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Eszter Banffy - Notes on the Connection Between Human and Zoomorphic Representations in the Neolithic

Eszter Banffy - Notes on the Connection Between Human and Zoomorphic Representations in the Neolithic

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Published by: Dragan Taneski on Jun 02, 2010
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Notes on the Connection between Human and ZoomorphicRepresentations in the Neolithic
Problems in Research History
Several rather incoherent facts have caused the research of cult finds to slowly lose creditover the last two decades. Since figural representations, house models, small clay altarpieces andanthropomorphic vessels have belonged to the category of interesting small finds, they often havebeen studied independently, neglecting all surrounding other finds and archaeological phenomena. Suchworks deal with cult objects as mere curiosities of art history. Without a standard method of descriptionand interpretation, these works can never help us get closer to understanding how cult objects wereused and for what they were prepared. Interpretations of cult objects have both offered a large scope forcommonplaces and ill-based, adventurous ideas of prehistoric religion.As a result, when publishing a cult object, any interpretation can be neglected or restricted to some generalremarks (such as "used in the course of some fertility cult", or "agrarian rite"). Or, the opposite can occur,with ritual customs and Neolithic goddesses and gods described in detail. In both cases, there is hardly anyconnection established between the finds themselves and the main theses of historians of religion.Meanwhile, prehistoric archaeology itself followed a totally different development. At a time whenprehistory is becoming more and more incorporated into different fields of natural sciences, bothtraditional descriptive typology and unverified obscure ideas have lost much credit. It is thus no wonderthat several archaeologists have turned their back on any kind of cult material. For them, there is noperspective to deal with such objects today.However, this attitude can also be ill-based and almost as harmful as the illegitimate favor cultobjects sometimes enjoy. We are not so rich in information about the Neolithic and Chalcolithicperiods that we can afford to neglect any source of material. In a period when almost everything isdecomposited except some stone, bone or baked clay objects, cult objects form a very important sourcegroup. Therefore, we must combine the results gained from very different methods. Fortunately, inthe last years a new tendency seems to have emerged, giving new air to this otherwise exhaustedtopic. New analyses have set up cult objects as one part of a whole material assemblage. In doing so,they have gained a much broader view of interpretation. As P. Ucko recently summerized, "...whatwe must insist on asking is that archaeologists should (1) avoid the constricting nature of assumedmonolithic classificatory categories, and (2) conscientiously continue to attempt to match the detailsof the uncovered material culture to the implications of any interpretation profferred by them. What iscertain is that interpretations can go much 'further' now than in the 1950s and 1960s. After all, we are
in the era of multiple meanings..." (HAMILTON ET AL. 1996: 304).
In the following pages, I would like to add to this problem by combining the traditional typologicalapproach with context analyses in order to interpret a certain cult object type.In prehistoric research, human and animal representations have always been treated differently.All forms of zoomorphic figurines have often been put into one category, although they apparentlybelong to several subtypes. Firstly, we have animal figurines which are formed in a realistic way,so that it is apparent to which species it belongs (e.g. the fox representation from the Gumelnitaculture,
1968: Fig. 103). However, some other finds are similarly realistically formedanimal figures or heads which have been applied to obviously non-realistic bodies. Many kindsof zoomorphic altarpieces can be arranged in this category (e.g. the deer shaped altarpiece fromMuldava, Karanovo I culture -
1993: Fig. 146, or from the Eneolithic period:Jasa Tepe -
1978: PI. 1/1; Koshilovtsi - Eneolit SSSR: PI. 87/4)
(Figs. 1, 2).
