7000 BP: The Thinker and the Sitting Woman

The Thinker and the Sitting Woman. Hamangia culture, Romania, 7000 - 6600 years ago.

The Thinker and the Sitting Woman. Hamangia culture, Romania, 7000 – 6600 years ago.

In history, there are works of art that have a special place and that almost everyone knows: the golden mask of Tuthankhamun, the Pantheon in Rome, the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, the sunflowers of Van Gogh, … an endless list. Art works from a much older past are barely known to the general public but often they earn to be known. Some have of an extraordinary quality. One of my favourite works in this regard is “The Thinker and the Sitting Woman” thatwere found in Romania and are between 6,600 and 7,000 years old.

We know that these people were farmers. Chances are that they were resting after a day of working. The woman sits relaxed just like the man. He is thinking. About what is open for speculation.

A paradox

Both statuettes have a modern look. If we would see them for the first time, without prior knowledge, then we might think that these are very recent works of art, that is not more than 100 years old. Compare The Thinker with the bronze statue of Rodin[1], ‘Le penseur’, from 1902. We may spontaneously think that this is older than ‘The Thinker and the Sitting Woman ‘.

Rodin, statue known as 'Le penseur' (The thinker). Rodin created it as an image of Dante Aleghieri, the Italian writer. Its was 'The Poet'

Rodin, statue known as ‘Le penseur’ (The thinker). Rodin created it as an image of Dante Aleghieri, the Italian writer. Its was ‘The Poet’

Surprisingly, it is also true that some very old works of art sometimes show style characteristics that were reinvented in the 20th century. Paul Levy wrote about ‘The Thinker and the Sitting Woman’: “Their elongated necks and small heads are compellingly reminiscent of Matisse and the Cubist painters and sculptors, and a curator told me that it is just possible that Brancusi saw them.”[2]

Egyptian royal couple.  27th century BCE. Very static in comparison with 'The Thinker and the Sitting Woman'

Egyptian royal couple. 27th century BCE. Very static in comparison with ‘The Thinker and the Sitting Woman’

Hamangia culture. Headless stauette. Very stylised. It was probably worn as part of a necklace.

Hamangia culture. Headless stauette. Very stylised. It was probably worn as part of a necklace.

The Hamangia culture and woodworking

The Hamangia culture in Romania began around 5250/5200 BCE and lasted until around 4550/4500 BCE. It was a culture of farmers who lived in small communities, without a state. Technically, they were at the same level as the first European farmers that came from Anatolia had moved to Europe more than 1000 years before. The statuettes were found in 1956. They were made of clay and baked in an oven. Remarkable is that the man sits on a small stool. It is one of the oldest depictions of furniture in history. Such a seat is not difficult to make but like so many things it is very difficult inventing it, starting from zero. The stool indicates that almost 7,000 years ago farmers in South-East Europe had developed woodworking and the necessary stone tools.

The figurines ‘ the thinker and the seated woman’ undoubtedly belong in the gallery of the greatest works of art created by man. Today they look as fresh and intriguing as almost 7000 years ago.

Marc.Vermeersch@gmail.com


[1] The statue of Rodin was originally called the poet and represented Alegieri Dante
[2] Paul Levy, Beautiful Ashmolean Exhibition Offers Glimpse of ‘Old Europe’, May 21, 2010. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB127438940492094541.html

If you are interested in art you might like these blogs:
Art in Olduvai 1,74 Million Years BP, Baboonhead Rather unknown, undeserved, the oldest known art in the world
The Origin of Aesthetic Feeling and Art Fundamental: How our aesthetic feeling originated in reproduction of man, a darwinian explanation.
The oldest statuettes adapted by man are between 233,000 and 800,000 years old
“Lion Man”, the oldest statuette with a combination man-animal ‘Der Löwenmensch” was found in Germany.
The oldest Love Statuette in the World They keep on loving for ever in the British Luseeum.
A virtual visit to the Lascaux Cave is mind blowing!
Nerja Caves: the oldest Cave Art in Europe, 42,000 years old Rock paintings , probably made by neanderthals

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The oldest European Venus figurine was found in the Hohle Fels cave (Germany)

Venus figurine from Hohle Fels (Schwaben, Germany), the oldest from Europe

Venus figurine from Hohle Fels (Schwaben, Germany), the oldest from Europe

In another blog we discussed two stone statuettes found in Tan-Tan (Morocco) and Berekhat Ram (Golan Heights, Syria) that are respectively 400,000 years respectively and 251,000 à 800,000 years old. These stone figurines had a natural shape that reminded of a woman. They were slightly modified to look even better on a woman. Interestingly, the Venus of Tan-Tan was smeared with red ochre.

