Gumelniţa Culture
by Silvia Marinescu-Bīlcu


          One of the most flourishing civilizations from the last half of the 5th century BC is (next to the Ariuşd Cucuteni – Tripolie complex) Gumelniţa Culture.

          The eponymous location of this exceptional culture was mentioned for the first time by the "father" of Romanian archaeology school, Vasile Pārvan, as early as 1922. However, only from 1924 Vladimir Dumitrescu made available to prehistorians worldwide the first collection of specific materials (pottery, art objects, lithic and bone artifacts, etc.) gathered from the very eponymous found on “le massif de Gumelniţa qui domine de plus de 20 m la plaine du Danube”, a settlement that would be systematically researched beginning with 1925.

          The Area of the Gumelniţa Culture. Genesis and Evolution
          In Romania, the area of Gumelniţa culture generally corresponds to that of Boian culture in Muntenia, but it extended also to Dobrudja, on the territory earlier spanned by Hamangia culture, as well as to south Bessarabia. To the south it spans the eastern half of Bulgaria, both to the north and to the south of the Balkans (known under the name of Kodjadermen–Karanovo VI) reaching the Aegea.
          Built up mainly againt the background of Boian culture, it surely has a component of Marita culture (partially contemporary to Boian), in south-east Bulgaria, whose graphite painted pottery is one of the characteristic features of Gumelniţa culture.

          In spite of the unitary aspect of the culture, several regional variants could be defined: a North-Dobrudjan one, a Dobrudjan one, a South-Balkan one and the Stoicani–Aldeni cultural aspect in North-East Muntenia and South-East Moldova, extending further to the East of the river Prut, in the area right north of the Danube.

          Gumelniţa culture evolves along two main phases, A and B, in their turn divided into two stages each – A1 – A2 and B1 – B2 – the first three stages documented also stratigraphically (the last one raising for the time being some questions), and has, like all Eneolithic cultures, its specific elements. First we would point out the multitude of tell settlements, next to which we find those situated on terrace ends, islets, errosion witnesses, etc., reinforced or not by artificial defence/protection systems and invariably emerged near natural water sources (springs, rivers, streams, lakes, marshes etc.) and easily exploitable natural resources: waters, fields good for agriculture, animal breeding, hunting, etc., all this making up a certain category of man’s relations to the environment.


Finds of Gumelniţa Culture

          Pottery. Tools. Ornaments. Art.
          Another element specific of the culture is pottery, especially the black one, but also a brown one (rarely, brick-red), both kinds well polished, having various shapes and decorations, the latter incised, in relief and barbotined, as well as graphite painted. Very used during phase A (but occurring also in phase B), graphite painting required a rather complicated technology and a double baking in the oven, the last one up to 800º C. However, they painted also in white and red, on the bottom of the vessel, but we also encounter a three-colour category, after the firing of the vessel in the oven. Also now occur the first askos and rhyton type vessels, as a result of the links with the Aegean-Anatolian south. Another characteristic of this culture and of Salcuţa culture (most likely to a large extent a Gumelniţa culture variant), during the entire Neo-Eneolithic of Romania is represented by massive axes and long silex blades, sometimes exceeding 30 cm, as well as arrow tips and lances cut in the same rock. It is also worth mentioning a wide range of bone and horn tools, including arrows, tips, blade pieces, those for pottery modelling, harpoons, grubbing hoes, “coulters”, “boumerangs” etc. Also many ornaments were made out of bone and shells.

          Copper is in its turn used currently both for making ornaments (including pins with double spiral head – a type spread far into south-east Asia, in Indus Valley) and for various types of massive aexs, all of them revealing rather advanced knowledge of Gumelniţa craftsmen in the field of copper processing technology.

          As early as phase A2 occured also the oldest gold ornaments in settlements in the area of the lower Danube, probably worked in the regions south of the river.

Gold cult pieces of Gumelniţa Culture

          Finally, the art of this culture is extremely rich, varied and specific, and, although the anthropomorphic statuettes prevail, the zoomorphic ones are rather frequent.
          Most statuettes are clay modelled, but there are also bone, and more rarely marble ones. A large part of the clay anthropomorphic statuettes witness to the skills of the modellers, both as regards the power of perception (the way certain physiognomies and attitudes are rendered), as well as the skill of the execution. The bone ones are three types, two excessively sketchy, the third one attempting (within the limits allowed by the raw matter) to render the human body more faithfully, as copper ornaments – necklaces, belts, earrings are added. There are also many anthropomorphic vessels (some of them real works of art), zoomorphic or anthropo-zoomorphic ones, all of them linked, like the statuettes, to various religious practices of the Gumelniţa population.

