As part of Archaeology Weekend on April 14 and 15 we will be putting on a small display of objects from out of the ROM’s vaults. We are calling it Treasures of the Danube: Enigmatic Objects from Balkan Prehistory.
One case will be of figurines from the Vinča culture (circa 5,500 and 4,500 BC), which can be found in the region of Serbia. Farming had been introduced in about 6,400 BC to the region, but the Vinča is a unique development of the region. They had unusually large settlements, and started the first metal-working in Europe.
One of the features of the Vinča is the making of cult figures like those in this case. As seems quite common in many cultures, it is the female deity that is created in these small objects of veneration within the home, as only one of these is clearly a male. The females are depicted with open welcoming arms, or with their arms bent down, possibly to show an embrace. They wear long narrow dresses, with bold designs on them, and have holes where jewelry was probably attached, and other holes at the back of the head for hair. There seems to be an under-dress, which would perhaps been of linen, a patterned over-dress, perhaps of wool, and often an apron – quite like the traditional dress of the region. These goddesses are not skinny girls, they actually have perceptively-depicted love-handles! The first photo shows a recreation of a lady, and one of the figures it is based on. The second photo is of another goddess that is the motif for the weekend – our poster goddess you might say!
The second case includes objects of the Bronze Age cultures of the Danube, including the Vučedol culture (3,000 to 2,200 BC). One aspect of continuity was the way of making pottery with incised decoration that is then filled with white lime. The symbols found on this pottery mark it as very significant. The preceding Vinča culture had so many symbols, probably an entire vocabulary of meaning, that some people have suggested that they form a written language. Many of the same symbols may be seen on this pottery. The figures of goddesses, made for worship in the household, are radically stylised versions of the Vinča goddesses. What were enveloping arms have become a disc, and their long dresses have become cylinders – without the preceding more naturalistic figures we might not work out what they are at all!
But like all cultures that existed before history, the meanings of these objects and the symbols on them are truly a mystery! What is also a mystery is when these enigmatic objects will be on display again! Come to the ROM between April 11th and April 19th to view them!