Anthropomorphic Plastic Art of the Tripolye Culture People in the Collections of the State Archaeological Museum in Warsaw
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Dział Archeologiczny Muzeum Warszawy, ul. Jezuicka 1/3, 00-281 Warszawa
Publication date: 2015-12-31
Wiadomości Archeologiczne 2015;LXVI(66)
The State Archaeological Museum in Warsaw has in its keeping 26 anthropomorphic figurines deriving from sites of the Tripolye Culture in Podolia, in Ukraine (Table 1). Most of the artefacts discussed in the article were excavated in 1911–1913 by Marian Himner (1933) at Popudnia (Popudnya/Попудня; Fig. 1) and Pieniążkowo (Peniozhkove/Пеньожкове, nowadays Богачівка; Fig. 2). Three more statuettes, provenanced to Sokołówka (Sokolivka/Соколівка), Skipcze (Skipche/Скіпче) and Żurawińce (Zarivintsi/Заривинці) – are stray finds. The group was examined within the research frames proposed by Richard Lesure (2002; 2011, p. 54–62). This model consists of four principal elements, ie, analysis of iconography (Fig. 4:A), interpretation of the uses of the statuettes (Fig. 4:B), social analysis (Fig. 4:C) and symbolic studies (Fig. 4:D). All the figurines were made of good quality clay, containing fine-grained sandy temper and, in two specimens, cereal grains (No. 1, 20); the colour of their surface indicates uniform firing in an oxidising atmosphere (S. Ţurcanu 2013, p. 58). Some of the statuettes have a coat of reddish-coloured engobe. Some retain marks from a modern-period fire to the storage-office facility. None of the figurines is complete (Fig. 5–7), thus the groups mostly includes fragments of the upper portion of the artefact, or its legs. The original (medium) size of the figurines man be reconstructed as ranging between 8 and 25 cm (D. Monah 2012, p. 136; S. Ţurcanu 2013, p. 61). Dated to the middle phase BI–BII, the figurines from Penizhkove have a distinctive engraved decoration which covers most of their surface. Iconographically this ornamentation is related to designs known from phase Cucuteni A, confirming that the co-called Eastern Tripolye Culture has its roots in an earlier, southern unit – the Precucuteni Culture (M. Vìdejko 2004a, p. 404). Because all of the incomplete statuettes survive with the genital area missing, their gender cannot be determined. The figurines from Popudnya, date to phase CI and represent several morphological types, namely: erect forms with legs forming a cone-shaped terminal (No. 10, 11, 18, 24), or with a flat base (No. 12, 20, 21, 26), or with each leg modelled separately (No. 22, 23); finally there are some seated forms (No. 13, 19). Some of the statuettes have represented on them the pubic triangle and knob-shaped breasts. There are no male or androgynous representations in the examined group. Engraved decoration is used only to lend emphasis to the morphological features of the images. In one figurine some pigment was used to represent the hair (No. 20). The motifs decorating the figurines, regardless of their interpretation, imaginably were a specific culture code, recognizable within the ancient communities. Also significant is the occurrence of the same motifs across a large territory, and the continuity of some of the patters, which continue in evidence from the early until the late chronological phase. The figurines from Penizhkove are decorated with engraved designs of an unusual form and composition. The vertical herringbone motif seen on the back of three statuettes (No. 4, 6, 9) has been observed on plastic art present in phase BI–BII (A. Pogoževa 1983, p. 40–49, fig. 12:8, 14:4). On the other hand, almond-shaped marks (No. 5, 6) are a decoration unique in this anthropomorphic plastic art. Similar designs identified on pottery have been interpreted by Ukrainian researchers as representations of plants or grains (M. Vìdejko 2004, p. 446–448). Similarly, the motif of a necklace, shaped like an ear of corn (No. 4, 5), may have had a symbolic meaning. The coating of some figurines, like the finds from Popudnya (No. 10, 11, 18, 19, 22, 23), with a red pigment, presumably has a significance other than aesthetic. Not only the colour (associated with blood), but also the antiseptic and embalming properties of ochre, a pigment noted often in funerary contexts, intimate a connection of these representations with the dead (W. Gumiński 2014, p. 25). An abstract, miniature form of the figurines permitting their easy manipulation, gives to their user a sense of control. Regardless of their function figurines could stimulate thinking about identity and indicate the fundamental importance of being a man of understanding for the Neolithic existence (cf. D. Bailey 2005, p. 30–42; 2007). Many archaeologists have stressed the integrity of the spheres of the sacred and the profane in the everyday life of prehistoric communities, including even technological action. It is safe to recognize the function of the grains included in the clay as other-than-utilitarian (No. 1, 20). Their presence suggests a ritualization of the entire chaîne opératoire, beginning with the preparation of the ceramic paste. Also of some interest are the intentional cut-marks observed on the protruding belly and side of the figurine from Sokolivka (No. 2). Examined under a stereoscopic microscope (Plate 6:4–6) these grooves appear to have been made prior to the firing of the statuette. It is likely that a “destruction/scarring” of the image was, in this case, a significant stage in the process of its creation and function. When attempting to recognize the function of the anthropomorphic figurines we neglect to consider their archaeological context. It could be established for all the anthropomorphic representations from Penizhkove. The figurines had been discovered in two (Fig. 8, 9) of the thirty-eight investigated platform features. Two of the figurines (No. 4, 9) had surfaced, resting only a small distance apart, among the remains of building 17. A hearth was identified in the corner of the same building. The other four anthropomorphic representations (No. 5–8) were