Female figurines have a very long tradition in human art.

The oldest European Venus figurine was found in the Hohle Fels cave in Schwaben (a region of Germany) in 2008 by Nicholas Conard (University of Tübingen). It is made of mammoth ivory, 5.97 cm high, 3.46 cm wide and it weighs 33.3 grams what made it suitable to carry on trips. Almost all hunters and gatherers lived as nomads. The age of the statuette is estimated between 35,000 and 40,000 cal BP (Before Present). It was found in the deepest layers of the Hohle Fels. It presented, as most of the statuettes of the 25,000 following years, a heavily built woman with large protruding breasts, buttocks, a belly and a vagina that are disproportionate. It has as the figurines that would be created much later no face, as if a face was not important.
Look at a short film from Nature: http://www.nature.com/nature/videoarchive/prehistoricpinup/

Archaeologists found in the cave another 25 other Aurignacian figurines of animals or figurines that are half-man/half-animal. (E.g. the Lion Man: ) but no other Venus figurine. The Hohle Fels figurine was older than the other figurines in the Hohle Fels cave. It is also circa 5000 à 10,000 years older than other Venus figurines from the Gravettian, such as the Venus of Galgenberg (Austria).

4 sides of the Venus figurine from Hohle Fels (Schwaben, Germany), the oldest from Europe

4 sides of the Venus figurine from Hohle Fels (Schwaben, Germany), the oldest from Europe

A fertility symbol?

Nicholas Conard  thinks that this Hohle Fels statuette could be a fertility symbol. There are no testimonials from this period nor later where we can rely on but we can list a number of facts and possibilities.

– Most of these figurines were small, portable. They were probably carried around by European Homo sapiens.

– He spent much time creating these figurines, he considered them important.

A fertility Symbol. If it were merely a symbol to increase fertility, then a representation of a pregnant woman would have been sufficient.

A sexual symbol. These figurines represent women with strong sexual accents, with a big belly but no pregnant women. Problem is that hunters and gatherers, before the emergence of agriculture, did not know that sex could lead to pregnancy. Women simply became pregnant. This may seem strange to us, but of course couples had more than once sex before they knew a woman was pregnant. In the framework of group marriage, they had not seldom sex with more than one partner. The link between sex and become pregnant was not evident to them. These figurines had a sexual meaning. The pronounced forms, the lack of a head, point in that direction. Pronounced female forms today are found in sexually charged images. It could be a male constant to have strong appreciation such images.

– They usually occur in Eurasia, but less in the Middle East. The two statuettes mentioned at the beginning of this blog, the figurines of Tan-Tan and Berekhat Ram, could fit in the same tradition though they date from the period of Homo heidelbergensis. The distance is expressed in time great but a connection cannot be excluded.

– Chances are that descent was matrilinear. The Venus figurines could therefore represent female ancestors. I think the probability is small but it may not be excluded.

These figurines were probably sexual symbols. Human sex is a very powerful motif. They were part of a specific Eurasian culture and tradition. Everywhere in the world sexual symbols as e.g. were made such as the statue of Ain Shakri or phallus symbols in many cultures.

Marc.Vermeersch@gmail.com


[1] Hohje Fels is also written as Hohlefels in German.

If you are interested in art you might like these blogs:
Art in Olduvai 1,74 Million Years BP, Baboonhead 
Rather unknown, undeserved, the oldest known art in the world

The Origin of Aesthetic Feeling and Art Fundamental: How our aesthetic feeling originated in reproduction of man, a darwinian explanation.

7000 BP: The Thinker and the Sitting Woman Two statuettes, one amazinly modern though it maybe 7000 years old

Chauvet Cave, the oldest known cave art in Europe The recently discovered cave shows that the European late palaeolithic culture lasted at least 20,000 years.

The oldest statuettes adapted by man are between 233,000 and 800,000 years old.

The oldest European Venus figurine was found in the Hohle Fels cave (Germany) It is between 35,000 and 40,000 years old.

