Check out this Bronze Age Action Man

roos-carr-figures

Published: Wednesday 21st December 2016 by Rich Sutherland

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We’ve teamed up with Hull Museums to bring you a weekly series of historical facts and tales. This week we focus on some mini people that you may have seen before, without fully knowing the story behind them.

On Christmas morning, young girls and boys rush downstairs to discover whether Santa brought the doll or action figure they asked for. This fascination with human-like figurines is not a recent phenomenon.

Barbie arrived in 1959 with her perfectly pink Dream House and range of accessories. Throughout the late decades of the twentieth century, many became obsessed collectors of Troll Dolls and other brands of tiny people.

But even before this, little girls would play with baby dollies in pretend pushchairs and cots. So perhaps it’s not so surprising that a set of wooden statuettes from the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age were discovered in Roos Carr, near Withernsea.

Although the primary purpose of these objects is yet to be discovered, it’s still very interesting that ‘dolls’ existed over 2,600 years ago. Found in 1836 by a group of labourers, the four tiny humans were accompanied by a serpent-headed boat and small wooden box.

Later, a fifth was found but it didn’t fit inside the boat as the others did. This suggests that there would have originally been two boats with separate crews. Where the missing shipmates ended up is anyone’s guess.

The Victorians stuck the Roos Carr figures in the boat for display. They attached the pieces of curved wood, which were also found in 1836, to their bodies to make arms. Years later, archaeologists carefully removed the nineteenth century glue and restored the figures to how they were originally found.

During this process, they worked out that the short, curved, wooden add-ons were in fact detachable male genitalia, rather than arms. (A far cry from today’s Action Man.)

Many archaeologists look to religion for answers. It’s highly unlikely that children would have been given these stone-eyed wooden figures. However, when they were first discovered, one oblivious archaeologist did gift his daughter one of the ancient dolls to play with.

It is generally agreed that the nautical warriors were some sort of votive offering for ancestors or gods. The fact that they were found in blue clay suggests that they were deposited in or near a river, which further supports this theory. Similarly to the Viking sword found at Skerne, it is likely that they were used in some sort of European spiritual practice.

There have been nine other surviving figures found in Britain and Ireland, all ranging from 2500BC to 148BC. Each is made from a type of wood – either ash, pine, yew or oak. Meanwhile, some are definitely male, whilst others have removable genitalia, so can be either gender. Rather ingenious handwork by these ancient carpenters, wouldn’t you agree?

You can see the Roos Carr Figures for yourself at the Hull and East Riding Museum on the High Street, which is free to enter.

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Published: Wednesday 21st December 2016 by Rich Sutherland

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