Issue 1, 1999

The Mesolithic Habitation Complexes in
the Balkans and the Danube Basin

by Dr. Vasile Boroneanþ

Dr. Vasile Boroneanþ, The Mesolithic Habitation Complexes in the Balkans and the Danube Basin, Living Past, 1, 1999, URL:
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11. The art of Epipalaeolithic/Mesolithic in the South-West of Romania

There are no artistic traces in Protoclisurean but for the Clisurean these were identified in Climente II Cave and Cuina Turcului rock-shelter in the gorge region called 'Cazanele Mari', Dubova village, Mehedinti county (in this limestone area Danube waters are troubled, like boiling water in a pot).

Two beautiful pieces came from Climente II cave: one has rhomboid patterns and the second a combination of zigzags, hachures, circular notches and ladder patterns. The 'Cuina Turcului' shelter provided a larger number of pieces, 12 in the first level and 5 in the second one. Among the bone fragments of the first level was identified just one, as part of a spatula, all the rest being just spare fragments. They have wavy patterns, enclosing rhomboid ones displayed along the fragment, covering almost the entire surface. There is one exception though where the patterns are across the fragment. This particular piece has a rhomb as a central motif, being enclosed in a larger rhomboidal shape, also continued with other rhomb-shaped figures. The rhomb and square shaped figures are almost always hachured. Another well represented pattern is the zigzag.

One piece presents a more complex ornament, having a hachured rectangle right in the centre, closed on one side by a wavy pattern and on the opposite side by a wavy line and various other straight ones. We have found very interesting one particular piece that had the patterns arranged in three registers: the first one was made of hachured triangles and separated of the second one by a ladder pattern. This second register consisted of rhombs and inclined hachures. The third one was composed of wavy and straight incisions. The patterns resemble to the ones in the second level of habitation of the culture. The ornamentation technique is very much different from the naturalist art of the Upper Palaeolithic. The representations on the first register are very much similar - almost identical- to the ones of the Italian Romanellian. The only major difference lays in the fact that the Italian ones were made on huge slabs or blocks of rocks in sites like Grotta Romanelli, Grotta del Cavallo, Barma Grande . Slightly different are the ones discovered at Grotta Palesini, Grotta Maritza, Ramito shelter. Some analogies can be made to the discoveries in the east part of our continent (see Ukraine, at Mezin on Dezna valley, river tributary to The Nipre) as well as to the ones in the Central and Western Europe. These similitudes are striking mainly on what concerns the Climente II cave.

The second level is freed of the hermetism of the first one and the artistic representations simplify. The wavy framing is no longer present, the patterns achieve their own personality. The art gets rid of the so called 'fear of emptiness'. The rectangles and rhombs are now made of parallel lines. It is the moment when the individual 'angle' appears as a pattern, as a derivations of the zigzag. A new 'style type ' was born and is the one which is going to prevail throughout the Schela Cladovei-Lepenski Vir period and then will get generalized during the Neolithic times.

Of that cultural layer the most interesting artifact is a phalanx of a wild horse. The edges of the flat side, the distal and proximal ends have been polished. It presents ornaments on the same flat side on the distal area. The pattern is made of five angles pointing downwards, enclosed one into the other. In the centre of the face there is a rhomb connected with a six-angled pattern pointing upwards. On the back side, on the distal half, there are nine lines shaping a rectangle. The proximal half and the two lateral sides present each two inclined lines - looking like a neutral zone. Also on the proximal area can be noticed a non-hachured horizontal stripe continuing also on the side faces. We think that this pattern has either been abandoned during the execution or it has a very precise purpose we can't think about yet. The archaeologist who found it was wondering whether it didn't symbolize a human figure. Another find on the same level is a bone spatula also suggesting a human figure. The artifact presents at the base a stripe made of inclined hachures. On our opinion this is the earliest human representation in our country and in this part of the Europe.

The figure on the horse phalanx , as well as the one on the spatula, seem to wear the clothing specific to the age, thing that will continue to appear on the clay figurines on the local Neolithic. On the Clisurean site at Ostrovu Mare the only worth mentioning artifact was a notched bone. Starting with that very moment the cultural trend on the Danube area moved away ( in terms of artistic representations) from the Romanellian and the art of the sea shores corresponding to the following cultures. The patterns corresponding to the second habitation level at Cuina Turcului is transmitted to Schela Cladovei cultural complex. These will appear on bone and horn objects and not so often on the sone ones. In what concerns the Schela Cladovei - Lepenski Vir complexes, we noticed that on the ornamentation of the bone, horn and wild boar tusk (on the open-air sites at Veterani Terasa, Icoana, Schela Cladovei, Ostrovu Mare and of course the ones on the Serbian bank) the artistic ways of expression are entirely new .

