most curious artifacts out of storage and put it on display. It’s a Neolithic statuette carved out of granite about 7,000 years ago. It is 36 centimeters (14 inches) high and has a pointed, beak-like nose, a rounded torso with a prominent belly and thick, irregularly cylindrical legs. There are no arms, no genitalia or breasts to indicate sex, no facial features other than the pointy nose. I think he looks like the secret illegitimate love child of Sam the Eagle and the Shmoo.
Its design, material, great age and unknown origin make it an intriguing archaeological mystery. Museum curators call the figurine a 7,000-year-old enigma.
“It could depict a human-like figure with a bird-like face, or a bird-like entity which has nothing to do with man but with the ideology and symbolism of the Neolithic society,” Katya Manteli, an archaeologist with the museum, told Reuters.
Experts also cannot be sure of its provenance, as it belongs to a personal collection. They assume only that it is from the northern Greek regions of Thessaly or Macedonia.
Unlike most Neolithic figurines made of soft stone, it is carved out of hard rock even though metal tools were not available at the time.
And while it is too short for a life-size depiction of the human figure, it is bigger than most Neolithic statues, which are rarely found over 35 cm tall.
“Regarding technique and size, it is among the rare and unique works of the Neolithic period in Greece,” Manteli said.
It’s possible that the lack of sex characteristics and detailed features are a practical limitation of having to carve hard granite with stone tools. It could also be incomplete, although the high gloss polish indicates this is a finished piece.
There are more than 200,000 objects kept in permanent storage at the National Archaeological Museum. This charming Neolithic fellow is one of the treasures pulled from the storeroom for The Unseen Museum, an exhibition that gives the bench players a chance to start the game for once. It runs through March 26th of this year.