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International Journal of Osteoarchaeology

Int. J. Osteoarchaeol. 24: 424437 (2014)

Published online 16 December 2013 in Wiley Online Library
( DOI: 10.1002/oa.2375


Depictions of Birds in the Cucuteni

Tripolye Civilisation


Institute of Archaeology, Romanian Academy Iai Branch, Iai, Romania

Faculty of Biology, Alexandru Ioan Cuza University, Iai, Romania

Notwithstanding the fact that few avian osteological remains have been found in the settlements of the Cucuteni
Tripolye cultural complex, birds seem to have played an important role in CucuteniTripolye imagery. The
earliest representation dates from the Precucuteni I phase, an ornithomorphic protome (a sculptural ornament in the form of a bird) on a vessel lid. Several vessels, known as asko, depicting ducks exist from the
Precucuteni IITripolye A and ornithomorphic asko, statuettes, gurines, vessels and protomes were used
during all the CucuteniTripolye cultural complex phases. Starting with the Cucuteni A-BTripolye CI-CII
phase, three-dimensional representations are supplemented by painted ornithomorphic images. They
became widespread from this moment on, eventually becoming the predominant form of representation. On
the face of it, ornithomorphic representations seem to be rare, but the authors managed to identify over 150 statuettes, gurines, vessels, protomes and painted images. Most of them seem to relate to ritual practices or to have
cosmogonic signicance. Some of the representations, but not many, are realistic enough to permit approximate
species-level taxonomic identication. Most of the ornithomorphic representations are fragmentary, but the
breakage may be due to deliberate, ritualistic fragmenting. They were also particularly concerned with the meanings of the ornithomorphic imagery. Taking into account the discovery conditions, the fragmentation of the artefacts and the themes depicted, the authors consider that most of the CucuteniTripolye ornithomorphic
representations played a key role in certain religious rituals. Copyright 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Key words: birds; depictions; Chalcolithic; CucuteniTripolye; religion

The CucuteniTripolye cultural complex (C-TCC)
consists of the Precucuteni, Cucuteni and Tripolye
cultures. The complex spanned the area that today constitutes southeastern Transylvania, central and northern
Moldavia and Bessarabia and western Ukraine (Figure 1).
Flourishing roughly between 5050 and 3500 Cal BC
(Mantu, 1998: 246252), the complex can be ascribed
to the Chalcolithic Age. The Precucuteni IIII and
Cucuteni A communities were neighbours to the south
and southeast with the communities of the Hamangia
and Gumelnia cultures (48004000), whereas those of
the Cucuteni AB and B phases abutted the communities belonging to the Cernavod I (42003700)
culture and to the steppe Srednyi Stog II culture (Mantu,
* Correspondence to: Luminia Bejenaru, Institute of Archaeology, Romanian
Academy Iai Branch, Iai, Romania.


Copyright 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

1998: 4750), populations with which they maintained

a close relationship.
Birds seem to have played an important role in the
religion and mythology of the CucuteniTripolye people, as exemplied by the representations found among
C-TCC remains: three-dimensional representations in
the form of gurines, statuettes, spoon and ladle handles,
asko vessels that represent the body of a duck and, especially, through painted imagery on cultic vessels.

Archaeological bird bones

The collecting and identication of bird bones from systematic excavations in C-TCC sites is only at a beginning. Therefore, in the settlements of the Precucuteni,
Cucuteni and Tripolye cultures, few osteological remains
from birds have been identied so far. In most cases, the
identication of the species was rendered impossible by
their high fragmentation.
Received 4 November 2013
Accepted 12 November 2013

Depictions of Birds in the CucuteniTripolye Civilisation


Figure 1. Map of the CucuteniTripolye cultural complex and contemporary cultures of southeastern Europe. Eponymous settlements and sites from
the CucuteniTripolye area mentioned in the text are marked (numbers refer to site numbers in Table 1).

Only 0.06% of the archaeozoological samples from

the Cucuteni A level from Poduri-Dealul Ghindaru were
bird remains, and in the case of the assemblage from
Hoiseti, likewise attributed to the Cucuteni A phase,
only 0.08% of the remains were from birds (Cavaleriu
& Bejenaru, 2009). For the Cucuteni B phase, bird
remains have been identied at Liveni-La Btca
(0.11%) (Haimovici & Ungureanu, 2002), Feteti-La
Schit (0.15%) (Cavaleriu & Bejenaru, 2007; Oleniuc 2010)
and Poduri-Dealul Ghindaru (0.14%) (Oleniuc, 2010).
Even though the general assumption is that the
sporadic presence of bird remains in the Chalcolithic
settlements from Eastern Romania is due to the
communities subsistence pattern, which relied on plant
cultivation, animal husbandry and, perhaps, large-game
hunting (Haimovici, 1987), we must stress the fact that,
owing to the low precision of the collecting methods,
by hand and without sieving the sediments, the amount
of bird remains in Romanian Chalcolithic sites may
severely underestimate the bird remains originally present.
We must stress the fact that birds could not have provided
signicant quantities of meat because of their rather small
size and that their economic role was, undoubtedly, rather
limited. Although the C-TCC communities manifested a
limited economic interest in birds, some species, particularly migratory waterfowl, seem to have played an important role in C-TCC cosmogonic rituals and mythology.
Among the osteological remains from Cucuteni and
Tripolye sites was a worked artefact made of avian bone
(urcanu & Bejenaru, 2012: 182, pl. VIB.4, item 19).
Copyright 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

The item is a bone tube fashioned from a fragment of a

radius, for which taxonomic identication was impossible
beyond class. It was possibly either used as a container for
other smaller items, or it is an unnished ute (urcanu &
Bejenaru, 2012: 185186). Because the source does not
specify the stratigraphic level from which the artefact
was collected, it could not be attributed to a certain phase
of the CucuteniTripolye chronological evolution.
While there are few bird bone identications for the
C-TCC cultures, the situation is different in the case of
the Gumelnia area to the southeast because of a greater
interest in collecting and identifying bird remains.
There, no less than 57 bird species were identied
among the remains from 10 tell settlements. Displaying
great variety from an ecological, seasonal and ethological point of view, the remains are from steppe and
wetland birds: swans, geese, ducks, wading birds,
bustards, crane, diurnal and nocturnal birds of prey,
songbirds and others (Gl, 2007).

