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Figurines of Neolithic Boeotia from the Sarakenos Cave at Akraephnion

 

Introduction


The earliest Sarakenos figurines unearthed date to the Late Neolithic IA (5th millennium BC) and were made of marble. The marble preference in figurine making has been kept through the Late Neolithic IB as well. These LN figurines number 12 items. From then onwards most of this abundant figurine material has been made of clay (with just few exceptions of marble items), it belongs to the Late Neolithic II (the final Neolithic period of the cave) and is especially significant by itself, because such artefacts were not very widely used during this period.

Marble figurines (12 items, 5 belonging to the LNI period and 7 to the LNII period) have generally a minimal naturalism and their arms -if represented at all- are mere protrusions. Heads are generally missing but, if one judges from several cases of still existing ones, they are very stylized, rod-shaped (merged with neck) with a protruding nose and with no other facial features. Sometimes volumes are more accentuated and large incised pubic triangles are represented along with belly fat folds. In some cases red paint is also used to mark incised details. In sum, marble figurines do not seem to evolve impressively towards the end of the period.

Clay is used for almost all LNII material which is an important entity comprising a very large number of figurines (727 items) often showing high qualities of modelling. As has been stated above, this material is especially significant, because such artefacts were not very widely used during this period. LNII figu-rines can be distinguished in two main categories: heads and bodies. Yet it must underlined that a third large category includes abundant parts of broken members (legs/feet and arms/hands) which are often non-identifiable. The latter may have been either sweeping of badly modelled representations or witnesses of intentionally broken figurines. The great majority of those figurines are human, with the exception of few animal representations.

Judging from the quite many big-sized heads, legs or feet, one can assume that many of the Sarakenos figurines were actually small statues of about 40 cm and more in height.

Given that the Sarakenos cave is situated almost in the centre of the mainland, its figurines bear close similarities to figurine material from other neighbouring Neolithic sites in Boeotia but even general re-semblances to more distant cultural areas betraying broader intercultural relationships.

Almost all those figurines manifest the characteristic simplification of the Late Neolithic period, yet more naturalistic modelling can be occasionally discerned. Few figurines also bear traces of red painted and incised decoration but not forcedly marking functional details.

A high percentage of the Sarakenos figurine material is heads. They are usually made of a flat (oval or triangular) piece of clay applied on top of a cylindrical neck which has an oblique cross-section. The tri-angular face is very common to figurines of this period, in nearly all Late Neolithic sites from the North and South Balkans to the Aegean and Cyprus.

Either with a small or large nose and a rough rendering of facial features or with no facial features at all, Sarakenos heads often have pierced ears. This particularity is known from many neighbouring areas of the Greek peninsula, while it presents general analogies with other civilizations of the Balkans and South-East Europe dated to the Late Neolithic or Chalcolithic period. A typological analogy can also be found in Cyprus.

The modelling of the nose, eyes and (sometimes) ears by simultaneous pressure on the clay by fingers is rare, yet it bespeaks of some kind of contacts with Thessaly.

Among female figurines, a type with joined legs is of particular interest, since this posture can be seen in figurines from the entire Greek peninsula and it is a steadily repeated type according to the Theory of Repetition.

Contacts with Thessaly are attested by the naturalistic sitting female type along with the figurine type representing a vulva, which probably represents a woman in labour. Very interesting is the presence of a large number of male naturalistic figurines, often with marked protruding genitalia. It is known that males do not seem to have been a favorite option for Neolithic modellers. It seems that the Sarakenos cave presents a particularity in the choice of subjects, since unearthed male figurines are of an important percentage and since animal figurines are indeed very few compared to the abundant Neolithic figurine material.

It must underlined that the Neolithic figurine material of Sarakenos cave presents a new type, which, as far as I know, has not yet typological parallels. It is the representation of a sitting man (i.e. not seated on a stool, as males are usually found), legs wide open so that genitalia can easily be seen. Penis and testicles are well modelled and rendered in a very plastic way. One could easily consider those figurines as the male counterparts of female figurines representing women in labour. Unfortunately, only one (ORF 143) permits us to have an almost integral view of its posture. Besides, given that its distended legs with bent knees create a round space, there might possibly be room for “something” - eventually a pot or another smaller figurine. Therefore, with a little imagination, one could assume that this figurine type actually represents the modeller itself while at his creative work; a tribute to the artist(s) in the cave workshop.

Animal representations are few but there are at least two cases of very careful rendering.

It is very interesting that most of the Sarakenos material, along with many parts of figurines (among which legs are of a relatively high percentage) have unearthed at little distances from hearths. Equally important is that quite many of them have been found in layers above and around deer antlers probably placed by intention horizontally on the ground among small stones and some rough pottery sherds. Their location and typology lead to many interpretative options, one of which may be related to worship practices involving the antlers of deers.

Preface | Introduction | Images