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The History of Romania in One Object: The Thinker and the Sitting Woman

Updated: Jul 27, 2020

The Western Black Sea (nowadays Dobrudja, Romania), around 5000 BC (almost 7000 years ago). The first human communities to settle in this region arrived here after a long journey that started in Anatolia. They were called by archaeologists the Hamangia people (or culture), after the name of the place where their remains were unearthed for the first time. They brought with them their black polished ceramics and their long neck figurines.

This the world of the Thinker, an anthropomorphic figurine sitting on a little chair, his arms bent on his knees and holding his head. This position obviously suggests a meditative attitude, so he was named The Thinker after Rodin’s famous sculpture.

The Thinker was not found alone, he was accompanied with the so-called Sitting Woman, his pair. They were discovered together, in 1956, in the necropolis (graveyard) near the town of Cernavodă (SE Romania), comprising around 400 graves. The Hamangia people used to bury their dead in special places called necropolises (‘city of dead’ in ancient Greek), like the one excavated near Cernavodă or the one in Durankulak (Bulgaria). They were buried with funerary goods like pots, adornments (seashells, even gold) and figurines, like the Thinker and his Lady.

Photo 1: Shell bracelet, Cernavodă, Hamangia Culture, cca. 5000-4600 BC, National History Museum of Romania (NHMR) collection

Photo 2: Cup, Cernavodă, Hamangia Culture, cca. 5000-4600 BC, NHMR collection

Photo 3: Pendants, Cernavodă, Hamangia Culture, cca. 5000-4600 BC, NHMR collection

The Hamangia people came a long way from Anatolia and eventually spread across the SE Europe. They lived in small villages either in pit houses (e.g. Baia, Romania) or even in big houses with stone foundations (e.g. Durankulak, Bulgaria). They brought with them the black polished ceramic decorated with white rows of dots. In archaeological terms, a community or culture is defined by its ceramic style, both forms and decoration. The black polished Hamangia style was different from the previous culture in SE Europe, characterized by red color pottery. The long neck figurines are another peculiarity of the Hamangia people. Most of them are feminine figurines, either standing or sitting, with wide hips and their hands on the abdomen. They are made of clay or even marble and only few are decorated in the Hamangia style.

Photo 5: Anthropomorphic figurine, Cernavodă, Hamangia Culture, cca. 5000-4600 BC, NHMR collection

The Thinker and the Sitting Woman are the only Hamangia figurines unearthed with their heads on, which makes them even more special and precious. The Thinker and the Sitting Woman have an oval shaped face, with all details represented, like the nose depicted in relief, the eyes made by triangular impressions and a little mouth. They both have pierced ears. Even more interesting, she has a big hole in her head. The two figurines are also special because they were found, as a pair, in the same grave inventory. According to the archaeologists, the attitude of thinking could be linked to meditation about life and death, considering that the artifacts belong to a funerary context. The Thinker was also interpreted as a vegetation God that has to die in order to resurrect the following spring, or as a Death God, consort of the great Mother Goddess.

Photo 6: The Thinker (detail), Cernavodă, Hamangia Culture, cca. 5000-4600 BC, NHMR collection

Photo 7&8: The Sitting Woman (detail), Cernavodă, Hamangia Culture, cca. 5000-4600 BC, NHMR collection

We can find figurines with the same meditative attitude in other cultures as well, for example the Thinker of Târpești (Precucuteni culture, Neolithic–Eneolithic archaeological culture on the territory of nowadays Eastern Europe). Another discovery was made recently at Vitănești, where a very rare figurine was unearthed in 2017. Very roughly modeled in the thinking position, it is made of clay used as building material, quite unusual for a figurine. But what makes it so special are its seashell eyes. This is a very rare feature found on figurines discovered the Near East.

Photo 9: The Târpești Thinker, Precucuteni culture, cca. 4750-4500 BC, Neamț County Museums Complex collection

Photo 10: The Vitănești Thinker, Gumelnița culture, cca. 4600-3900 BC

Photos © Marius Amarie

The Sitting Woman stands out among the other similar figurines by the position in which she is modeled, suggesting a resting attitude, which is very rarely found (e.g. Thessaly, Greece).

The Thinker and Sitting Woman can be considered masterpieces of the prehistoric art and even more, of the human civilization of all times, as the attitude they are expressing over millenniums is so profoundly human.

THE HISTORY OF ROMANIA IN ONE OBJECT, our new online program that evokes decisive epochs in the Romanian past starting from objects with powerful symbolic and representative value, is developed in partnership with The National History Museum of Romania. Video and text by curator and archaeologist KATIA MOLDOVEANU.



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