THE NEW STONE AGE
The art of the Old Stone Age in Europe as we know it today marks the
highest achievements of a way of life that began to decline soon after.
Adapted almost perfectly to the special conditions of the receding Ice
Age, it could not survive beyond then. What brought the Old Stone Age to
a close has been termed the Neolithic Revolution. And a revolution it
was indeed, although its course extended over several thousand years. It
began in the Near East sometime about 8000 B.C.,
with the first successful attempts to domesticate animals and food
grains. This was one of the truly epoch-making achievements of human
history. People in Paleolithic societies had led the unsettled life of
the hunter and food gatherer, reaping where nature sowed and thus at the
mercy of forces that they could neither understand nor control. But
having learned how to assure a food supply by their own efforts, they
now settled down in permanent village communities. A new discipline and
order also entered their lives. There is, then, a very basic difference
between the New Stone Age, or Neolithic, and the Old, or Paleolithic,
despite the fact that all still depended on stone as the material of
their main tools and weapons. The new mode of life brought forth a
number of important new crafts and inventions long before the earliest
appearance of metals: pottery, weaving and spinning, as well as basic
methods of architectural construction in wood, brick, and stone.
We know all this from the tangible remains of Neolithic settlements
that have been uncovered by excavation. Unfortunately, these remains
tell us very little, as a rule, of the spiritual condition of Neolithic
culture. They include stone implements of ever greater technical
refinement and beauty of shape, and an infinite variety of clay vessels
covered with abstract ornamental patterns, but hardly anything
comparable to the painting and sculpture of the Paleolithic. The
changeover from hunting to husbandry must nonetheless have been
accompanied by profound changes in the people's view of themselves and
the world, and it seems impossible to believe that these did not find
expression in art. There may be a vast chapter in the development of art
here that is largely lost to us simply because Neolithic artists worked
in wood or other impermanent materials. Perhaps excavations in the
future will help to fill the gap.
Prehistoric Jericho, the most extensively excavated site thus far, has
yielded tantalizing discoveries, which include a group of impressive
sculptured heads dating from about 7000 B.C. (fig.
37). They are actual human skulls
whose faces have been "reconstituted" in tinted plaster, with pieces of
seashell for the eyes. The subtlety and precision of the modeling, the
fine gradation of planes and ridges, the feeling for the relationship of
flesh and bone would be remarkable enough in themselves, quite apart
from the early date. The features, moreover, do not conform to a single
type, for each has a strongly individual cast. Mysterious as they are,
those Neolithic heads clearly point forward to Mesopotamian art (compare
fig. 91). They are the first
harbingers of a tradition of portraiture that will continue unbroken
until the collapse of the Roman Empire.
37. Neolithic plastered
from Jericho, ñ 7000 B.C. Lifesize.
Archaeological Museum. Amman, Jordan
38. Early Neolithic wall and
Jericho, Jordan, c. 7000
Paleolithic art, which had grown from the perception of
chance images, the Jericho heads are not intended to
"create" life but to perpetuate it beyond death by replacing
the transient flesh with a more enduring substance. From the
circumstances in which these heads were found, we gather
that they were displayed above ground while the rest of the
body was buried beneath the floor of the house. Presumably
they belonged to venerated ancestors whose beneficent
presence was thus assured. Paleolithic societies, too, had
buried their dead, but we do not know what ideas they
associated with the grave. Was death merely a return to the
womb of mother earth. or did they have some conception of
The Jericho heads
suggest that some peoples of the Neolithic era believed in a spirit or
soul, located in the head, that could survive the death of the body.
Thus, it could assert its power over the fortunes of later generations
and had to be appeased or controlled. The preserved heads apparently
were "spirit traps" designed to keep the spirit in its original dwelling
place. They express in visible form the sense of tradition, of family or
clan continuity, that sets off the settled life of husbandry from the
roving existence of the hunter. And Neolithic Jericho was a settled
community of the most emphatic sort: the people who treasured the skulls
of their forebears lived in stone houses with neat plaster floors,
within a fortified town protected by walls and towers of rough but
strong masonry construction (fig. 38).
enough, they had no pottery. The technique of baking clay in a kiln, it
seems, was not invented until later.
Excavations at Catal Huyuk in Anatolia brought to light another
Neolithic town, roughly a thousand years younger than Jericho. Its
inhabitants lived in houses built of mud bricks and timber, clustered
around open courtyards (fig.
There were no streets, since the houses had no doors;
people apparently entered through the roof. The settlement included a
number of religious shrines, the earliest found so tar, and on their
plaster-covered walls we encounter the earliest paintings on a man-made
surface. Animal hunts, with small running figures surrounding huge bulls
or stags (fig. 40),
evoke echoes of cave paintings. This is an indication
that the Neolithic Revolution must have been a recent event at the time,
but the balance has already shifted: these hunts have the character of
rituals honoring the male deity to whom the bull and stag were sacred,
rather than of an everyday activity necessary for survival. They
therefore continue the transformation of animals into gods that began in
the Old Stone Age.
Houses and shrines in terraces.
Catal Huyuk, Turkey (schematic reconstruction of
Level VI after Mellaart). ñ
Animal Hunt. Restoration of
Catal Huyuk (after Mellaart). c.
65" (68.5 x
Compared to the animals of the cave paintings, those at Catal Huyuk
are simplified and immobile. Here it is the hunters who are in energetic
motion. Animals associated with female deities display an even more
rigid discipline. The two symmetrically opposed leopards (fig.