The double lined way of contouring the figures is abandoned, being replaced by deep or superficial incised lines. We would like to enumerate a few artifacts - the most representative - in the chronological order of their discovery. The first one belongs to the first cultural stage at Veterani Terasa site: a spatula on which the hachured stripe pattern (the ladder motif) is combined with the hachured triangle pattern. Icoana site, stages II and III, Schela Cladovei culture are represented by a fragmented dagger. The hachured stripe divides the area in two registers ornamented with the network pattern and the hachured triangles. A special artistic value have the "votive" deer antler tools, having a curved shape. Our belief is that they might have been used as sickles. They are nicely ornamented on the edges with small dentils joined on sides by wavy pattern ending on circles. The most frequent pattern is the angular one, then the hachured stripe and the network.

As a new pattern appears the notches - especially on the processed sides of the hoes and ard-tips, the very first tools to appear in the history of our continent. On one of these boar tusk pieces we noticed a primitive sketch of a bird. We considers important to underline that on both sides of the river the ornamentation style is the same. Some complete bones and fragmentary ones, deer antlers ( in various stages of processing) bear incisions, among which some might have occurred incidentally and some could have been done on purpose. Some of the artifacts are artistically interesting owing to their shape - e.g. the 'votive' pieces, having also nice ornaments. Very special is a fragmentary wolf mandible having some notches on its surface which have not appeared during the meat deboning process. They might have had a 'magic' purpose. The arrowheads - a weapon specific to this culture - often bears vertical scratches or a network pattern at the distal end. Most of them appear in order to ensure a better fastening to the arrowhead on the stick.

Stone artifacts having artistic value or a magic or religious meaning

Considering the ornamentation the finds can be grouped into two classes:

  • A. ornamentation through simple incision;
  • B. ornamentation through repeated hammering using a hard percussion tool. This technique seems to have been invented by the local artists - the result being a wide scratch on a contour already traced. The patterns varied: spirals, wavy lines, combinations of the two - having may be some criptic, magic or religious sources of inspiration which remain obscure to us. Some others represent funny human figures or even animals. As a curiosity we mention the fact that these appear only on the Serbian bank, in the sites at Lepenski Vir, Padina, Hajducka Vodenica, Vlasac, Vrbica, Velesnica. The raw materials were the river boulders or the local gritstone and limestone, often of a reddish colour. The natural shapes of the landscape might have offered to the artists sources of inspiration for their ideas.

Among the incised artifacts worth mentioning are only two. One was found at Veterani Terasa and belongs to the earliest stage of the culture. The pattern is given by a rectangle having one rounded corner and three right ones. Parallel to the right corners there are fine parallel lines. The second piece belongs to the middle stage at Ostrovul Banului. It is polished and more complex than the first one, resembling to an anvil. Another piece was find at Ostrovu Mare km 873. It is be semi - circular and the base is flattened through polishing. The sides are ornamented with the network pattern. It belongs to a late stage of the habitation. Very interesting but on the Serbian side of the Danube was a polished river boulder found at Vlasac, having a stripe of rhombs painted with ochre going all around . Lepenski Vir provided also a river boulder - of an elongated shape though - having a fish head scratched on one side. The B-type of ornamentation (hammering technique) was present on the Romanian bank only through a river boulder, bearing on its surface spiral and linear patterns in a circular fashion and having a long hallow on one of the flat faces. Their significance was rather hard to understand ; the Jugoslavian colleagues had called this kind of finds 'altar stones' and the same did we as they resembled very much to the ones from Hajducka Vodenica, Lepenski Vir, Padina Velesnica, etc. Of course, the more impressing ones are the ones at Lepenski Vir. Those boulders have the shapes of human faces or animal heads, being realized in a primitive way but proving a great capacity of inspiration. They are the earliest works of sculpture in the European Mesolithic. In order to understand them better we have to consider them as a whole, together with the dwellings they were found in, dwellings of that particular trapeze shape, also unique. They had been built on platforms of clay, most of the time burnt, having inside hearths bordered by stone slabs. Most of the fire places seem to have had an artistic meaning. This idea occurred to us as the stone slabs do sometime form triangular geometric patterns. The carved boulders found on the hearths had a precise place and signification. Lepenski Vir was to be the first religious and artistic centre in Europe built on a plan already established, but designated also to a social and administrative function. Looks like they had some special individuals who were more 'initiated' into the matters of religious and artistic life and it is they who were very much aware of the economic potential of the zone in what concerned the sources of raw materials. Lepenski Vir appears to be 'a capital' of the Danube Gorge region. There was just one kind of population inhabiting this area and they were speaking the same language, had the same aspirations, had the same domestic interests: taming and raising animals, working the land (we actually mean a primitive way of gardening), fishing. This population was living in settlements on the islands and terraces of the Danube as these had damp fertile soils, were wearing a kind of 'knitted' clothes or just furs. The clothing was a light one, adapted to the climate of the area, a mild submediteranean one. The fig, nut and peanut trees were 'home' there. They had already tamed the dog and the pig, having a very rich alimentary diet.