“Lion Man”, the oldest statuette with a combination man-animal ‘Der Löwenmensch” was found in Germany.

The oldest Love Statuette in the World They keep on loving for ever in the British Museum.

A virtual visit to the Lascaux Cave is mind blowing!

Venus from Galgenberg (Austria), ca. 30,000 BP

Venus from Galgenberg (Austria), ca. 30,000 BP

La más antigua figura de Venus europea se ha encontrado en la cueva de Hohle Fels (Alemania)

Chauvet Cave, the 2nd oldest known cave art in Europe

Chauvet Cave, rhinoceroses

Chauvet Cave, rhinoceroses

The oldest known cave art in Europe is the Chauvet Cave in France. It is a rather recent discovery (1994) in comparison with the well known Lascaux Cave (1940). The rock art of both caves is comparable for their style but also because they are an expression of the same genius.

The oldest paintings from the Chauvet Cave were made by hunters and gatherers around 32,400 years ago. Man had probably long traditions in making art on skins, wood and tattooing his own body. The makers of this rock art may have discussed what they would paint and how to do it. They had to make strenuous efforts to make these paintings. They had to crawl  in the dark through long and narrow corridors with their material. Paint had to be taken in their mouth and sprawled on the rock, often from a very uncomfortable position.

Lascaux is, with paintings up to 17,000 years old, much younger than Chauvet. Time between today and Lascaux is about as much as between Lascaux and Chauvet. The paintings of another cave famous for its paintings, Altamira  (Cantabria, Spain), is estimated to be 15,000 years old.

On the follwing link you will find a trailer of a coming documentary made by Werner Herzog on the Chauvet Cave, the ‘Cave of Forgotten Dreams’ . http://vimeo.com/18964665

Dr. Marc Vermeersch. The oldest known cave art in Europe:
Nerja Caves: the oldest Cave Art in Europe, 42,000 years old Rock paintings , probably made by neanderthals.
The oldest known art in the world: Art in Olduvai 1,74 Million Years BP, Baboonhead Rather unknown, but undeserved,

If you are interested in art you might also like these blogs:
The Origin of Aesthetic Feeling and Art Fundamental: How our aesthetic feeling originated in reproduction of man, a darwinian explanation.
The oldest statuettes adapted by man are between 233,000 and 800,000 years old
“Lion Man”, the oldest statuette with a combination man-animal ‘Der Löwenmensch” was found in Germany.
The oldest Love Statuette in the World They keep on loving for ever in the British Luseeum.
A virtual visit to the Lascaux Cave is mind blowing!

Parts of this blog were taken from ‘Marc Vermeersch. De geschiedenis van de mens. Deel I. Jagers en verzamelaars. Boek 2, de maatschappij van jagers en verzamelaars. p.185.

Chauvet Cave Art (France) Horses bisons rihoncerosses 31,000 BP

Chauvet Cave Art (France) Horses bisons rihnoceros 31,000 BP

Chauvet Cave Art (France) Horses, bisons rihnoceros 31,000 BP

Chauvet (France) Cave Art. Lion/lionesses heads.

Chauvet (France) Cave Art. Engraving of an owl.

Chauvet (France) Cave Art. Engraving of an owl.

The Chauvet has not only paintings but also engravings such as this beautiful owl.

Chauvet (France) Cave Art painting of hyena's. 20,000 BP.

Chauvet (France) Cave Art painting of hyena’s. 20,000 BP.

Chauvet (France) Cave Art painting of hyena’s. 20,000 BP. At that time hyena’s were living since a long time in Europe.

If you are interested in art you might like these blogs:
Art in Olduvai 1,74 Million Years BP, Baboonhead
7000 BP: The Thinker an the Sitting Woman
The oldest statuettes adapted by man
“Lion Man”, the oldest statuette with a combination man-animal
The oldest Love Statuette in the World
Chauvet Cave, the oldest known cave art in Europe
A virtual visit to the Lascaux Cave
Nerja Caves: the oldest Cave Art in Europe, 42,000 years old Rock paintings , probably made by neanderthals
general:
The origin of aesthetic Feeling and Art Basic text about the significance of art in a darwinian point of view.

7000 BP. The Thinker and the Sitting Woman. Two extraordinary statuettes from Romania.

The oldest Cartoons in the World? 14,000 BP They were engraved in the La Marche Cave in France. They are as fresh as they were 14,000 years ago.