found among the remains of platform 20. Two statuettes were found next to each other. The inventory from dwelling 20 included an animal figurine with broken off horns. The remains of a building at Penizhkove where anthropomorphic artwork was discovered do not differ in their location, form or size, or for that matter, by the remainder of its furnishings, from other features in that site. The only more notable find is a concentration of statuettes found in platform 20. In the series of anthropomorphic figurines from Popudnya original context could be established only for six specimens. Two statuettes (No. 10, 11), from feature 24 (Fig. 10), had rested in the eastern part of the dwelling, in the immediate vicinity of quernstones. Nearby stood a clay pithos containing grains of wheat (M. Himner 1933, p. 46). In platform 28 (Fig. 11) two leg fragments were found only a small distance apart, presumably belonging to a single figurine (No. 22, 23). Dwelling 20 (Fig. 14) contained a clay model of a house, next to which was discovered a statuette of a seated individual (No. 19). Finds excavated from platform 8 (Fig. 13) include a figurine with a flat base (No. 12) and a model of a house. Anthropomorphic statuettes were found also in platforms 1 and 30 (Fig. 12) but can no longer be identified in the analysed group. Statuettes have been mostly discovered in ordinary dwelling features, or in storage pits in their vicinity, often nearby a hearth or an oven, or alternately, by the wall or the doorsill. (A. Pogoževa 1983, p. 112–114). It is likely that the idols with perforated projections on their arms and on the sides were suspended. An indirect proof of this would be the statuette from Sokolivka (No. 2). A fragment of the right-hand projection on its arm had fractured at the perforation while the object was in use. The left-hand projection is visibly worn, possibly from rubbing against a cord. Fragmentation is a common feature of the Neolithic anthropomorphic artwork known from central and south-eastern Europe. John Chapman (2001, p. 99–102) has stressed that the recovered artefacts not only are broken but also incomplete. This led him to argue about the importance of dismembered objects (figurines included) in social interaction. Their fragments would have been a symbol of links (“enchainment”), not only between individual homesteads in a given settlement, but possibly also between different settlement units. In one scholarly approach the diversity of representations evident in assemblages of figurines would be something like a window on an ancient society. They intimate the emergence of a social identity, made manifest using attributes of gender or age (R. Lesure 2011, p. 62–63; M. Mina 2006, p. 264–265). All the figurines analysed here are depictions of women, unless their fragmented condition prevents identification of their sex. All of them were recovered from the remains of domestic structures. Therefore, it is impracticable to examine this material with the aim of comparing the archaeological context dependent on sex or other iconographic attributes. In the assemblage under discussion all fragments have marked breasts, in the form of small, round knobs, in some specimens the belly is rounded, possibly indicating the young age of the represented individuals. Iconographic and technological variation of the statuettes originating from sites under analysis, and even, from the same sites, would support the conclusion that these figurines were manufactured by different individuals to suit their needs. An interpretation also possibly more convincing in this context would that the fired clay figurines are images of individual personages, rather than deities worshipped by the community in general. The only find from Popudnya which suggests some social role related to gender is the model of the house. Inside, to the left of the entrance, is a figure of a woman working a quern in a kneeling attitude. Opposite, near the stove, is seated figure, idle, lacking marked sexual attributes. Given the lack of cemeteries documented in the Tripolye Culture (prior to phase CII when they are noted for the first time), our understanding of social differentiation can only be very limited. Figurines of individuals sitting on a chair or a stool may be representations of individuals with a special social status (M. Mina 2008, p. 227). In Cucuteni-Tripolye materials there are representations of this type, of individuals of both sexes, and of androgynous figures as well (I. Mareş 2009, p. 112–113; D. Monah 1997, p. 368, fig. 116:3.4.7). This suggests that the social status of an individual was divorced from his or her sex. No fired clay model of a seat was discovered at Popudnya near the statuette of the sitting woman (No. 19). Nevertheless, the form of this figurine would have prevented standing it on a flat surface. One of the main research assumptions which appears most often in the literature of the subject is that the larger the number of figurines in an archaeological context, the larger the number of rituals within the systemic context (R. Lesure 2002, p. 591). This in turn may be understood as a response to stress triggered by societal or economic change (e.g. L. Talalay 1993, p. 46–48). For their part, D. Bailey (2005), p. 91) propose to interpret the accumulations of figurines (and not only figurines) in dwellings, especially those destroyed by fire, as the remains of a sacrifice made before that building was ritually burnt. Communal deposits of this type would have been a symbol of integration, with a major significance for social practices. The series of human figurines from Tripolye Culture held by the State Archaeological Museum in Warsaw has been used as a starting point in a broader discussion of issues addressed by the research in the Neolithic anthropomorphic art. In Polish archaeological literature there has been very little discussion of this sort. The article does not exhaust the subject and only cites some of the many research possibilities.
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