Signs on the Neo- and Chalcolithic Figurines (An Attempt of Their Classification)

Krassimir Leshtakov
Sofia University, Sofia, Bulgaria

he signs discussed in this report, are well known and have their own place in many communications. We can recognize them on different artifacts: figurines, tripods (‘altars’), stamp-pintaderas, tables, etc. The subject is geographically limited in ‘Old Europe’ in the context of Maria Gimbutas’ researches and chronologically – in the 6th-5th mill. BC. The investigation of figurines is well developed and it is possible to divide the signs on the surface of artifacts into several groups: simple ornamental units, motifs, compositions and additional elements of decoration. It is also evident that some signs or their groupings are out of ornamental schemes.  They consist of so simple elements that could get the name elemental or nuclear ‘things’ – the minimum bits of information, which are so similar to the later Linear A and B signs that provoked controversial debates several decades ago. They are the subject of this communication.   However, it is necessary first to list those information bits, which are avoided in this study – all those, which obviously assemble the ornamentation system on the figurines with a possible interpretation of clothes, tattoo or adornments.
The ornamental compositions without ‘ritual or cosmogony semantics’ are constructed mostly by cross, circle, swastika, rhomb, meander, spiral, bucranium and helix, in many modifications and combinations. These signs are spread in great regions of the Old and New World, and they are ‘out of time’, so it is possible to call them universalia. However, there are examples illustrating the preposition, that some universalia are excluded from ornamental compositions. Several terms have been introduced in the literature for the universalia and other signs in a similar position: Linear signs; religious symbols or simply symbols; ideograms, Linear Old European script, Signs-inscriptions; inscriptions; characters; script (M. Gimbutas 1974); Sign-system or Neolithic sign-complex (H. Todorova & I. Vaysov, 1993); Signs, Pictograms or pictogram signs, etc. At the same time they are ‘ornamentation with semantic content’ or this is ‘ornamentation with sharp defining information of cult-magician matter or ‘the earliest ‘script’ (H. Todorova 1986). According to others,  these signs are graphemes and ideograms (A. Gollan 1991). Accordingly, opinions mentioned above reflect the great terminological puzzle that confuses division and determination of the information units.
Keeping on this direction of examination, perhaps the most important point in a further analysis is the identification of the simple sings done on three levels. First we should sharply outline which signs are out of the ornamentation scheme. There are several complications here – the preservation of artifacts; preservation of the signs and problems of the position and the direction (-s) of ‘reading’ and ordering. The second stage consists of separation of the elemental signs and non- universalia on the artifacts as vessels, pintaderas, furniture, etc. The third stage concerns the correlation of the already defined elemental ‘things’ and their recognition on the figurines. This comparison of the signs on artifacts of different kind guarantees their identification as elemental signs. Beyond any doubt, the point, line, angle, zig-zag, F-, ?-, ?- M-, (W-) shaped signs in different positions are the most common simple ‘things’ used not only on pottery, pintaderas, ‘altars’-tripods etc, but also on the figurines. The combination of them constructs the so-called composite signs, which are also out of ornamental scheme. Similar to them are anthropo- and zoo-morphemes clearly divided as signs of particular semantic and information values. According to this mode of classification, the signs similar to the later Linear A and B scripts receive their own place in Neo- and Chalcolithic information system and any comparison with Cretan and Aegean information system could be just a tentative speculation.
     If it is provable to divide the information into several levels: decoration, elements of the clothes and body-design, universalia, composite signs and elemental signs, one can find the place of the subject under consideration in the early information system, acceptable at any site and for every member of ancient society. Nevertheless, questions concerning meaning and usage of the information stand as an important problem of any study. This is not a goal of this report and the phases of further analysis are not mentioned here.
2002 © European Science Foundation
2002 © Prehistory Foundation & Reports of Prehistoric Research Projects
2002 ©The Author
Editor: Lolita Nikolova
All rights reserved. Published: 12/21/02
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