Monday, November 30, 2009
"Old Europe" Cultures on Display in New York
I've written about some of these cultures before: Varna, Cucuteni and perhaps Hamangia. Overall, it's a good overview article and the images it presents are excellent. I wish I could see this exhibit! Image: Architectural Model With Seven Figurines Fired Clay Cucuteni, Ghelăieşti, 3700-3500 BC Neamţ County Museum Complex, Piatra Neamţ: 12550-12552, 13209-13213 Photo: Marius Amarie Do these look like dudes to you??? One comment I dispute in the article at The New York Times - that the ancient pre-dynatic Egyptians did not have pottery equivalent with thast discovered in Varna and Cuceteni. I have seen with my own eyes at the Met in NYC. I have pictures too - unfortunately stored on my desktop which at the moment is bounced off my wireless network and not connected to the internet, so I cannot download a few examples of that pottery here for comparison. Working on restoring that connection is somewhat low on the list of things to do around here at present! As a general observation, I've also seen excellent examples of the same types of decorations on pottery from the Iranian Plateau that date back c. 6500 years ago on exhibit at the Oriental Institute Museum in Chicago. In addition, I have seen practically pristine examples of carved Egyptian alabaster bowls and vessels so thin that light glows through them that date from late Naqada to Dynasty "Zero." I have yet to see the like of technical excellence and design sophistication replicated by other cultures in the other museums I have visited. So the authorities quoted in the article should not be so quick to dismiss the artisans of pre-dynastic Egypt (and other cultures with which they may not be familiar). I suppose I could make a better case by doing some searches online for images and downloading them, but frankly my time is at a premium these days and I don't want to devote the time right now. Image: Zoomorphic Figures, possibly bulls Gold Varna, Varna, Grave 36, 4400-4200 BC Varna Regional Museum of History: 1633, 1634 Photo: Rumyana Kostadinova Ivanova If these are bulls, where are their testicles and penises? These are cows - females! Reminds me of Het-Hert (Hathor), the horned cow goddess of the pre-dynastic Egyptians. I also take exception to the pot shots taken at Gimbutas' research back in the 1970s. She shed an entirely new light on discovered objects that brought females to the fore - or at least to equality - with males in pre-civilization and early civilizations. It was controversial back then - but much needed - and it remains controversial in some quarters yet today. NOW naysayers are fond of saying "in light of recent discoveries..." and they thus pooh-pooh Gimbutas' interpretations of her findings and her theories, but I also note that these critics rarely actually cite to others' work that contradicts Gimbutas. A lot of sound and fury on their part, signifying nothing, but you know, it's like that old politcal saw - if you throw enough mud for long enough and hard enough, eventually some of it will stick even if it shouldn't. To my mind, that's what these dudes (they are mostly dudes) have attempted to do with Gimbutas' body of work for the past 30 plus years. It seems some people want to turn back the clock to the bad old days. I think Gimbutas' research speaks for itself. One picture, as they say, is worth a thousand words. And she had perhaps thousands of photos of objects in the many books published under her name during the ensuing years - all identified as female or votives to females. It's pretty difficult to say that most of these objects are NOT female or female votives - but hey, some folks keep on giving it the good ol' college try. Anyway - this article demonstrates to me that the folks in charge of our "higher" educational system seriously need to introduce more cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary exposure in what we are teaching the people who will be our future archaeologists, historians and anthropologists. Geez! We still ain't there yet and it's rather sad to say as we are about to begin the second decade in the 21st century! A Lost European Culture, Pulled From Obscurity [not exactly, if you've been reading my blog!] By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD Published: November 30, 2009 Before the glory that was Greece and Rome, even before the first cities of Mesopotamia or temples along the Nile, there lived in the Lower Danube Valley and the Balkan foothills people who were ahead of their time in art, technology and long-distance trade. For 1,500 years, starting earlier than 5000 B.C., they farmed and built sizable towns, a few with as many as 2,000 dwellings. They mastered large-scale copper smelting, the new technology of the age. Their graves held an impressive array of exquisite headdresses and necklaces and, in one cemetery, the earliest major assemblage of gold artifacts to be found anywhere in the world. The striking designs of their pottery speak of the refinement of the culture’s visual language. Until recent discoveries, the most intriguing artifacts were the ubiquitous terracotta “goddess” figurines, originally interpreted as evidence of the spiritual and political power of women in society. [Parallel developments: Indus Valley, Pakistan/northern India; Naqada I, II and III along Nile River; Iranian Plateau settlements] New research, archaeologists and historians say, has broadened understanding of this long overlooked culture, which seemed to have approached the threshold of “civilization” status. Writing had yet to be invented, and so no one knows what the people called themselves. To some scholars, the people and the region are simply Old Europe. Image: Set of Twenty-one Figurines and Thirteen Chairs Fired Clay Cucuteni, Poduri-Dealul Ghindaru, 4900-4750 BC Neamţ County Museum Complex, Piatra Neamţ: 10095-10128, 10703 Photo: Elena-Roxana Munteanu According to the article, these are just "representations" of people (who just happen to be mostly female, perhaps all female). Hmmmm. 21 figures and 13 chairs - sounds like a game to me! The little-known culture is being rescued from obscurity in an exhibition, “The Lost World of Old Europe: the Danube Valley, 5000-3500 B.C.,” which opened last month at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University. More than 250 artifacts from museums in Bulgaria, Moldova and Romania are on display for the first time in the United States. The show will run through April 25. At its peak, around 4500 B.C., said David W. Anthony, the exhibition’s guest curator, “Old Europe was among the most sophisticated and technologically advanced places in the world” and was developing “many of the political, technological and ideological signs of civilization.” Dr. Anthony is a professor of anthropology at Hartwick College in Oneonta, N.Y., and author of “The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World.” Historians suggest that the arrival in southeastern Europe of people from the steppes may have contributed to the collapse of the Old Europe culture by 3500 B.C. At the exhibition preview, Roger S. Bagnall, director of the institute, confessed that until now “a great many archaeologists had not heard of these Old Europe cultures.” Admiring the colorful ceramics, Dr. Bagnall, a specialist in Egyptian archaeology, remarked that at the time “Egyptians were certainly not making pottery like this.” [Not correct] The striking designs of their pottery speak of the refinement of the culture’s visual language. Until recent discoveries, the most intriguing artifacts were the ubiquitous terracotta “goddess” figurines, originally interpreted as evidence of the spiritual and political power of women in society. New research, archaeologists and historians say, has broadened understanding of this long overlooked culture, which seemed to have approached the threshold of “civilization” status. Writing had yet to be invented, and so no one knows what the people called themselves. To some scholars, the people and the region are simply Old Europe. [How arrogant to assume that because a culture did not have writing - at least - not that we have discovered or could understand if we did -- see Indus discussions! -- that the people of these cultures were not "civilized." Nineteenth century baloney still being served up to the general public and future generations of our scholars today.] Rest of article.