Ornithomorphic representations
Although there is a general absence of avian osteological
remains from excavations of C-TCC sites, there are several artefacts that represent birds, namely ornithomorphic
vessels, particularly asko, gurines, statuettes, protomes,
spoon and ladle handles and, in particular, images painted
on cultic vessels (Table 1). These discoveries can provide
information on the birds known to the Cucuteni and
Int. J. Osteoarchaeol. 24: 424437 (2014)

(Iai County, Romania)
Isaiia (Iai County, Romania)

Trgu Frumos (Iai

County, Romania)
(Iai County, Romania)
(Vaslui County,
(Neam County, Romania)

Costia-Cetuia (Neam
County, Romania)
Ghelieti-Nedeia (Neam
County, Romania)
Izvoare-Piatra Neam
(Neam County, Romania)

Copyright 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Traian-Dealul Viei (Neam

County, Romania)



Trpeti-Rpa lui Bodai

(Neam County, Romania)




tefneti-Stnca (Botoani
County, Romania)
Buznea (Iai
County, Romania)


Site no.

Precucuteni I

Precucuteni III





Cucuteni B1
Precucuteni III

















Figure no.
in this paper

Precucuteni III


Cucuteni A

Precucuteni II

Precucuteni III

Precucuteni II

Cucuteni A

Cucuteni B1

Cucuteni B1


Ornitomorphic representations

Table 1. Archaeological sites from the CucuteniTripolye area with ornithomorphic representations (x=present)


Niu et al., 1971b: 89; Garvn,

2011: pl. IV/1
Vulpe, 1957: 106, Figure 81; 226,
Figure 226/4; Garvn, 2011:
172, pl. IV/3
Vulpe, 1957: 106, Figure 81; 226,
Figure 226/4; Garvn, 2011:
172, pl. IV/7
Marinescu-Blcu, 1974:
Figure 85/1;
Marinescu-Blcu, 1981: 49,
Figure 96/4, 113/3
Marinescu-Blcu, 1981: 197/2
Marinescu-Blcu, 1974: 264,
Figure 83/1;
Garvn, 2011: 172, pl. IV/4

Matas, 1946: 83, Figure 31;

2011: 172173, pl. IV/2
Matas, 1946: 83; Figure 32
Matas, 1946: 83, pl.
LVIII/432, 433a,
433b, 436; Garvn, 2011: pl. II/5, 6
Garvn, 2011: pl. IV

Boghian & Mihai, 1987: 315,

Figure 8/1
Boghian & Mihai, 1987: 315,
Figure 7/12
Balabina, 1998: 147;
Figure 84/2
Ursulescu & Tencariu, 2006:
41, Figure 14;
pl. VII/23; 123, Figure 39
Stratulat et al., 2008: 233,
Figure R163
Stratulat et al., 2008: 234,
Figure 168
Marinescu-Blcu, 1974:
Figure 85/3
Balabina, 1998: 147; Figure 84/2

Niu, 1975: 4950; Figure 2


L. Bejenaru and D. Monah

Int. J. Osteoarchaeol. 24: 424437 (2014)

Ariud (Ersd) (Covasna

County, Romania)
Brnzeni III (Republic
of Moldova)
Brnzeni VIII
(Republic of Moldova)
Coernia I (Soroca District,
Republic of Moldova)
Grebeni (Republic of
Horodnica (Republic of
Iablona I (Republic of
Putineti I (Republic of
Racov (Republic of
Varvarovka VIII
(Republic of Moldova)
Bernovo-Luka (Ukraine)

Koilovcy (Ukraine)


Oleksandrivka (Ukraine)

Region of
Cherkassy (Ukraine)
Sabatinovka II (Ukraine)

vanec (Ukraine)


Copyright 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.


















(Bacu County, Romania)
Poduri-Dealul Ghindaru
(Bacu County, Romania)

Traian-Dealul Fntnilor
(Neam County, Romania)
Brad (Bacu
County, Romania)
Gura Vii-Silite (Bacu
County, Romania)





Site no.

Table 1. (Continued)

Precucuteni III
Tripolye A
Tripolye CII

Precucuteni III
Tripolye A
Tripolye CII

Precucuteni III
Tripolye A
Cucuteni B2
Tripolye CICII
Precucuteni III
Tripolye A

Cucuteni B1

Cucuteni B1

Precucuteni III

Cucuteni AB

Cucuteni A

Cucuteni B1

Precucuteni III

















Cucuteni A2
Cucuteni B1
Cucuteni A1
Cucuteni A1?
Cucuteni A2
Cucuteni A3?
Cucuteni A3?
Cucuteni B
Cucuteni B1

Figure no.
in this paper

Cucuteni A2

Cucuteni A4


Ornitomorphic representations


Burdo, 2004: 394395

Videiko, 2004: 224225; Stratulat

et al., 2008: 259; Figure U22
Balabina, 1998: 147; Figure 83/2

Bibikov, 1953: 6162, drawing

40 and pl. 46
Balabina, 1998: 147; Figure 83/5
Burdo, 2004: 394

Balabina, 1998: 191; Figure 103/34

Balabina, 1998: 147; Figure 83/6

Balabina, 1998: 191; Figure 100/12;