Secondly,any three dimensional sculpture representing animals that cannot be identified as a certain species
 Eszter Bdnffy
are normally considered to be coarse representations that reflect the puny talent of the prehistoricpotter.On the other hand, we must face the enormous literature dealing with human, mostly femalefigurines, which are researched quite separately from animal figurines. Here, the fact is disregardedthat many heads are not typically female, and not even human, but rather zoomorphic, not to speak of definitely mixed creatures with a female body and an animal head or mask, often being a typicalrepresentation for certain animal species.M. Gimbutas is one of the few exceptions. In her works, she collected a series of suchrepresentations. Unfortunately, these figurines are not processed thoroughly and then interpreted on thebasis of the analysis. Instead, they are used to fit into a previously-created concept. As it is known, thisconcept is based on the omnipotent nature of the "Old European" Great Goddess. This female powerhad different aspects: including those of animals, symbolized by a feature the represented animalspecies supposedly had. Such aspects are represented - according to M. Gimbutas - with the help of themixed creatures like figurines with duck head, owl eyes, snake, frog or ram positions, forms or heads
1989). These aspects of the "Magna Mater" are supposed to influence the life of the wholesociety and to rule over all beings in the Neolithic and Chalcolithic. Meanwhile, they helped thesecivilizations to keep the peaceful golden era flourishing. Relating to this concept, Gimbutas elaboratedher theory of the East European Kurgan invasion of lndoeuropean tribes and she also used this theoryto name the causes for the end of "Old European civilizations". Namely, the power of tribes honoringalmost exclusively male gods were supposed to destroy all the harmonic and peaceful developmentof the matriarchal South East European Neolithic. Apart from the modern political allusions reflectedin this idea (GIMBUTAS 1989: 318-20, but especially 319); this would be a process, partly reflected inthe vanishing of figurines and other cult objects at the beginning of the Bronze Age. Thus, the abovementioned representations are used for verifying an ideological preconception. They are not an attemptto interpret the figurines themselves. That said, I note the brilliance of M. Gimbutas on the subject of East European prehistory, and segments of her theories on (pre)historic processes and cultural changesin this area. Still, I must point out that the interpretation of mixed female and animal figurines remainsarbitrary when background analyses are absent.I should like to demonstrate the problem of this interpretation by beginning with an imaginaryanimal figure with good parallel forms of human heads and transitory beings. By comparing these finds,I would like to note the possible connection and the complicated relations between animal and humanrepresentations in the Neolithic and Chalcolithic of South East Europe.
An Example for Connections between an Imaginary Animal Figure Typeand Other Zoomorphic Representations on Cult Objects
I will start with a peculiar clay animal figure found in 1993 during an excavation of an extendedsettlement of the youngest Lengyel culture in Transdanubia (For a summary of typological parallels andthe origins of this object, found in Zalaszentbalazs, see
(Fig. 3).
The 5,7 cm high and 9,3cm long figure is flat. It depicts a double-headed animal with one body, the second head being attachedto the place where the tail should be, causing the heads to look at each other symmetrically. The foreand hind legs of the animal are made of one piece of clay each, and the animal's genital organs areemphatically depicted in the middle of its belly. On the heads, the eyes and the mouths are not shown,but the ears appear in the form of small round applications on both sides of the heads. Although the topsof the heads are somewhat damaged, the pairs of horns in the form of divided vertical protrusions areclearly visible, indicating that it must be either a ram or a he-goat. The object is not a three dimensionalsculpture standing on its own, but was used as a lid handle.This is not a unique find for the late Neolithic Moravian painted ware-Lengyel cultural circle. Infact, it is typical of the Western distributional area of the culture. In South Western Slovakia, the earlyclassical Lengyel site Santovka is well-known for its rich cultic assemblage (PAVUK 1981, 1994).
 Notes on the Connection between Human and Zoomorphic Representations in the Neolithic
Among the animal representations (i.e. zoomorphic small clay altarpieces), two-headed symmetricaltypes also occur
1981: Fig. 63;
1994: Fig. 5a-d)
(Fig. 4).
Another example of this typewas found in Bosovice, Moravia (PODBORSKY 1989: 184, Fig. 5/1)
(Fig. 5).
