You are here

Everyday life of the past: Crafting a wooden anthropomorphic statue using wooden, stone and bone tools

Friday, 29 July, 2011 to Sunday, 31 July, 2011
Tuukka Kumpulainen
Number of Participants / Visitors / Audience: 
2000 visitors

The experiment was designed and conducted by archaeology student Tuukka Kumpulainen, who is also an artisan of ancient technology and a founding member of Stone Age Action Group Kuttelo (Kierikki´s associate partner in OpenArch). The experiment was conducted in front of hundreds of visitors during the Stone Age Market event, which gave the experiment an extra challenge.

Crafting from start to finish a wooden anthropomorphic statue from a pinewood trunk using only Stone Age tools made from wood, bone and stone and studying the demands of this activity on the tools and on the workers using them.

Stone Age finds of anthropomorphic wooden statues from Northeastern Europe were studied for their general construction and shaping methods. A bog find from Pohja, Southern Finland was the main source of data. Similar finds from the Ural mountains, Russia, completed the source material dating to c. 7500 - 4000 BC. No actual replication was attempted but rather a study of the process of using Stone Age tools in woodworking within a spectator-friendly (ie. big and quick enough) project.

A green, debarked section of a 30 cm-diameter Scots pine trunk, 3 meters in length, was split in two by driving 40 cm long hardwood wedges into the wood using various hammers ranging from a one-piece wooden club to a 10 kg flint nodule. The split face of one half was cleaned of splinters using a stone celt and a stone adze.

Shaping the statue’s shoulder line by cutting rounded notches into opposite sides of the split trunk section near one end was quickly done using a heavy stone celt of amphibolic slate. Rounding the top of the head, seen critical for good anthropomorphic effect, was done mostly by a stone adze made from uralite-porphyrite. Shaping the end-grain top of the head turned out very slow compared to the shoulder-line notching.

A human-like head and face were carved on the rounded surface of the tree trunk, above the shoulder line notching. The method of creating a recognizable human head by simple cuts followed the artistic methods used by the Stone Age makers of the Pohja find.

Gouges made from elk cannon bone were the main tools for shaping the eye sockets, brow and cheeks of the statue. Initial shaping, using a lightweight wooden baton to drive the gouges, was fast and effective, but wood removal speed slowed down appreciably as the shaping went deeper into the wood. Straight-line carving to create the nose and the mouth was done by several stone chisels made from diabase and Onega green slate.

A simple hand drill tipped with a flint bit was used to drill out the statue’s irises. Two small pieces of amber were fitted into the holes thus created. For further contrasting effect, ground slate powder, white in color, was rubbed into the eye-sockets surrounding the irises. Charcoal was used to highlight the shapes of the face.

The statue was erected by fitting it upright into a one meter deep hole dug into sand, after which the shaft of the statue was smeared with red ochre.

Other remarks
Splitting large tree trunks with Stone Age methods requires a quantity of strong wooden wedges driven into the wood with strong, heavy wooden mallets. As usual, lack of proper tools equals a hefty rise in the energy expenditure of the woodworkers.

Well known from both personal experience as well as published data on experimental stone tool use is the negative effect of wood drying during construction. High-temperature, low-moisture summer conditions in particular cause wood to dry out at accelerated speed. The time and effort needed to remove further wood increases progressively as a result. Damage on stone tool edges and the time spent re-sharpening also increases hand in hand with decreasing wood moisture. An obvious solution to the problem is keeping the unfinished piece of work submerged whenever not worked on.

Using heavy stone celts and adzes in precision woodworking is a strenuous activity, sustainable for only short periods of time followed by lengthy recuperation of the hand and forearm muscles for accurate work. Naturally, a period of task-specific conditioning would increase individual work capacity. Spreading the work load over several days, the wood kept soft by submersion, seems a most effective Stone Age woodworking strategy.


Tools used in splitting the trunk. Photo:...
The wooden wedges suffered in the splitting...
Rounding the top of the head with a stone...
Shaping the neck with a bone chisel. Photo:...
The roughly shaped face with the tools used...
Drilling the irises. Photo: Jasse Tiilikkala
Erecting the statue. Photo: Jasse Tiilikkala
The finished statue with the artist himself...