INTRODUCTION TO NEOLITHIC FIGURINE ART
[lollum_dropcap]T[/lollum_dropcap]he first signs of experimental cultivation of plants and domestication of animals, which marked the beginning of the Neolithic Age, were associated with the Epipalaeolithic hunters of the ninth millennium in Syria-Palestine. During the eighth millennium the new productive activities were well instituted and then expanded, possibly by means of some primary trade. So, in the seventh millennium Neolithic communities have spread in Mesopotamia and the Caucasus, up to Southern Palestine. In the course of the sixth and fifth millennia these Neolithic cultures have been attested to the rest of the Balkans and to Southeastern Europe as well as in North Africa. Although chronology is (and seemingly will be for some time to come) very confusing, no archaeometrical method has yet redefined irrevocably the boundaries between the Pleistocene and the Holocene (± 10.000 B.P.). For that reason chronological frames used in this study are based on the 14C lower half-life. The first goal of this study is the presentation of the figurine material and its incorporation in the Neolithic cultural background (in regions presenting the earliest traces of Neolithic habitation, such as the Near and Middle East, Asia Minor, Cyprus, North Africa, the Balkans and S-E Europe). The second goal concerns the interpretation of the figurine art on the basis of the author’s new methodological approach.
The cultural background
[lollum_dropcap]O[/lollum_dropcap]n the basis of archaeological data mentioned,the progressive spread of the Neolithic in the Eastern Mediterranean and Southeastern Europe is sketched as follows:
Although the first known Neolithic culture is traced in the area of the Near and Middle East at the beginning of the ninth millennium, organised Neolithic habitation is only attested from about the middle of the eighth millennium onwards. It is then that the Saharan Neolithic culture, of unknown provenance, takes shape in the Tassili and Akakous mountains as well as the Messak-Fezzan. By the seventh millennium some evidence for a Neolithic way of life is confirmed in Greece and Cyprus. From now on, evolving of this culture will clearly differentiate it from that of the Near East and form distinct cultural-geographical entities.
From the early sixth millennium onwards the Aceramic Neolithic and then the Early Neolithic of Greece take shape independently, contributing to the further development of the Neolithic of the Balkans and Southeastern Europe, which is divided into two major cultural streams, one in the Central Balkans and the other on the Adriatic coast.
During the fifth millennium cultural developments first in Greece and then in the rest of the Balkans, possibly due to a wave of immigration from Asia Minor, leads to the emergence of the Middle Neolithic. Thus the Linear Pottery Culture is created (second half of the same millennium), which in its turn affects the formation of the Neolithic of Central Europe and of the steppes northwest of the Black Sea.
Around the end of the fifth millennium the Neolithic way of life is introduced in Egypt (possibly through the Sinai Peninsula), where it develops into the Faiyum culture.
In the early fourth millennium influences between the cultural groups of the Danube regions and the Mediterranean are attested.
In the late fourth millennium elements from the steppes to the west of the Black Sea intrude into the Carpathian basin and expand up to Northern Europe, contributing to the creation of many regional cultural complexes of the Early Chalcolithic.
In the first half of the third millennium, in the Balkans as well as the Carpathian basin, there are Middle Chalcolithic cultures bearing influences from both the Pontic steppes and the Bronze Age of the North Aegean. By about the second half of the third millennium the Balkans and Southeastern Europe pass to the late Chalcolithic period under continuous influences from the Aegean.
The techniques of figurine modeling
1. Figurines made from one lump of clay
2. Figurines with internal core
3. Hollow figurines
1. Incised or Impressed
5. Figurines with coloured slip
[lollum_dropcap]T[/lollum_dropcap]he cultural achievements of the Neolithic society are impressed on the material remains bequeathed to us and which have been revealed through excavations.Architecture, burials, tools, pottery, figurines and jewellery demonstrate, after a silence of thousands of years, with a unique eloquence and descriptiveness the natural environment and its economic exploitation, the ways of disposing farming products, the structure of society and codes of behaviour, the channels of artistic expression and, finally, the contacts and exchanges, that reveal new worlds, beyond the confines of the small settlements.
The above mentioned features were shaped on matter, since they were not expressed in written speech. The wooden tablet, with the incised linear symbols, from the lakeside settlement of Dispilio – Kastoria (5260 BC), is likely to be an early form of written speech as conjectured about similar symbols incised on clay, discovered in settlements of the southern Balkans (Vinca culture).
Pottery, an inseparable element of the Neolithic man’s every day life, became a form of artistic expression, on which a variety of colours and decorative styles and themes could be impressed. The exceptional quality of Neolithic vases is attributed to the developments in pottery know-how and pyrotechnology (composition of clays and earth pigments, firing). Weaving and basketry also favoured artistic creation.
The variety found in figurine art makes it a unique art. Its products (people, animals, houses) have a wide socio-ideological content and accompany man at birth, in every day life, in death as well as being used in symbolic acts (e.g. offering for the house’s foundation).
Jewellery of clay, stone, gold or silver and possibly seals for the adornment of the body express the tendency for embellishment both in everyday life and in exceptional cases as well (e.g. rites of a religious character, festivals for rich harvests). During the last phases of the Neolithic the use of jewellery made from the sea-shell Spondylus, as well as silver and gold jewellery (ring idol pendants, earrings) worn by only a few members of the Neolithic community, suggests new social conditions had arisen and a desire for individual promotion. Jewellery from precious materials, as well as arrow heads of obsidian and copper tools, were all objects of social prestige.
The need to exchange diet products and raw materials lead Neolithic farmers to explore beyond the confines of the settlements. Thus, a farmer came into contact with metals, copper, silver and gold, and further developed his know-how in the fields of pyrotechnology and navigation.
Finally, burial practices reflect a respect for human life and a belief in a life after death, expressed with the offering of funerary items.
Copied from Foundation of the Hellenic World
[lollum_dropcap]W[/lollum_dropcap]e have lots of evidence from the Neolithic period, as from Palaeolithic but they are not enough to help us formulate specific conclusions about the ideological attitudes of Neolithic people but, even so, we can attempt to speculate and trace. Figurines, jeweleries, painting the walls of caves, painting the skulls of the dead with red ochre are some basic characteristics of Palaeolithic people. Following the transition to the neolithic economy, neolithic farmers and stock breeders throughout Europe gradually formed new social and ideological behaviors, which were the consequence of the rapport of humans behaviors of the neolithic people.
Neolithic farmers grasped concepts such as: fertility, periodicity, reproduction, and saving; they also realized the periodic nature of natural phenomena. The Neolithic stock breeders comprehended the taming of animals and their fertility, both of which they closely observed and started to systematize. The symbolic representations of the Neolithic communities of Thessaly, which have been discovered during the excavations of these settlements, show that humans chose to represent the powers which were vital for the survival and unity of the community. Figurines and models made mainly of clay, stone, metal and bone depict the human form in various ways, predominantly women, as well as various animals, buildings and objects of everyday use.
The codes of the symbolic and abstract thought of the Neolithic people can be also traced in the complex geometric decorative themes which are painted or incised on pots, figurines and models, on jewelery and seals. Many of these artifacts besides their utility, might serve other purposes such as helping to define their maker and their user and thus establishing their mutual relationship. The ideologies of the first farmers and stock breeders like their societies, were undergoing constant change until they merged, markedly more complex and hierarchical in the Bronze Age. Even so, the Neolithic people was the protagonist of a revolution which lasts to this day.