Figure 102/2
Markevi, 1981: drawing 27

Balabina, 1998: 190; Figure 98/1;

Figure 99/1
Bodean, 2001: 84; Figure 41/2

Balabina, 1998: 147; Figure 84/2

Balabina, 1998: 191; Figure 100/12;

Figure 102/2; Stratulat et al., 2008
Marchevici, 1996: 253, Figure 1/1;
Bodean, 2001: 3033, Figure 12/6
Balabina, 1998: 191, Figure 99/2

Niu et al., 1971a: 67, Figure

25/2; Garvn,
2011: 172, pl. III/5
Stratulat et al., 2008: 209, Figure R74
Niu, 1975: 56
Monah et al., 2003: 115, Figure 94
Monah et al., 2003: 169, Figure 143
Monah et al., 2003: 227, Figure 321
Monah et al., 2003: 182, Figure 178
Sztncsuj, 2007: 191, pl. IX/1
Sztncsuj, 2007: 191, pl. IX/2
Markevi, 1981: 4142; Figure 57/10

Marinescu-Blcu, 1974:
Figure 84/4
Ursachi, 2012: 11, Figure 2122


Depictions of Birds in the CucuteniTripolye Civilisation


Int. J. Osteoarchaeol. 24: 424437 (2014)

Tripolye people and especially on the place and the role
played by certain species in the myths and religious
rituals of the Cucuteni and Tripolye tribes. The analysis
of the three-dimensional plastic representations and of
the painted imagery found on cultic vessels also offers
some information, albeit rather scant, on the bird species
known to the Cucutenians. We will review here the most
signicant ornithomorphic representations discovered in
C-TCC sites, listed in chronological order.

L. Bejenaru and D. Monah

(Figure 2/5). Another horizontal ornithomorphic protome
comes from dwelling no. 1 from Ghelieti-Nedeia. The
artefact, dated to the Cucuteni B1 phase, was afxed on
the wall of a vessel whose shape cannot be determined.
The bird head is stylised sketchily, with a short and thick
beak and eyes indicated by two lateral alveoli (Niu et al.,
1971b; Garvn, 2011). It is possible that this protome,
too, represents a waterbird. Although ornithomorphic
protomes are quite rare, they were present during all the
phases of the Precucuteni and Cucuteni cultures.

(a) Protomes
The earliest ornithomorphic representations come from the
Precucuteni I phase. There have been very few excavations
from this phase, and so little archaeological material has
been collected, but we can ascribe an ornithomorphic
protome that once decorated a ceramic lid to this phase.
The protome from Traian-Dealul Viei (Marinescu-Blcu,
1974; Garvn, 2011) has a neck shaped like a long
cylinder, a rhomboid-shaped head with a crest in the
median area, with eyes rendered with incised scrolled lines,
and the beak with short incised lines and dots (Garvn,
2011). Even though the piece (Figure 2/1) is certainly a bird,
the strong stylisation does not allow for the identication of
the species. In the same category of protomes applied on
lids there is a highly stylised ornithomorphic protome
(Figure 2/2) originating, probably, from the Precucuteni III
level from Izvoare-Piatra Neam (Vulpe, 1957; Garvn,
2011). Another lid with an ornithomorphic protome,
likewise strongly stylised (Figure 2/3), comes from an
unspecied level from Bodeti-Frumuica (Matas, 1946).
Finally, a vertical protome was discovered on a Cucuteni
A2 lid from Gura Vii-Silite (Niu et al., 1971a; Garvn,
2011). The bird is well modelled the body is oval with
an arched back, and the head is rendered realistically,
but the identication of the species is not feasible.
Interesting information is also provided by the
horizontal protomes that were once attached to ornithomorphic or other vessels used for conducting rituals.
Unfortunately, a number of these protomes are stylised,
schematised or carelessly shaped and modelled. For this
reason, the identication of the species is sketchy and
often doubtful. The practice of making ornithomorphic
protomes begins as early as the last phase of the
Precucuteni culture. In one from the Precucuteni III level
from Costia-Cetuia (Figure 2/4), the eyes are indicated
by two deep circular alveoli, the beak is wide at the base
and tapers towards the tip where the nostrils are rendered
by two small shallow depressions (Garvn, 2011). The general appearance seems to suggest a waterbird. Also from the
Precucuteni III phase comes the protome from IzvoarePiatra Neam (Vulpe, 1957; Garvn, 2011). The piece has
a long neck, but its head is vaguely ornithomorphic
Copyright 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

(b) Ornithomorphic vessels and regular vessels tted

with ornithomorphic protomes
Bird-shaped vessels are attested starting with the
Precucuteni II phase. The earliest are duck-shaped vessels
(asko) discovered in Precucuteni II, Tripolye A, Cucuteni
A1 and some later settlements. The term askos has multiple
meanings and nuances (Marinescu-Blcu, 1990: 5), the
explanation of which will be omitted here. For our study,
it sufces that an askos is a type of duck-shaped vessel that
the CucuteniTripolye domain borrowed into from the
GumelniaKaranovo VI area. Some pieces might have
been produced locally after models were imported from
the south. This type of vessel had denite religious significance and use. Asko were also used during the later
phases, namely Cucuteni A34 and Tripolye BIBII, most
having been discovered in ritual contexts.
The oldest askos was discovered in a sanctuary
building from the Precucuteni II settlement of Isaiia,
in a collection of cultic objects (Ursulescu & Tencariu,
2006). The small vessel (10 cm in length) is of southern
origin, probably from the Gumelnia area (Figure 2/6).
For the Precucuteni IIITripolye A phase, a few asko
were discovered in the settlements of Coernia I
(Figure 2/7) (Marchevici, 1996; Bodean, 2001), LukaVrubleveckaja (Bibikov, 1953) (Figure 2/8) and
Oleksandrivka (Ukraine) (Burdo, 2004) (Figure 3/1).
The askos body from Coernia is ovoid in shape and
is attened towards the bottom. The funnel-shaped
neck is asymmetrical and protruding. On the body,
there are two prominences, which, according to the
discoverer, were intended to represent the animals
wings. Three grooves run over the neck and around
the wings are three further concentric grooves. At the
base of the neck and along the ridge, there are rows
of small alveoli. The impressed decoration is typical
for the Precucuteni III phase. According to the discoverer, the vessel represents a waterbird, which
could be a wild duck (Marchevici, 1996: 253). Even
though the shape of the askos from Coernia is typical
for the vessels imported from the south, the artefact in
Int. J. Osteoarchaeol. 24: 424437 (2014)

