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Introduction to Neolithic Figurine Art





Macedonia And Thrace

Early Neolithic figurine art in Macedonia and Thrace is not well known. Figurines were clay, usually naturalistic renderings of humans, animals and objects in miniature, found in settlements and never with burials. They resembled those of Early Neolithic Thessaly, particularly the standing female figures with beak-nosed head, large buttocks and arms folded on the chest. The Middle Neolithic material was naturalistic but relatively poor, though bearing nicely incised decoration. Late Neolithic figurines were schematic, semi-schematic or naturalistic, representing seated women or sexless figurines. They had rounded forms but eventually triangle or parallelogram surfaces with simple or functional painted / plastic decoration. Often that decoration consisted in incised lines or dots infilled with white paste. This last feature, along with a characteristic type in which the legs and body formed an obtuse angle, is reminiscent of Northern Balkan figurines (LN Marica / Karanovo V cultures). Triangular faces with beak-nose and coffee-bean eyes (sometimes painted) recalling again Northern material have been interpreted by some scholars as ritual face masks. The figurine list includes seated females, sexless humans, but also hermaphrodite figures. Interesting is the presence of miniature representations of houses and houses without roofs, seats, ovens (?) and vases. LN Macedonia and Thrace (Makri, Paradimi) were part of a broader Northern Balkan entity. However, their figurine art had analogies with that of the Sporades and Chios islands in the Aegean, and of Hacilar in Asia Minor. It has been found only in settlements and was never associated with burials.


The largest body of figurine material in the Southern Balkans comes from Neolithic sites on the plain of Thessaly and is dated to the end of the 7th mill. As in Macedonia, it comes from houses and settlement areas, and reveals the modeller’s intention to render details. Although there is a wide range of modelling and decorative techniques, it seems that very early figurine art was made of clay and was highly schematic, as attested by the ‘buttons’ and ‘ear studs’ of the Aceramic levels, which some scholars have considered as the extreme schematization of the female body, just as the phallus-shaped figurines which were though to be analogous representations of the male body. The number of these figurines will augment in the next period.

Although some Early Neolithic Thessalian (6th mill) figurines were schematic or perfunctory, with underlined sex characteristics, the large majority were rendered in a naturalistic manner. However bodily proportions were not necessarily reproduced with fidelity and there was exaggeration of the abdomen, buttocks and breasts. A series of figures in diverse poses have been found – standing, sitting, seated, relaxing, kneeling, and cross-legged– with equally (respectively ?) varied facial features conveying a remarkable range of movement and expression. Interesting are also some rare cases of genre iconography.

Middle Neolithic (beginning of the 5th mill and on) material comprised even less condensed figurines, while predominated a general tendency towards naturalism. Important, in this period, is that anthropomorphic figurines bore painted decoration similar to that of pottery and had such vitality of expression that it is not too bold to regard them as ‘portraits’. Animal figurines and miniature house models were also produced in the same modelling techniques. Some analogies with the Hacilar tradition (Asia Minor) in figurine art should be underlined. The list also includes some miniature house-models.

Late Neolithic Thessalian figurines (end of 5th mill) have been found principally in settlements and were made of clay or marble. The majority of human representations were schematic (flat, cylindrical, with small protrusions rendering arms or the head). The so-called ‘acroliths’ (triangular stone heads often with painted decoration, made for being inserted in a clay body) were a type specific to the area and period. Two naturalistic males, which continue the naturalistic tradition of the Middle Neolithic, seem to have been exceptions to the rule while some miniature house-models have been used occasionally as foundation deposits.

Epirus and the Ionian Islands

In contrast to the abundant material from Thessaly, that of Neolithic Epirus and the Ionian Islands is limited to some NN figurines from Choirospilia in Leucada island and Leukimi in Corfu. Beak-noses on long necks prevail.

Mainland Greece and Euboea

Figurine material from Mainland Greece is different from that of Thessaly, Macedonia and Thrace, since it presents isolated types with sporadic analogies with the neighbouring areas, due to the fact that this region was a geographical crossroad.

Figurine material was made principally of clay and has been found in settlements or caves.

Animal figurines and vase miniatures were few while house models have not been found yet. Some naturalistic pieces from Attica, Boeotia and Aegina seem to belong to the Early and Middle Neolithic periods.

Schematic examples from the above areas and Euboea island are dated to the Late Neolithic. A unique Late Neolithic storage jar from the Skoteini Cave on Euboea, decorated with two relief figures (a male and a female with marked genitals) was probably symbolic and related to grain supplies.

The Peloponnese

The figurine material from the Peloponnese spans the entire Neolithic Age. During the Early and Middle Neolithic periods clay and marble were both used for modelling various, usually naturalistic standing types, sometimes bearing traces of painted decoration. The technical characteristics of these two periods continued in the Late Neolithic but the transition to greater schematization is already obvious. The posture of two examples from Malthi and Mycenae recalls Balkan types.

The Aegean

There is no certain Early Neolithic figurine material from the Aegean islands. Figurines of doubtful date were naturalistic representations of obese, cross-legged females with arms folded under their breasts and conical head. Τhe Middle Neolithic (or Early Aegean) is represented by stratified material from the Sporades, which being a geographical and cultural crossroad shows affinities with neighbouring Thessaly (mainly concerning the expressional phaces), the Balkans and Anatolia (Hacilar). Hence the figurines from the Sporades have been considered as a discreet entity.

Anatolian analogies are also apparent in figurines from the island of Chios of about the same date.

Late Neolithic material from the Aegean is limited and comes from Samos, the Cyclades and the Dodecanese. All has been found in habitation levels, except for that from the island of Kea, but even here it is not related specifically to a funerary context. Τhe fact that they are rare and often unstratified does not permit any typological grouping and general conclusions. With the exception of the so-called ‘Fat Lady of Saliagos’, the material consists of rather schematic figurines which in some cases herald the features of the later Cycladic ones.


Crete was seemingly isolated during the Early and Middle Neolithic, and cultural contacts are only attested for the Late Neolithic period in the Aegean. Consequently its figurine art, recovered from habitation debris, is considered as a discreet entity with minimal stylistic development. Clay and marble were equally used and human figures were sometimes of a particular type with no genitalia or facial features.

Μales were very few and, along with sexless figurines, they were usually standing. The majority were nude females in squatting position. Αlthough most bodies were nude, quite many females were decorated by varied incisions and pointillé motifs which decorated the surface or indicated the presence of garments. In addition, the general resemblances concerning the decoration points and the technique give the impression of the existence of expressional freedom inside the frame of a defined schematic rendering. Of particular interest is the large (30 cm) phallus-shaped figurine from Zakros, which implies a cult function.

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