Gumelniţa Anthropomorphic and Zoomorphic Objects of Art

 by Radian Romus Andreescu


       One of the most spectacular and interesting aspects of the Gumelniţa civilization is represented by the extraordinary richness of the anthropomorphic and zoomorphic representations. Some of them, exceptional achievements of Gumelniţa craftsmen are true masterpieces of prehistorical art. Gumelniţa anthropomorphic objects of art are a series of characteristics that distinguish them from those of the other Neo-Eneolithic civilizations. First, there is a wide typological range reflected in the morphology of the statuettes, the technique of the modelling, position of the arms, rendering of the sex, decoration pattern. The Gumelniţa artistic achievements are very varied, from realistic pieces, exquisitely depicted, to extremely sketchy pieces hardly rendering the human figure. One of the characteristics of Gumelniţa anthropomorphic statuettes is their expressivity, developing what might be called a civilization of gesture and attitude. The position of the arms (on the belly, stretched laterally, in the position of the “thinker”), the depiction of the mouth (half-open or open), the modelling of hunches, the depiction of the sitting statuettes. All this means that the Gumelniţa objects of art include a series of characters modelled in various attitudes.

Positions in which the arms of the clay statuettes are modelled
Statuette sitting with the arms modelled in the position of the “thinker”
Clay hunchback statuette
Couple Statuettes
Statuette sitting with the arms on the belly
Clay statuette depicting a male character


           Range of the Material

     Another characteristic singling out the Gumelniţa objects of art is the range of the material used. Most pieces are modelled in clay, which is a usual thing with all Neo-Eneolithic civilizations. Instead, the bone figurines represent an original feature of the Gumelniţa civilization, and, even if bone artifacts can be found also in other cultures (for instance, Cucuteni), they are far from the number and typological range of the Gumelniţa ones.

Flat bone statuettes with copper ornaments
Prismatic bone statuettes


           Other stone, shell or gold statuettes.

Marble statuettes
Anthropomorphic depictions of gold

           The originality of the Gumelniţa objects of art is proven also by the existence of some special depictions such as the mobile head (Tessalian) statuettes, the statuetes with a vessel on the head or extremely spectacular artistic combinations such as “the vessel with lovers”, discovered at Sultana, that seems to illustrate a true mithic theme.

Mobile head (Tessalian) statuette
Statuete with vessel on the head
Statuete with vessel on the head
The vessel with “lovers”
Zoomorphic mask with a human figurine on the top of the head
Statuettes modelled on the wall of a vessel

         A strange aspect of the Gumelniţa art is the existence of some depictions mingling anthropomorphic and zoomorphic characteristics.

Anthropozoomorphic vessel


           Anthropomorphic vessels

          Their wide range, the special artistry of the pieces make of the Gumelniţa anthropomorphic vessels another extremely spectacular aspect of this civilization. The anthropomorphic vessels modelled in the shape of the human body, the prosomorphic lids, the vessels with anthropomorphic attributes outnumber and exceed by the artistic quality the achievements of the other Eneolithic civilizations.

Vessel modelled in the shape of the human body
Vessels with anthropomorphic attributes
Prosopomorphic lid
Prosopomorphic lid
Anthropomorphic vessel with tube arms


          Zoomorphic Objects

       Although less studied, the Gumelniţa zoomorphic objects can be remarked by the same wide range of types. Although most representations are extremely schematic, certain pieces are modelled in an extremely realistic manner.

Zoomorphic clay statuettes depicting a tortoise
Zoomorphic clay statuettes depicting a fox
Zoomorphic clay statuettes depicting birds
Zoomorphic vessel
Zoomorphic vessel

           Significance of the Artistic Representations

           The significance of the Gumelniţa objects of art remains, under the current stage of the researches, at the level of hypotheses and research trends that will have to be validated as the whole Gumelniţa civilization is beling unravelled.

         The Gumelniţa, integrated into the Neo-Eneolithic Age, belongs to an extremely complex world, with a vast geographical realm and a duration of over three millenia. It is hard to believe that his world, these civilizations, did not have any spiritual life, even if the evidence is not clear enough. Under these circumstances, the anthropomorphic and zoomorphic objects of art probably materializations of this spiritual life, of a religion we might say, here understood in the broad sense of the word, as a system of beliefs and myths very little known. 

           The analysis of the finds uncovered by archaeological excavations revealed a few characteristics of the Gumelniţa objects of art, likely to lead to a few main trends of the spiritual life investigation.

        Thus, the prevalence of a female character is clear, as it represents 34% of all the anthropomorphic representations. That might represent a deity, the term having a general significance, of worship, without being able to specify under the current stage of the researches which is the nature and status of this deity. The male representations are very few, about 1%, while about 10% are the asexual representations, therefore with no sign (breasts, sexual triangle) which might point to the sex of the statuette.

           Another research trend is represented by the excessive fragmentation of the pieces that might point to their ritual destruction, as part of a specific ceremony.

          In order to unravel the significance of the Gumelniţa representations, first one should identify the religious themes. This term means a certain category of pieces likely to materialize a certain aspect of the religious phenomenon. The definition of the religious themes is based upon various criteria such as the morphology of the pieces, the rendering of the sex, the nature of the material, etc. The hunchback statuettes, for instance, represent a religious theme because they were modelled this way out of reasons linked to religious practices. Another relevant example is the position of the arms. The statuettes with the arms on the belly represent a religious theme with a different significance as compared with that of the statuettes with the arms outstretched or those of the “thinker” type. The significance of these religious themes is very hard to unravel, first due to their wide range, making it possible to formulate various theories. Over the time various such theories were elaborated regarding the significance of Neolithic art. The widest spread is the one figuring a deity named the Great Mother linked to the cults of fecundity and fertility. Other theories  deny the religious nature of Neolithic objects of art, considering them to be simple toys.

           These theories have no solid scientific foundation as they are elaborated starting from few pieces, more often than not without a direct examinaiton of the pieces, while ignoring the specificity of each Neo-Eneolithic civilization.

          The analysis of the Gumelniţa representations proved that the spiritual life of this society is extremely complex, which is evidenced by the wide range of these representations, explained by the theories professed until now. One should also accept the possibility for the Gumelniţa religious phenomenon to be a mingling of religious elements and magic rituals, a religion in which the peculiar, especially the various microareas, might have played an important role, finally resulting in a spiritual life of a special nature, different from that of ancient religions with which it was ofetn compared.



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