Pot with phalic handles and lid pot with zoo-antromorphic appliques, findes of Gumelniţa Culture
Zoomorphic statuette of Căscioarele - Ostrovel

          Settlements. Dwellings. Shrines
         As we return to the settlements of the culture, for the time being (in the case of Romania, where only the small settlement of Teiu and the village of Gumelniţa B1 of Căscioarele – Ostrovel were exhaustively researched) we do not have enough data on the internal organization of the community, but next to the dwellings themselves, arranged or not in a certain order, we encounter workshop-dwellings for processing lithic material, bones, horns, ornaments, statuettes, etc.). But, for instance, also a “slaughtering” construction in the settlement of Cascioarele – Ostrovel or another type of “mill” in the settlement of Medgidia. Both these workshop-dwellings in settlements, and the “workshops” discovered outside them witness to the existence of crafts and skilled craftsmen who must have worked equally for the human group to which they belonged, as well as for intertribal exchanges. We might even think of settlements of a certain economic specificity, depending also on the environment they used to exploit equally for the needs of the community as well as for the bartering with other necessary goods that they must have lacked.

Căscioarele - Ostrovel

          (Models of rebuild dwellings one cell and two cells )           
          Certain settlements also include places specially arranged for worship that, according to the “shrine” models uncovered, give us the image of the wide extension of such constructions and of the role played by them in the life of the communities in question.

"Shrines" models

          Rite and Ritual. Cemeteries
          Another aspect of the spirituality of Gumelniţa populations is revealed by their attitude towards the dead. In the case of the culture in question, the dead were grouped in places specially arranged for them (outside the settlements), known being some cemeteries in the vast Gumelniţa region, but we know also exceptions from this rule. .
          The rite, ritual and physical aspect of this populaiton resemble those from the last phase of Boian culture (naturally, given its contribution to the genesis of Gumelniţa culture): the burying in a crouched position, from a moderate to a very pronounced one, usually on the left side, offerings occur but they are usually scarce. The physical characteristics correspond to the Mediterranean-like stock with the four pheno-typical variants known. But the details of the ritual (position of arms, the various categories of offering and their share in the grave, the use or not of ochre, the degree of crouching in the case of this position, the shape of the pit, etc.) do not seem to have been submitted to rigorous standards, as only few generalizations can be outlined.

          However, graves as well as disparate (human) skeleton parts were uncovered in most Gumelniţa settlements. First we should mention children’s graves under and among dwellings, some of the skeletons bearing various malformations that led to the hypothesis of ritual sacrifices. Also linked to certain beliefs (a worship of the skull) must be the depositions of human skulls (usually, deliberately sectioned) under or near fireplaces. As regards the skeleton parts mentioned above and interpreted by some as originating in earlier ruffled graves, Alexandra Bolomey considers that their occurrence is more frequent than previously thought and that, in fact, they come from contemporaries of the dwelling period, either remained without graves (out of reasons we cannot figure out), or unburied, killed and chopped within some magic rituals and ceremonies.

          As regards the relative chronology of Gumelniţa culture, the various pieces "imported" earlier than Cucuteni, dating from the Precucuteni III phase (or even from the end of Precucuteni II phase) and other Cucuteni ones from phase A, as well as a pottery fragment belonging to Petresti culture in Transylvania – pieces uncovered in Gumelniţa culture settlements – make us consider the beginning of this culture contemporary to Precucuteni III culture (and to the end of Precucuteni II) and then to Cucuteni A phase, and at the end to the beginning of Cucuteni A-B phase. The Petreşti type fragment points out a parallelism between Gumelniţa A2 and a relatively late Petreşti phase.

          Absolute chronology, still under discussion, according to the latest calibrated data, assigns this culture (as mentioned above) to the limits of the last half of the 5th century BC and maybe to early 4th century BC.
          As in the catalogue each Gumelniţa settlement has its place accompanied by details both on the specific aspects and on the bibliographic ones, we have confined ourselves to some generalizations on the culture in question. As regards relative chronology, each author has the choice for the high chronology or for the low one.

Căscioarele - Ostrovel - 1963-1965

Vladimir Dumitrescu, Hortensia Dumitrescu, Silvia Marinescu Bîlcu, Ersilia Tudor
Silvia Marinescu Bīlcu
Ersilia Tudor