41) are mirror
images of each other. Another pair of leopards forms the sides of the
throne of a fertility goddess (fig. 42),
one of the many baked clay statuettes that betray
their descent from the "Venus" of Willendorf (compare
Twin Leopards. Painted
Shrine VI.A., Clatal Huyuk,
ñ 6000 B.C. 27
x 65" (68.5
Yertility Goddess, from
ñ 6000 B.C.
Baked clay, height 8" (20.3
Museum, Ankara, Turkey
Among the wall paintings at Clatal Huyuk, the most
surprising one is a view of the town itself, with the twin cones of an
erupting volcano above it (figs. 43
The densely packed rectangles of the houses are seen
from above, while the mountain is shown in profile, its slope covered
with dots representing blobs of lava. Such a volcano is still visible
today from Catal Huyuk. Its eruption must have been a terrifying event
for the inhabitants. How could they have viewed it as anything except a
manifestation of a deity's power? Nothing less could have brought forth
this image, halfway between a map and a landscape.
43. View of Town and
Volcano. Wall painting, Shrine VII.
14, Catal Huyuk,
View of Town and Volcano. Reconstruction drawing
The Near East became the cradle of civilization: to be civilized,
alter all, means to live as a citizen, a town dweller. Meanwhile, the
Neolithic Revolution progressed at a very much slower pace in Europe.
Eastern influences began to spread to the northern shore of the
Baked clay figurines of fertility goddesses found in the Balkans,
such as the striking one from Cernavoda (figs.
have their closest relatives in Asia Minor. What makes
the Cernavoda Fertility Goddess so memorable is the
sculptor's ability to simplify the shapes of a woman's body and yet
retain its salient features (which, to him, did not include the face).
The smoothly concave back sets off the ballooning convexity of thighs,
belly, arms, and breasts on the front.
45, 46. Fertility
Goddess (front and back), from Cernavoda,
Romania, ñ 5000 B.C. Baked
clay, height 6 1/4" (16
National Museum, Bucharest
(Photographs copyright Alexander Marshack)
DOLMENS AND CROMLECHS. —a
faith that almost literally demanded the moving of mountains. Even today
these megalithic monuments have an awe-inspiring, superhuman air about
them, as if they were the work of a forgotten race of giants.
North of the Alps, Near Eastern influence cannot be detected until a
much later time. In Central and Northern Europe, a sparse population
continued to lead the simple tribal life of small village communities
even after the introduction of bronze and iron, until a few hundred
years before the birth of Christ. Thus Neolithic Europe never reached
the level of social organization that produced the masonry architecture
of Jericho or the dense urban community of Catal Huyuk. Instead we find
there monumental stone structures of a different kind, called megalithic
because they consist of huge blocks or boulders placed upon each other
without mortar. Their purpose was religious, rather than civic or
utilitarian. Apparently, the sustained and coordinated effort they
required could be compelled only by the authority of religious faith
Some, known as dolmens, are tombs resembling "houses of the dead,"
with upright stones for walls and a single giant slab for a roof (fig.
the so-called cromlechs, form the setting of religious observances. The
most famous of these, Stonehenge in southern England (figs.
49), has a great outer
circle of evenly spaced uprights (posts) supporting horizontal slabs
(lintels) and two inner circles similarly marked, with an altarlike
stone at the center (fig. 50).
The entire structure is oriented toward the exact
point at which the sun rises on the day of the summer solstice. As our
illustration suggests, it must have served a sun-worshiping ritual.
Whether a monument such as this should be termed architecture is a
matter of definition. Nowadays, we tend to think of architecture in
terms of enclosed interiors, but we also have landscape architects, who
design gardens, parks, and playgrounds. Nor would we want to deny the
status of architecture to open-air theaters or sports stadiums. To the
ancient Greeks, who coined the term, "archi-tecture" meant something
higher than ordinary "tecture" (that is, "construction" or "building"),
much as an archbishop ranks above a bishop. Thus it is a structure
distinguished from the practical, everyday kind by its scale, order,
permanence, or solemnity of purpose. A Greek would certainly have
acknowledged Stonehenge as architecture. We, too, shall have no
difficulty in doing so once we understand that it is not necessary to
enclose space in order to define or articulate it. If architecture
is "the art of shaping space to human needs and aspirations," then
Stonehenge more than meets the test.
Dolmen, Carnac (Brittany), France,
Stonehenge (aerial view),Salisbury
Plain (Wiltshire), England, c. 2000 B.C. Diameter of circle
97' (29,6 m)
Stonehenge at sunset
Diagram of original arrangement of stones
at Stonehenge (after F. Hoyle)
The "earth art" of the prehistoric Indians of North America, the
so-called Mound Builders, is comparable to the megalithic monuments of
Europe in terms of the effort involved. The term is misleading, since
these mounds vary greatly in shape and purpose as well as in date,
ranging from about
2000 B.C. to the time of the
Europeans' arrival. Of particular interest are the "effigy mounds" in
the shape of animals, presumably the totems of the tribes that produced
them. The most spectacular is the Great Serpent Mound (fig.
51), a snake some
1,400 feet long that
slithers along the crest of a ridge by a small river in southern Ohio.
The huge head, its center marked by a heap of stones that may once have
been an altar, occupies the highest point. Evidently it was the natural
formation of the terrain that inspired this extraordinary work of
landscape architecture, as mysterious and moving in its way as
51. Great Serpent
Mound, Adams County, Ohio,
ñ 300 Â.Ñ.-400
A.D. Length 1,400' (426,7