Depictions of Birds in the CucuteniTripolye Civilisation


Figure 2. Ornithomorphic protomes on vessel lids (different scales): (1) Traian-Dealul Viei, Precucuteni I phase (after Marinescu-Blcu, 1974); (2)
Izvoare-Piatra Neam, Precucuteni III phase (after Vulpe, 1957); (3) Bodeti-Frumuica, phase unknown (after Matas, 1946); (4) Costia-Cetuia,
Precucuteni III phase (after Garvn, 2011) and (5) Izvoare-Piatra Neam, Precucuteni III phase (after Vulpe, 1957). Ornithomorphic vessels (asko)
and regular vessels tted with ornithomorphic protomes: (6) Isaiia, Precucuteni II phase (after Ursulescu & Tencariu, 2006); (7) Coernia I, Precucuteni
III phase (after Marchevici, 1996) and (8) Luka-Vrubleveckaja, Precucuteni IIITripolye A (after Bibikov, 1953).

question is undoubtedly a local product fashioned after

a southern model.
In the Cucuteni area, an askos decorated with a
continuous spiral and painted in white and red was
discovered in the Cucuteni A1 level from the
Chalcolithic tell of Poduri-Dealul Ghindaru (Monah
et al., 2003) (Figure 3/2). A beautiful example of
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uncertain provenance comes from a haphazard discovery probably also from the same site and, which typologically, can similarly be attributed to Cucuteni A1
(Monah et al., 2003). This piece, decorated with
incisions and white and red painting, seems to be a
local replica of a Gumelnia askos (Figure 3/3). From
Ariud (Ersd), the well-known site of southeastern
Int. J. Osteoarchaeol. 24: 424437 (2014)


Figure 3. Ornithomorphic vessels (asko) and regular vessels tted with

ornithomorphic protomes (different scales): (1) Oleksandrivka, Precucuteni
IIITripolye A phase (after Burdo, 2004); (2) Poduri-Dealul Ghindaru,
Cucuteni A1 phase (after Monah et al., 2003); (3) Poduri-Dealul Ghindaru
(?) (Cucuteni for the Third Millennium collection, Bucharest), unknown
phase (after Monah et al., 2003); (4) Ariud (Ersd), Cucuteni A3 (?)
phase (after Sztncsuj, 2007); (5) Ariud (Ersd), Ariud IV (?) phase
(after Sztncsuj, 2007), perhaps Cucuteni A3 phase and (6)
Mrgineni-Cetuia, Cucuteni A2 phase (after Stratulat et al., 2008).

Transylvania, comes two asko. The rst, of a larger size

(H = 8.1 cm), was unearthed in 1968; its stratigraphic context is unclear, but considering the depth at which it was
found (Sztncsuj, 2007: 190), it can probably be ascribed
to Cucuteni A2 or A3. The piece has the shape of an
asymmetrical cup, which gives it an askos-like shape
(Figure 3/4). It is impossible to establish whether the
piece is an import or a local imitation. The piece from
Ariud is noticeably similar in shape to the askos from
Brad, as discussed below. The second askos from Ariud
is a miniature vessel (H = 4.1 cm), with a wide, skewed
mouth and a small, perforated handle (Figure 3/5). On
account of the depth at which it was found (0.85 cm),
it is likely that it can be attributed to the Cucuteni A3
or, according to the publisher, to the Ariud IV phase
(Sztncsuj, 2007).
Much later, towards the end of the Cucuteni A
phase, asko were also used for depositing precious
hoards, as exemplied by the discovery from Brad
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L. Bejenaru and D. Monah