From the early Lengyel siteof Falkenstein-Schanzboden in lower Austria, a piece almost identical to the Zalaszentbalazs object wasround and is also a lid handle
Fig. 29/4). A good parallel piece comes
from Santovka (PAVUK 1994: Fig. 4/4)
(Fig. 6).
Zoomorphic lid handles are fairly common in the Eastern Lengyel circle as well. From the vicinityof Zengovarkony and Moragy, private collectors have found numerous fragments of such objects
I960: P1.31/9,11). One of the fragments is a simplified form of the double-headed type underdiscussion. Zoomorphic lid handles also occur in the fortified tell and also in the horizontal settlementof Polgar-Csoszhalom, which seems to have been a kind of interaction and mediation center betweenthe late Lengyel and the Eastern Hungarian Tiszapolgar cultures
1994: 234;
KovAcs -
1997). This is because it, too, is typical of the Tiszapolgar culture
1963:P1.84/la, 89/2a, 90/la;
1972: 133). From the Eastern Hungarian late Neolithic settlement of Kenezlo, two other zoomorphic lid handles have been found (MAKKAY 1959: 128). It is thus obviousthat the unusual type of two-headed zoomorphic representations were widely used, not only in the hugeLengyel-Moravian painted ware circle, but also in its neighbouring cultures, too. This makes it all themore interesting as a means of revealing something about its possible archetype, its origin.In general, zoomorphic figurines in South Eastern Europe are common from the beginning of theEarly Neolithic, i.e. the Koros-Starcevo-Karanovo I circle to the end of the Chalcolithic and sporadicallyuntil the time of different cultures of the Early Bronze Age (as, for example, the Somogyvar-Vinkovci,Glina 3-Schneckenberg or the Hatvan cultures). This plastique can appear in the form of small clayanimal figures as well as applied parts of animal figures on different clay objects, such as heads on thebellies or handles of vessels.While some animal representations can be called more-or-less realistic - a dog, bull, deer or bearfigure - a certain percentage of the so-called "oil lamps" or rather miniature clay altarpieces are alsoformed either as a complete animal figure (PAVUK 1994: Fig. 5/2), with two deep depressions in themiddle of its back or, even more frequently, as triangular and rectangular altarpieces with three or fouranimal heads on their edges
(Fig. 7).
The richness of these animal representations is stunning and onlya few concluding works have tried to define them (in Hungary, J. Makkay wrote a synthesis of mostlystray finds, probably coming from several different periods -
1959).From the character of the above zoomorphic figures, it follows that the people preparing theseanimals must have set out from observation of real animals. In our case, however, contrasted tothe naturalistic features of the heads and the genital organs, the representation contradicts any realexperience. The double nature of the Zalaszentbalazs animal provides great reason for speculation.Namely, it must in part be considered a realistic representation, as there are some indications of itsspecies and gender. Yet, it remains a fictional creature.This sort of representation seems to be a prototype in the whole Lengyel-Moravian painted world,occurring not only in its original form, but also as a more or less reduced subtype, where the two headsappear in two peaky knobs (cf. a piece from Tolna county, under publication by I. Zalai-Gaal). We mustseek the antecedent of this figure type elsewhere, and not among the naturalistic zoomorphic roundplastique.The next parallels for our animal head types can still be found in animal heads applied on the edgesof geometric altarpieces. Animal heads turning back to look at each other first appear in a great quantityin the Koros and Starcevo cultures, both in the form of realistic heads and in reduced form. Agood example for the first head type is from Kaniska lva, where a rectangular clay altarpiece withfour animal heads was found, belonging to the Linear C/Spiraloid A period of the Starcevo culture
1992: PI. 5 - the object is dated by T. Tezak-Gregl somewhat younger:
1991: Fig. 6/1) or one find from Obessenyo (Dudestii Vechi), a triangular altarpiece with three animalheads (KUTZIAN 1944: PI. 47/19). The famous rectangular altarpiece from Lanycsok with four headsmight be a transitional form, as they all have eyes and noses. Still, it is hard to decide whether they are

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