EUROPEAN SCIENCE FOUNDATION EXPLORATORY WORKSHOP

EARLY SYMBOLIC SYSTEMS OF COMMUNICATION
IN SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE


KARLOVO, BULGARIA, 14-20 APRIL 2002, SUMMARIES
EUROPEAN SCIENCE FOUNDATION

PREHISTORY FOUNDATION
The ornamentation of the Late Chalcolithic pottery from Yunatsite Tell,
Pazardzhik District (Systematization and Analysis)

Nadezhda Todorova
Sofia University, Sofia, Bulgaria
ntodorovabg@yahoo.com

T
he main objective of the contribution is to present an attempt in systematization and analysis of the decorations of the Late Chalcolithic ware from Yunatsite tell. The accent of the study is the graphite-painted ware, systematization of the ornamental patterns and motives, and also some combinations of decorative techniques and the ceramic types that are most representative for the site.
    The problems of the ceramic ornamentation form are one of the traditional fields for discussions in the prehistoric studies. The prehistoric pottery and the Chalcolithic one especially, has been constantly attracting the attention of the archaeologists with the variety of its decorative techniques, ornamental schemes and motives. The clear and precise lines, elegant and well balanced compositions and the symmetry of the ornament have not only a purely aesthetic effect but also posses definite symbolic sense.
The investigation of the intact vessels and decorated sherds from Yunatsite have identified five main decorative techniques: - plastic (or relief) decoration with some variants; deep nail impressions and deep stick impressions; stamped with shell or rounded instrument decorations; channels; incised decoration. Different variants of mentioned techniques and some specifics in combination of vessel form and decoration pattern are presented in the contribution.
     The main attention of the study is focused on the graphite-painted decoration, which is traditionally accepted as a basic characteristic of the chalcolithic ceramic complexes in the East part of the Balkan Peninsula. Preliminary observations clearly show the leading position of the graphite
painting (ca. 50% of all decorated vessels), and positive painted style especially. In the systematization of the graphite-painted decoration from Yunatsite following terms are accepted: - basic (or simple) motive – element, complex motive, local composition, and overall composition.
     We can trace here some of the leading features in the graphite ornamentation of the last two Late Chalcolithic building levels from Yunatsite. First of all the ornament is purely geometric – all the basic motives are geometric figures. There are no floral, zoomorphic and anthropomorphic representations. There is a striking variety of basic and complex motives, which combine in complex compositions. The distribution of the ornaments over the different parts of the body follows some principles. As a rule, the ornamentation of the closed shapes, some bowl types and the cups is situated over the upper parts and much rarely over the middle parts of the vessels. The plates, as a whole, have decorated inner surface and often a simple linear motive goes around the upper outer part. The rich graphite painting is observed in some plate types only. There are also numerous plates with simple painting - sets of short vertical or oblique parallel lines over the outer surface or sets of three horizontal lines under the rim.
     Our preliminary observations point out that about 35% of the plates were graphite-painted. The percentage is considerably higher for the cups and the amphorae-like jars – about 60 % - up to 70 %. It is 17% for the bowls and 25% for the jars respectively.
     There are following basic motives-elements identified in presented systematization: - line, circles, ovals, rhomb, triangle and “net”. Complex motives are divided in some groups including bands, different variants of complicated rhombs and triangles, spiral and spiral shaped motives and meanders.
     Overall compositions on the plates and especially main schemes used in their decoration are another accent of the contribution. There are three clearly distinguishable models in observed pottery complex – compositions with encircled cross or swastika, compositions with concentric pattern and double-spiral composition. They are quite similar and sometimes identical with schemes widely used in pottery decoration in many other synchronous sites. 
     In this context the problem of the symbolic text and the abstract ideas encoded by the ancient masters in the ornamental schemes is commented. In resume we can say that the characteristics of Late Chalcolithic painted decoration suggest semantic links of the ornamental schemes and their elements with concrete images, abstract ideas and concepts. The original meaning of the symbols and their combinations could hardly be established in an indisputable manner.  We could state more securely that the ornamentation of a considerable part of the vessels includes “images”, constructing a complex, multilevel text and that the decoration of the chalcolithic pottery could be accepted as one of the ancient  “semantic systems”.
     These symbols or “codes” were obviously clear and readable for ancient people who used the decorated vessels in their everyday life and were a universal communication fundament in the transmitting and preserving of information. One of the arguments supporting these conclusions is the great number of constantly repeated ornamental schemes and the stability of their elements. The existence of strictly defined rules – even “canons” – in the ornamentation of pottery is valid for a considerable territory and is beyond any doubt. They could be traced clearly in the overall compositions, presenting the principle models of the ornamental organization. The variations in the decoration are mainly due to the freedom in combining of the different elements but it does not affect the basic structure of the ornament or the postulated simple motives.
     All schemes in plates‘ decoration mention above include universal cosmic symbols as center and main accent of ornamental composition. These multilevel symbols are traditionally associated with the idea of birth and growth, the change of seasons, the Four World directions and the eternal movement. However they remain connected with the solar concepts. In cases with double spirals or snakes depicted as double twisted together spirals we may suppose an expression of the unity of male and female nature, solar and chthonic, birth and death. In any case all pattern are united by the common inspiration of dynamics and depth. The solar symbolic and the idea of “eternal motion” are visible through the lace of simple motives and more complicated ones.
cprslc@msn.com
2002 © European Science Foundation
2002 © Prehistory Foundation & Reports of Prehistoric Research Projects
2002 ©The Author
Editor: Lolita Nikolova, Ph.D.
All rights reserved. Published: 12/21/02
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