(Ursachi, 2012). Even though the archaeological level
in which the Brad treasure was discovered is a late
one (Cucuteni A4), the askos is of Gumelnia provenance (Ursachi, 2012: 11). The askos from Brad
contained a valuable treasure comprising gold disks,
copper bracelets, a copper axe, numerous copper beads
and an impressive number of perforated cervine teeth
(Ursachi, 2012: 510). Many of the artefacts comprising the treasure seem to be of southern origin. After
the Cucuteni ATripolye BI phase, because of the
cessation of ties with the south, the Cucuteni and
Tripolye tribes cease making use of asko.
In the Gumelnia culture, asko made their appearance
in phase A2 and continued to be used until phase B1
(Marinescu-Blcu, 1990: 8). Most people consider the
asko to have been used in rituals, though one researcher,
Marinescu-Blcu (1990: 16) considers that the asko had
an unspecied utilitarian purpose. Considering the
archaeological contexts of the aforementioned discoveries and their rarity, we believe that the Gumelnia asko
imported and used by the PrecucuteniTripolye A, and
Cucuteni A tribes depicted what was considered a sacred
bird (the duck) and that they had religious signicance.
Marchevici and Danilenko hold the opinion that the
asko and other ornithomorphic vessels were associated
with an astral cult that signalled the existence of a
divinity with a bird (duck) head, upon which rested
the task of carrying the Sun across the rmament during its daily ride from dawn to dusk (Marchevici, 1996:
Besides the duck-shaped vessels, for C-TCC, there
are also several ornithomorphic vessels for which we
cannot identify the species depicted. A vessel from
Cucuteni A2 level of Mrgineni-Cetuia site seems to
represent a bird, on account of its oval shape (Figure 3/
6). Unfortunately, the protome with the head and tail
was broken in ancient times (Stratulat et al., 2008). As
with the anthropomorphic statuettes, these ritual vessels were deliberately broken (Monah, 2012: 8285)
and, for this reason, are extremely hard to identify.
Another ornithomorphic vessel, this time from
Poduri-Dealul Ghindaru, from an unclear level, has a
peculiar shape: the item resembles an askos but with
one positioned vertically (Figure 4/1). In the upper half,
the vessel has two conical prominences and, in the
lower half, a protrusion. The latter represents the tail,
whereas two other prominences seem to suggest wings
(Monah et al., 2003).
Another category is vessels with regular shapes and
with ornithomorphic protomes. One example with
particular artistic value was discovered in one of the
Cucuteni A2 levels from Poduri-Dealul Ghindaru
(Figure 4/2): a footed cup ending in a discoid base to
Int. J. Osteoarchaeol. 24: 424437 (2014)

Depictions of Birds in the CucuteniTripolye Civilisation

does not exclude the possibility that the bird is a swan,
but the second author believes that the neck is much
too short for this species. A supplemental argument
for interpreting the piece from Mrgineni as a duck is
the role played by this bird in the mythology and
rituals of the Cucuteni and Tripolye cultures.

(c) Spoon handles

Figure 4. Regular vessels with ornithomorphic protomes (different

scales): (1) Poduri-Dealul Ghindaru, unknown phase (Monah et al.,
2003); (2) Poduri-Dealul Ghindaru, A2 phase (Monah et al., 2003) and
(3) Mrgineni-Cetuia, Cucuteni B1 phase (after Niu, 1975).

which an ornithomorphic protome was attached. The

protome is rendered rather crudely. It has a neck bent
at a right angle, a triangular head painted in white
and a neck with alternating wide strips of brown and
white colouring. The head has its eyes indicated, and
the beak is long and narrow (Monah et al., 2003).
Because the work is strongly stylised, the species
represented cannot be identied, but the beak is quite
wide at the base, which could denote a water bird. This
vessel, through its rened stylisation, is undoubtedly a
true masterpiece.
Another extremely interesting ornithomorphic
protome was discovered in the Cucuteni B1 level from
Mrgineni-Cetuia; the artefact was published with
erroneous accompanying information and without the
permission of the discoverer by Niu (1975: 56). The
protome (Figure 4/3) is on the rim of a typical Cucuteni
B1 bowl, preserved with traces of black paint, which
allow us to ascribe it to the style that has been
described as the epsilon style. The protome is naturalistically modelled, and our opinion represents a ducks
head with its beak resting on the body of the bowl.
Indeed, on account of its arched neck, the rst author
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Several spoon handles, all found in Precucuteni settlements from Romania, feature ornithomorphic handles.
The earliest, modelled carefully and red red, comes
from a chance discovery made in the Precucuteni II settlement of Vldeni (Figure 5/1) (Marinescu-Blcu, 1974).
The second spoon handle comes from the Precucuteni II
settlement of Isaiia. The end of a red clay spoon was
modelled in the shape of a waterfowl head. The eyes
are marked by two incised horizontal lines; the beak is
small and, particularly at the base, quite wide, and the
neck displays two indented veins (Stratulat et al.,
2008). In our opinion, the spoon from Isaiia depicts
the head of a duck. A third spoon, which is the size of
a teaspoon, was carved from a bone and subsequently
polished with care (Figure 5/2). Towards the end of
the handle, there are two protuberances that might represent wings. The end is a carved head seen from the
side, and the eyes are represented by two small round
indentations. This artefact comes from Precucuteni III
level from Trpeti-Rpa lui Bodai (Marinescu-Blcu,
1974; 1981).

(d) Figurines and statuettes

We attempted to differentiate between gurines and
statuettes according to the technological criteria and
use-life, following a model used for analysing the
CucuteniTripolye anthropomorphic plastic art in
which pieces that were modelled crudely from
unprepared clay and weakly red were considered to
be gurines (Monah, 2012: 91). The results of our
research were rather disheartening. We identied only
two pieces that, when the criteria listed earlier are
applied, could be considered gurines (Stratulat et al.,
2008: 234, Figure 168). The rst gurine (Figure 5/3),
discovered in the Precucuteni III settlement from Trgu
Frumos, is small, with a height of just 4.8 cm. The
modelling is fairly naturalistic but crude, with no
elements that could lead to the identication of the
species. The second gurine comes from BodetiFrumuica and is crudely modelled from a piece of clay
(Figure 5/4). Its head is vaguely shaped, with only the
beak being more clearly represented. A row of
impressed notches runs along the body on one side.
Int. J. Osteoarchaeol. 24: 424437 (2014)


