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Introduction to Neolithic Figurine Art






Early Northern Balkan and Southeastern European Neolithic figurines (6th mill) were found in houses, but from the 5th mill. onwards they were often kept in domestic shrines, on benches, usually near the oven but also at the entrance, on stone grinders etc. During the Late Neolithic they were also offered as grave goods. Unlike the Southern Balkan (Greek) material, the earliest pieces were schematic but there was a progressive trend towards naturalism.

The Early Neolithic material (Vashtemi-Podgorie, Starcevo I-Körös-Cris, Cavdar, Karanovo I, Early Linear cultures) included pear-shaped (Anzabegovo και Vršnik I, Tell Azmak), cylindrical (Vashtemi - Podgorie) or female figures with marked pubis but no facial features. Alongside existed anthropomorphic vases, stone heads and zoomorphic representations.

In the Middle Neolithic (Cakran-Dunavec-Kolsh, late Starcevo III, Vinca A/B, Karanovo III Veselinovo, Dudesti, Bükk, Hamangia) attested relations between cultures of the Balkans, the Adriatic, Central and Southeastern Europe influenced the evolution of figurine art, resulting in the appearance of a diversity of types and techniques. Mainly modelled from clay, there were figurines of animals, objects or humans, in various degrees of schematization from abstract to strikingly realistic. Important was the clay plastic art of the Bükk culture, which along with similar H- and T-shaped painted or relief motives on pots or cave walls, gave the impression it represented symbols. Also typical of this culture were the flat figurines with M-like faces or decoration, which betrayed an analogous symbolism.

Towads the end of the Middle Neolithic, some examples of sophisticated artistic expression (existing along with the contemporary black and grey polished ware of Vinca A/B-Karanovo III-Veselinovo-Paradimi cultures, which have analogies with Can Hasan IIb) presented no intermediate figurine types. Hence, given the violent abandonment of the Vinca-Veselinovo settlements, they were considered by some scholars as evidence for a direct wave of settlers from Asia Minor. The material in question included standing or seated females (standing or seated) and was dominated by non-naturalistic traits: bodies with obese buttocks but no arms, heads with beak-nose and long cylindrical necks, disproportionately large triangular or oval faces with beak-nose, enormous incised eyes, punctate mouth and pierced ears, or blank faces with two eye sockets. The bodies were often covered with densely incised motives. These peculiar figurines with rather ugly faces were sometimes said to be masked.

The above elements continued during the Late Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods (Maliq I and II, Vinca C,D-Turdas, Boian, Tripolje A-Precucuteni III, Tripolje-Cucuteni, Tisza, Lengyel, Karanovo VI-Gumelnita, Tiszapolgár, Bodrogkeresztur), but a progressive tendency toward naturalism was discerned. Figures with more natural forms of heads and incised hairstyles, rounded buttocks and legs, as well as figures with incised garments gradually appeared. Characteristic were the Boian (LN) and Tripolje A-Precucuteni III figurines, which were slightly schematic, bore incised decorations with white incrustation and seemed to be associated with possible cult practices in shrines.

Figurines in the Late Neolithic were often found with burials in cemeteries. Interesting is the example of the numerous figures of the Tisza culture (LN) (some of 80 cm in height), which should be studied in connection with the deposits and complex mortuary practices in cemeteries.

Equally important was the figurine art of the Lengyel culture (LN/Chalcolithic), which included numerous animal and human representations: standing or seated females with atrophic head, marked pubis and raised arms. They were often associated with deposits and should be considered in the context of the large cemeteries which sometimes included animal burials as well.

To sum up in a few words, MN and LN figurines in the Northern Balkans and S-E Europe (middle of 5th to middle of 4th mill) had tight dresses, rich jewelry and dense incised decoration (functional or not). On the contrary, Southern Balkan (Greek) and Eastern Mediterranean (Anatolian, Syrian-Palestinean, Cypriot, Egyptian) material displayed, in its majority, naked bodies, garments or headgears being rarely depicted. However, some affinities with the Mesopotamian cultures of Halaf and Ubaid may be perceived in figurine bodies adorned with garments and rich jewellery.

The numerous figurines of the Chalcolithic Cucuteni-Tripolje culture were mainly standing with pointed lower part for their insertion in stools. Bearing dense (incised or painted) decoration and they were probably better interpreted if seen in the light of unearthed deposits, hearths, shrines and shrine models, as well as in relation to complex burial practices in cemeteries.

The Karanovo VI-Gumelnita culture (Early Chalcolithic) included an impressive numer of a) naturalistic clay figurines (principally females with marked sex) and b) flat schematic bone figurines. Cases of male and twin figures, as well as miniatures of objects and shrine models occurred along with (cult?) deposits. These figurative elements may be studied in connection with cemeteries and the complex burial customs including rich cenotaphs.

The plastic art of the Tiszapolgár and Bodrogkeresztur cultures, in the Eastern Carpathian region, presents similar types with incised decoration, as well as deposits of varied objects whose significance eludes us.

Introduction | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 |
Chapter 4: Α.
- Β. - C. - D. - Ε. - F. | Chapter 5