The Menhir of Baia-Hamangia / The History of Romania in One Object
Photo 1: The front side of the Menhir of Baia-Hamangia
One of the most interesting pieces that can be admired at the Histria Museum is a menhir statue over 5,000 years old. The term “menhir” is of Breton (Celtic language family) origin and comes from "men" meaning "stone" and "hir" meaning "long". The menhirs were those statues and blocks of raw stone, placed in megalithic sanctuaries or in burial mounds in the Neolithic Age - and less often in the Bronze Age or the Iron Age.
Photo 2: The Histria Museum
The anthropomorphic monument exhibited at Histria was dated somewhere in the early Bronze Age, most likely around 3,000 BC. It was discovered around the Tulcea County commune of Baia, a settlement that until the 19th century was called Hamangia, from the Turkish word "hamamci", which translates as “bath”. This area gave its name to the Hamangia culture, which includes the famous statuary ensemble The Thinker and the Sitting Woman, discovered on Sofia Hill in the 1950s, near the modern-day town of Cernavodă.
Photo 3: The front and back sides of the Menhir of Baia-Hamangia. Illustration from Vasile Pârvan's article La statue-menhir de la Hamangia, Dacia II, 1925
The menhir from Baia was cut from a block of green sandstone and is 6.4 feet tall, 3 feet wide and 1-foot thick. On the front, the contour of the face is marked by an incised line. Its eyes, nose, and mouth are briefly sketched, as it is a massive necklace around the neck. It appears to be a female deity, with her arms resting on her chest and her sacred triangle clearly marked – two circular arches in the genital area. On the back side, the shoulder blades are suggested by two slightly trapezoidal protrusions, with rounded corners; the representation of the necklace continues, and it presents a cord that descends along the spine to the lumbar area. Four other symbolic representations cover the back surface of the statue: three axes arranged obliquely and the sole of a foot, with the tip of the toe facing upwards.
Photo 3: Drawing of the Menhir, outlining both sides of the statue
The statue was part of a funerary complex, unfortunately largely destroyed at the beginning of the 19th century by railway works carried out in the area. In 1952, during rescue excavations performed around the area of the destroyed complex, archaeologists also discovered two tombs that could bring some clarification. The first tomb, registered as M1 was covered by a 3.9 feet mound and belonged to a 10-15 years old child. The funerary inventory discovered here included a vessel and a stone pendant.
Photo 4: Tomb M1. Illustration from Vasile Pârvan's article La statue-menhir de la Hamangia, Dacia II, 1925
Merely 20 feet away, a second tomb, M2 was discovered. This tomb had no inventory and the skeleton inside was almost destroyed. In this case, the mound above the tomb was 11 feet high and had a diameter of almost 17 feet. The base of both graves had been covered with a thin layer of red ocher, which allowed us to describe them as kurgans – a type of tumulus constructed over a grave, often characterized by containing a single human body – dating from the beginning of the transition period between the Neolithic and the Bronze Age.
Later, probably during the early Bronze Age, Yamnaya communities built a huge mound with a diameter of about 49 yards, which included the smaller mounds of the two ocher tombs.
Photo 5,6,7: Example of "menhir" statues in Western Europe
Most probably, the menhir statue belonged to this huge mound. The members of the Yamnaya communities or culture have been identified as Proto-Indo-Europeans, natives of the Pontic Steppe, who roughly lived there between 3,300 and 2,200 B.C. and whose name derives from their characteristic burial tradition, a Russian adjective that means "related to pits (yama)" and strictly refers to the way this population buried their dead.
The menhir on display at the Histria Museum is the largest ever discovered in Dobrogea and most likely represents a female fertility goddess.
Text by archaeologist Valentina Voinea. Video presentation by historian Cristian Cealera. Film concept by Cristian Cealera and Constantin Țițineanu. A project developed together with the Museum of National History and Archaeology in Constanța.
The building of the Museum of National History and Archaeology
You can't say you have visited Constanta if you didn't stop, for an hour at least, at the Museum of National History and Archaeology, the monumental building located in the Ovidiu/Ovid Square. Here, in the imposing construction erected exactly a century ago (in 1921) one can easily find evidence of a fascinating history, vestiges that help reconstruct the stories of the millennial city which in the Ancient times used to be called Tomis.
From 1921 until 1977, the building was home to the City Hall and, in the interwar period, was known as the Communal Palace, as Constanţa was at that time an urban commune, municipality and county seat. The edifice became the museum's headquarters on December 25, 1977, with ancient artifacts finally finding their well-deserved home, after endless pilgrimages through various other locations.
Today, the Museum of National History and Archaeology is visited by tens of thousands of tourists from around the world, eager to learn the stories of a settlement two and a half millennia old. A city that was founded and developed by the Greeks of Miletus, which flourished under Roman and Roman-Byzantine rule, survived the troubled times of the Middle Ages and continued to exist during Ottoman rule in Dobrogea, Romania’s south-eastern historical province. Today's Constanţa tells us both the stories of the ancient Tomis, and of a stylish city that became part of the modern Romanian state in 1878.
However, treasures of the region are also hosted by regional museums such as Histria, Adamclisi or Capidava, all administered by the History Museum in Constanța. This project highlights six exquisite objects which tell the fascinating story of Dobrogea.
Our online series THE HISTORY OF ROMANIA IN ONE OBJECT, developed in partnership with some of the most important history museums in the country, evokes decisive epochs in Romania's past starting from artifacts or vestiges with powerful symbolic, representative value.