L. Bejenaru and D. Monah

Figure 5. Ornithomorphic spoon handles (different scales): (1) Vldeni, Precucuteni II phase (after Marinescu-Blcu, 1974) and (2) Trpeti-Rpa lui Bodai,
Precucuteni III phase (after Marinescu-Blcu, 1974; Marinescu-Blcu, 1981). Ornithomorphic gurines: (3) Trgu Frumos, Precucuteni III phase (after Stratulat
et al., 2008) and (4) Bodeti-Frumuica, unknown phase (after Matas, 1946). Ornithomorphic statuettes: (5) Traian-Dealul Fntnilor, Precucuteni III phase
(after Marinescu-Blcu, 1974); (6) Trpeti-Rpa lui Bodai, Precucuteni III (after Marinescu-Blcu, 1981); (7) Putineti I, Precucuteni III phase (after Bodean,
2001); (8) Luka-Vrubleveckaja, Precucuteni IIITripolye A phase (after Balabina, 1998); (9) Brlleti-Sturza, Cucuteni A (after Balabina, 1998); (10, 11,
12, 13) Bodeti-Frumuica, unknown phase (after Matas, 1946); (14) Grebeni, Cucuteni B1 phase (after Balabina, 1998); (15) Koilovcy, Cucuteni B2
Tripolye CICII phase (after Balabina, 1998) and (16) Koilovcy, Cucuteni B2Tripolye CICII phase (after Balabina, 1998).

The discoverer describes it as an oval bird,

modelled as a doll, without legs (Matas, 1946).
Constantin Matas uses the term gurine only for this
piece, labelling the other ornithomorphic pieces as
Copyright 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

statuettes. The main issue with the ornithomorphic

representations from Frumuica is that we do not know
the precise habitation level from which they were
collected. The total number of published gurines is
Int. J. Osteoarchaeol. 24: 424437 (2014)

Depictions of Birds in the CucuteniTripolye Civilisation

small, and one reason may be that such small and
unspectacular representations were omitted from the
published accounts.
The great majority of the ornithomorphic representations from this category can be classied as statuettes.
These too, fall into two categories. The rst comprises
statuettes of small dimensions, modelled from a single
lump of clay. These are frequent in the Precucuteni
and Cucuteni areas. The second category includes the
large statuettes with hollow interiors, referred to as
rattle-birds by specialists in the Tripolye culture
(Balabina, 1998: 190191). They are presumed to have
been lled with red clay pellets that rattled when
shaken. All these statuettes, carefully modelled from
ne, well-red paste and usually burnished, were found
broken, with the putative pellets lost. The hypothesis
of clay pellets inside the rattle-birds is given
credence by the discovery of anthropomorphic statuettes with clay pellets inside them (Monah, 2012:
111, Figure 82/1; 94) and even of zoomorphic
statuettes of the same type (Vulpe, 1957: 108;
Figure 83; 84/1). Because the heads of these rattle-birds
are missing, the identication of the species is almost
impossible. Only in a single case, discussed later, was
the head preserved.
The oldest ornithomorphic statuette comes from the
Precucuteni I settlement of Traian-Dealul Fntnelor
(Marinescu-Blcu, 1974). This small piece (Figure 5/5)
has a single foot ending with a very small circular disk.
The centre of the statuette bulges, and the crudely
modelled head has the eyes marked by two small
alveoli. Even though the ornithomorphic appearance
is not in doubt, the species of the bird cannot be
established. No ornithomorphic statuettes were found
in Precucuteni II contexts and very few for the
Precucuteni III phase. An ornithomorphic statuette
was discovered in the Precucuteni III settlement from
Trpeti-Rpa lui Bodai (Marinescu-Blcu, 1981). The
statuette (Figure 5/6), broken since ancient times, has
a leg that ends with a round disk. The body, with a
well-dened dorsal part, has a cylindrical tail that
bends downwards. Another statuette, also broken since
ancient times, comes from the settlement of Putineti I
(Bodean, 2001). The piece represents a bird that also
has legs ending with a circular disk and an elongated
body ending with a short tail (Figure 5/7); the head is
missing since ancient times. The middle section of
the body displays two small conical protuberances that
stand for the wings, whereas another protuberance on
the neck seems to suggest its wattle. A few further
fragmentary statuettes ascribed to the Precucuteni
IIITripolye A phase come from Bernovo-Luka
(Balabina, 1998), Luka-Vrubleveckaja (Balabina, 1998)
Copyright 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

and Sabatinovka II (Balabina, 1998). The most interesting is the piece from Luka-Vrubleveckaja (Figure 5/8):
it is similarly modelled with a leg ending in a discoid
base, a body that leans forwards and a sketchily
modelled head with a perforation marking the eyes.
From the Cucuteni A phase come several statuettes
that were discovered at Horodnica, Hbeti and
Brlleti-Sturza (Balabina, 1998). The statuette from
Brlleti (Figure 5/9), modelled crudely, is painted, but
none of these statuettes possess the elements necessary
for establishing the species. The multi-stratied site of
Bodeti-Frumuica also produced four statuettes representing birds, though, unfortunately, their stratigraphic
position is uncertain. According to the discoverer, they
depict a hawk, two pigeon chicks, a bird with painted
plumage, a legless bird and a miniature bird (Matas,
1946: 161). Four of these artefacts (Figures 5/1013)
were published by Matas (1946) and the other two recently by Garvn (2011). The statuette from Figure 5/10
has a small perforation on the chest and was considered
to depict a hawk by the discoverer. Two statuettes were
considered pigeons (Figure 5/11 and 5/12), having a
height of, respectively, 8 and 5 cm. Another statuette
of just 4 cm in height was considered to represent a
waterbird (Figure 5/13). Its back is painted with white
and brown stripes on a red background. Finally, another
statuette or gurine has a height of just 2 cm. The
representations are rather stylised, but our reassessment
of the morphological characteristics of the birds from
Frumuica suggests that they are gallinaceous birds.
They have relatively stocky bodies and short beaks,
blunt, wide convex wings and strong legs. The species
in question would include the partridge, the common
quail and the black grouse. The partridge (Perdix perdix)
is a migratory species that lays up to 1020 eggs in a
ground nest during spring; the common quail (Coturnix
coturnix) is a migratory species that lays 615 eggs in a
ground nest, generally twice during summer; the black
grouse (Tetrao tetrix) is a non-migratory species that lays
614 eggs in a ground nest during spring. It is possible
that these birds had economic value as food, as well as
being invested with symbolic meaning and signicance
revolving around the spring season and mating.
The second category of statuettes comprises the
rattle-birds. Such statuettes have not been found so
far in western Moldavia or in Transylvania. In eastern
Moldavia (Bessarabia), a region within the Cucuteni
domain, several examples have been discovered, but
most of the rattle-birds come from the Tripolye area.
The majority represent birds with folded wings, with
a single, rather long, leg that ends with a circular disk
(Balabina, 1998: 190). All were broken in ancient times
and lack the head and the internal pellets; the latter
Int. J. Osteoarchaeol. 24: 424437 (2014)