Other artistic and religious customs

We have found river boulders painted in ochre and red ochre boulders even in the earliest stages of habitation of the Clisurean (first stage at Climente I cave and Cuina Turcului, stages II - III at Cuina Turcului, IV stage at Ostrovul Banului). They (the river boulders) had probably been used for grinding or pounded (the ochre ones) in order to get the dye used for painting the flint and bone tools or the tatoos.
We also revealed boulders having a hallow on one side, hallow still bearing traces of red ochre, a proof that they had been used at preparing the ochre powder.

In Climente II cave we have found a skeleton that had red ochre spread on it - a custom that continued during the Schela Cladovei-Lepenski Vir culture. Some of the boulders have also traces of black paint. We had found small boulders of graphite both in the Clisurean and Schela Cladovei period which we think were used for painting or tatooing.
The ornamental objects held an important place. The Clisurean at Climente II cave, Veterani Cave, Cuina Turcului, Ostrovul Banului produced small bone plates - pitched or not - that had been used as pandants, together with teeth coming from deer and fox and small pebbles made of limestone, gritstone, granite. These, together with some snail shells (Dentalium, Lithogliphus naticoides, Theodoxus danubius, Colombina, etc.) were gathered in necklaces. During the Schela Cladovei - Lepenski Vir culture they continued using the same kind of objects of ornament but adding a few more types made of wild boar teeth, some bone beads cut from bones. These occurred mainly during the VI stage at
Alibeg and Ostrovu Mare km 875. Some of the ornaments were made of deer antler - most of them used as pandants but having shapes of sickles and hoes - which were considered as symbols of welfare. A step forward in what concerned the ornamentation was made at Schela Cladovei were it has appeared the decoration of the clothing, maybe through sewing. Skeleton 38 (1988) - for example, contained 138 snail shells and 338 fish teeth which might have been sown on the clothing, around the waist. It might have made a kind of belt or skirt covering the sex. At Ostrovul Mare, in the III level a small treasury was found under the floor of a dwelling. Among the objects we found a necklace made of Litophiphus Naticoides. The specialist estimated that the snails belong to the spontaneous fauna of the time and the fish teeth are carp teeth.


Considering the radio-carbon dates and the stratigraphic observations we can conclude that the evolution process of the Clisurean (including the Protoclisurean) has taken place between the middle of XV millenium and the middle of IX one( 12600 ± 120 BP, 10125 ± 200 BP). It might have occurred maybe a bit early than the Romanellian considering the fact we do not have any dating for Climente I cave (the Romanellian was dated to 10640 ± 100, 9790 ± 80 BP). It is, by any means contemporary to the Romanellian but starting with the III stage at Schela Cladovei it developed differently. The Clisurean turned towards the art specific to Schela Cladovei culture, this being an abstract and geometric one. Together with the culture from the Near East, they are a step forward in the process of sedentation, of agricultural and animal raising experiments, which reach their supreme form during the Neolithic. Meanwhile, the Romanellian turned towards a abstract geometrical and linear feature hard to understand, being characteristic to the populations of hunters-fishermen-gatherers from the premediteraneean area.

The populations from the Balkanic and Anatolian regions generalized the pottery inspired by the local mesolithic traditions having a faster dynamic of invention. The changing of the art of the Danube and Balkan region towards the geometric style has started with the II habitation stage at Cuina Turcului and continues throughout the whole period of the Schela Cladovei -Lepenski Vir culture and of the so called 'preceramic Neolithic' (considered by the author just a stage of the local mesolithic) and maybe of other cultures still unrevealed. The larges area of spreading was on the pottery, on vases and statues. The process occupies the period of time after 8200, during the stages III-IV of the Clisurean and of the Schela Cladovei - Lepenski Vir complexes, as given by the radiocarbon dates ( 8580 ± 105 BP, Schela Cladovei, 8030 ± 130 BP, Icoana; 7827 ± 237 BP, Ostrovul Corbului; 7560 ± 200 BP, Ostrovul Mare).

The stylistic pattern that formed on this area around Danube and Carpathians matches the rest of the civilizations of the Ancient world, together with the Anatolian plateau and the Near East. This achieved through a specific dynamic of invention, observation and experiments and local traditions formed throughout the Mesolithic / Epipalaeolithic times.


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