were inferred by analogy with other anthropomorphic
and zoomorphic statuettes. It would be very interesting
to know how many pellets were inside them, because it
would have helped us to better interpret the artefacts.
In only one case was the head of such a statuette
preserved: a nding from the Cucuteni B1 settlement
of Grebeni. The statuette (Figure 5/14) is modelled
quite realistically, with a topknot, a beak that gets
wider towards the upper section and eyes marked by
two indentations. It is considered to represent a tufted
duck (Aythya fuligula) (Balabina, 1998).
A lower section of a rattle-bird statuette decorated
with horizontal red stripes comes from the Cucuteni
AB phase from the Iablona I site (Balabina, 1998).
Unfortunately, the preserved portion does not allow
the identication of the species represented. The
Cucuteni B1 settlements of Brnzeni VIII and Racov
produced several examples of rattle-birds (Balabina,
1998). They are all of the same type and fragmented
to such a degree that the identication of the species
cannot be made. The piece from Racov has three
red stripes in the middle portion. For the Cucuteni
B2Tripolye CICII phase, we have knowledge of
two examples from Koilovcy (Balabina, 1998), one of
which preserved, despite being broken, its head with
two ears or horns and a broken beak (Figure 5/15),
whereas the second seems to have not been completely
sealed (Figure 5/16). Its body is painted with horizontal
red stripes on the light background provided by the
slip. The sizes vary between 3.5 and 8.8 cm. Balabina
(1998; 191) divides the rattle-birds into two categories:
(i) gaunt and (ii) short and massive. For the rst
category, Balabina posits the great bustard (Otis tarda),
pointing particularly to the statuette from Brnzeni VIII
with its distinctive brindled plumage (Figure 6/1). Such
a large bird (the great bustard has an average weight of
4.55.5 kg, with some male specimens reported to have
weighed as much as 2022 kg) might well have secured
a position in the mythology of the Cucuteni and
Tripolye people. The Russian excavators of the massive
and short statuettes (Balabina, 1998: 192) identied
them as from the Anatidae, the family that includes
ducks, geese and swans, a hypothesis that corresponds
with our own conclusions.
In our opinion, all these ornithomorphic Cucuteni
Tripolye statuettes are linked with various rituals and myths
and reect economic concerns only to a very small degree.

(e) Birds painted on ceramic ware

The Cucuteni and Tripolye cultures constitute an
exception among the archaeological cultures of the
southeastern European Chalcolithic. The C-TCC
Copyright 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

L. Bejenaru and D. Monah

Figure 6. Ornithomorphic statuettes (different scales): (1) Brnzeni

VIII, Cucuteni B1 phase (after Stratulat et al., 2008). Birds painted on
ceramic ware: (2) Cherkassy (Platar collection, Kiev), Tripolye CII
phase (after Stratulat et al., 2008).

continued to develop for another 500 years after the collapse around 40504000 Cal BC (Mantu, 1998: 117) of
the exceptional Chalcolithic civilisations from this area
of Europe. After the end of the Gumelnia culture and
of the GumelniaKaranovo VIKodadermen cultural
complex, the area of the Gumelnia and Karanovo VI
cultures was inhabited by Cernavod I steppe
populations (Monah & Cuco, 1985: 185). Starting with
the Cucuteni A-B Tripolye BII phase, the painted
decoration of their prestige ceramic ware begins to
feature anthropomorphic and zoomorphic imagery.
From the Cucuteni BTripolye CI phase and onwards,
painted ornithomorphic images appear, sometimes coming together in association with other zoomorphic representations in friezes.
The rst indisputable painted ornithomorphic
representations appear in the Cucuteni B1Tripolye
CI phase. It is impossible to make a chronological
separation between the vessels with painted birds from
the Cucuteni B1Tripolye CI phase, but this is not
particularly relevant for our analysis. In the Cucuteni
B1 site from Buznea, two vessels with ornithomorphic
representations were discovered by chance (Boghian
& Mihai, 1987: 315317). The rst vessel (Figure 7/1)
Int. J. Osteoarchaeol. 24: 424437 (2014)

Depictions of Birds in the CucuteniTripolye Civilisation

Figure 7. Birds painted on ceramic ware (different scales): (1) Buznea,

Cucuteni B1 phase (after Boghian & Mihai, 1987); (2) Buznea, Cucuteni
B1 (after Boghian & Mihai, 1987); (3) tefnetiStnca, Cucuteni B1
phase (after Niu, 1975); (4) Varvarovka VIII, Cucuteni B1 phase (after
Markevi, 1981); (5) Brnzeni III, Cucuteni B (after Markevi, 1981)
and (6) vanec (Platar collection, Kiev), Tripolye CII phase (after
Burdo, 2004).

is a dish divided into four elds containing oval

cartouches inside, which are, four silhouettes of water
birds painted in black with long, pointed beaks and legs
extending backwards. The birds are depicted in ight.
Likewise, from a chance discovery comes the second
vessel found in the central area of the same settlement,
a bifrustoconical amphora (an amphora in the shape of
two cone frustums sharing the same base) with a
funnel-shaped spout and two vertically perforated
handles (Figure 7/2). Four bird silhouettes were painted
in the epsilon style on the reddish background of the
vessel. The gures are separated by a band of four
oblique lines and by several elongated ellipses with a
median line. The birds are almost identical with those
painted on the dish: they have long sharp beaks, and
their legs point backwards.
The decoration on the vessels from Buznea seems to
depict migratory waterfowl in ight. In our opinion, both
vessels depict migratory water birds; in the second case,
the birds might be herons (Ardea cinerea) or egrets (Egretta
Copyright 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

garzetta). The arrangement of the birds, particularly of
those from the deep dish, seems to have had a cosmogonical signicance, an assertion that seems to also be
valid for the birds depicted on the amphora.
Several silhouettes of birds were painted in black on
two fragments of an amphora modelled from a ne
paste red to red, found in the Cucuteni B1 settlement
from tefneti-Stnca (Figure 7/3). The larger fragment
features a horizontal row of birds swimming on the
surface of water (Niu, 1975). The birds legs are represented by black lines slanted backwards, and the heads
are suggested by horizontal lines that mark the rather
thick and wide beaks. One of the birds has a forked tail.
The second fragment, belonging to the same vessel, is
much smaller, and the row of ornithomorphic silhouettes
is interrupted by the break. According to the published
description, the fragments from tefneti-Stnca depict
a row of geese rendered almost naturalistically by
black silhouettes intercalating the elliptic decoration
(Niu, 1975: 50).
There are some interesting representations of birds in
frieze compositions on cult vessels from eastern
Moldavia (Bessarabia), dated to the Cucuteni B1 phase.
Stylised water or terrestrial birds are depicted on
several fragmentary vessels (Markevi, 1973: 97;
Figure 24; Markevi, 1981: 79, 146, 147). A partially
reconstructed vessel from Varvarovka VIII (Figure 7/4)
contains a frieze with several wild animals: red deer,
carnivores and a peculiar-looking bird with extremely
long legs, round body, long neck and small head ending
with a small beak (Markevi, 1981). We believe that this
representation could depict a crane engaged in a nuptial
dance. A fragmentary amphora from Brnzeni III
(Markevi, 1981) depicts three birds that appear to be
walking in compartments reserved from the coloured
background (Figure 7/5). The composition initially had
four birds, but the part of the vessel with the fourth bird
is missing. The settlement from Brnzeni III dates from
the Cucuteni B phase (Markevi, 1973: 59; Figure 17/2;
Markevi, 1981: 41).
An interesting artefact dated to the Tripolye CII
phase comes from the Tripolye area (Videiko, 2004:
224225). The item is a vessel with a at-keel prole
and decorated with arches and tangents traced in black
and red on the buff background (Figure 6/2). The
interior walls contain a painted frieze with two horned
animals, a crane and probably another animal (Videiko,
2004; Stratulat et al., 2008). The crane has long legs
ending with claws and a vaguely rendered head with a
thick beak, whereas the tail is rendered by four black
lines, suggesting the image of a crane in display dance.
The second animals head is different and has a small tail
that is twisted backwards. Although the context
Int. J. Osteoarchaeol. 24: 424437 (2014)

L. Bejenaru and D. Monah

information is contradictory (Stratulat et al., 2008), the
piece seems to come from a chance discovery in a settlement from the region of Cherkassy.
Stylised cranes also seem to be painted on a fragment of a vessel (Figure 7/6) from the Tripolye CII
phase of the settlement of vanec (Burdo, 2004). The
birds are most probably cranes (Grus grus), migratory
marsh birds with long necks and legs, plumose tails,
grey plumage and red head blotches. For a long time
people have found fascinating the cranes' beauty,
majesty in ight and spectacular mating rituals. The
cranes nuptial dance is striking and has been ritualistically
imitated by people of various cultural backgrounds,
including Neolithic ones (Russell & McGowan, 2003).

As we have already shown, few bird remains have been
found in C-TCC sites. Even if we take into account
the deciencies of the collecting process and that the
identication of the remains is relatively new, the
percentages recorded are insignicant, and this leads to
the conclusion that birds did not play an important role
in the economy of the Cucuteni and Tripolye communities. All the archaeozoological analyses show the preference of the Cucutenians for domestic mammals and
large game. Thus, small birds were not of real interest
for Cucutenian hunters. Undoubtedly, when the opportunity presented itself, the Cucutenians took it, whether
it was birds or eggs found in the nests of the wild birds.
This survey of ornithomorphic representations has
shown that they are extremely rare. For instance, we
identied approximately 100150 bird gurines and
statuettes compared with a total of about 5000 C-TCC
zoomorphic statuettes found so far. The extremely low
percentage of ornithomorphic representations can be
explained by the fact that the gurines, statuettes, vessels
and painted representations were all employed in ritual
practices associated with the mythology and cosmogonic beliefs of the Cucuteni-Tripolye populations, in
which birds seem to have played important roles. The
C-TCC people clearly manifested a preference for water
and marsh birds, most notably migratory species such as
ducks, geese, cranes and storks in this role.

This work was supported by a grant of the Romanian
National Authority for Scientic Research, CNCS
UEFISCDI, project number PN-II-ID-PCE-2011-3-0885.
Our appreciation goes to Daniel Garvn and Roxana
Copyright 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Munteanu, who helped us collect the information and

elaborate the articles accompanying illustration and to
tefan Caliniuc, who helped nish the illustration and
translated the article.

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