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Editor: Sabin Adrian LUCA (Universitatea „Lucian Blaga” din Sibiu, România); Members: Paul NIEDERMAIER (membru corespondent al Academiei Române), (Universitatea „Lucian Blaga” din Sibiu, România); Dumitru PROTASE (membru de onoare al Academiei Române) (Universitatea „Babeş-Bolyai” Cluj-Napoca); Paolo BIAGI (Ca’Foscary University Venice, Italy); Martin WHITE (Sussex University, Brighton, United Kingdom); Michela SPATARO (University College London, United Kingdom); Zeno-Karl PINTER (Universitatea „Lucian Blaga” din Sibiu, România); Marin CÂRCIUMARU (Universitatea „Valahia” Târgovişte, România); Nicolae URSULESCU (Universitatea „Al. I. Cuza” Iaşi, România); Gheorghe LAZAROVICI (Universitatea „Eftimie Murgu” Reşiţa, România); Thomas NÄGLER (Universitatea „Lucian Blaga” din Sibiu, România); Secretaries:Ioan Marian ŢIPLIC (Universitatea „Lucian Blaga” din Sibiu, România); Silviu Istrate PURECE (Universitatea „Lucian Blaga” din Sibiu, România); Web editor: Cosmin Suciu


Acta Terrae Septemcastrensis I

Acta Terrae Septemcastrensis II

Acta Terrae Septemcastrensis III

Acta Terrae Septemcastrensis IV

Felines and bulls: Plastic representations from the late Neolithic site at Harmanli in the Maritsa valley

Krum Băčvarov

Institute of Archaeology and Museum at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences,





Autorul prezintă descoperiri de plastică neolitică târzie descoperită în situl arheologic de la Harmanli din valea Mariţei. Din punctul de vedere al cronologiei relative situl se încadrează în faza Karanovo IV şi – poate – în faza de tranziţie spre Chalcolithicul vechi din Bulgaria.

The ruins of a late Neolithic site from the very end of sixth mill. BC have been found on a lowly rising ground directly above the floodplain on the right bank of the Maritsa river, at about 3.5 kilometers to the north of the town of Harmanli, southeast Bulgaria. In the summer of 2004, a trench was made in the northeast periphery of the flat site, covering an area of 100 sq. m. The lack of features as houses, hearts/ovens etc., as well as the great number of pottery sherds in the cultural layer suggest that this was the most peripheral part of the prehistoric village, which center seems to had been localized – comparing it with other more or less simultaneous flat sites in the same area – on the ridge of the river terrace.

The depth of the cultural layer reached 60 to 70 cm. The finds belong to the last period of the late Neolithic in Thrace – Karanovo IV – and probably to its transitional phase to the early Chalcolithic, which was identified just recently. However, the upper layer has been almost totally destroyed by the continuing agricultural cultivation of the area, and only scattered pottery sherds have been found; more open shapes appeared in this phase, carinated vessels became more rounded, and the white-encrusted decoration disappeared. For the pottery of the lower layer, carinated and sharply profiled shapes are typical, and in those rare cases when the surface has not been eroded by the strongly alkaline chernozems, it is dark burnished. Some vessels have those specific vertical handles with a cylindrical protome, which are found in Greek Thrace as well as at the nearby late Neolithic site near Lyubimets, also on the Maritsa river bank (Nikolov V., 2003). Most common feature of the ceramic complex of the Karanovo IV period at Harmanli is the incised and white-encrusted decoration as well as a specific dark-gray burnished ware with grayish white-painted decoration, which has its parallels in Turkish Thrace and northwest Anatolia. In spite of the limited area of the archaeological excavations, a total of over fifteen hundred flint pieces were found as well as artifacts of the types that are common for the Thracian late Neolithic. Plastic representations include anthropomorphs, zoomorphs, and other finds of clay and stone that are typical for the Karanovo IV material culture as a whole but have some specific features, too.

Anthropomorphic figurines

The surface of all clay figurines from Harmanli has been deeply eroded by the alkaline soil effects. Complete figurines have not been found; although fragmented, they are sufficiently instructive and detail the knowledge of the late Neolithic Karanovo IV anthropomorphs in Thrace. The Harmanli assemblage consists of six standing figurines, one sitting, one bended forward, and one anthropomorphic head.

Type 1 . I attribute two fragments to this very common Neolithic type - a left and a right half of standing female figurines (Fig. 1: 6, 8). Their fragmentation mode allows establishing with a relative certainty how these artifacts have been formed: two separate vertical halves have been modeled around two clay cylinders upon which the oversized buttocks have been sculptured. In the first case, a rounded belly has been formed but in the other, this part of the body has been damaged. In both cases, only the torso from the waist down to the upper end of the thighs is intact. The roughly smoothed surface is decorated with incised patterns.

With certain caution, I attribute one more standing figurine to the same type, only the right half of which has been preserved, with smooth undecorated brown surface (Fig. 1: 7).

The forming and fragmentation modes respectively of thеsе female clay figurines seem to give hints to their functioning in the early farmers’ ritual sphere as far back as the early Neolithic onwards. It is a fact that of the most anthropomorphs of this type either only halves are being found, or they are broken at least at two pieces; they come from the general context of the cultural layer or from pits – as is the case with one of the figurines from Harmanli (Fig. 1: 8) – the backfill of which is no more different than the cultural layer itself. As John Chapman’s analyses suppose, fragmentation have played a key role in the ritual system of the early farming societies (Chapman J., 2000).

Type 2 . This type consists of a solidly formed lower half of a standing female figurine (Fig. 1: 2). It is flat, has a trapezoid form, narrowing down of the protruded angular hips. Its sex has been emphasized with an oversized stomach upon (sic) which the vulva has been marked by a short vertical incision. The figurine is completely covered with thin white-encrusted incisions in the form of meandering patterns filled with white-encrusted dots, probably rendering a sort of garment.

Type 3 . A fragment of a flat torso with a short conical hand belongs to the group of the standing anthropomorphs (Fig. 1: 5). This figurine has not been decorated.

Type 4 . This rather peculiar type is represented by a female clay figurine with upper part, which has been strongly bended forward but now is missing (Fig. 1: 1). The figurine has been formed of one piece of clay. The lower part is solid; the legs have a rectangular cross-section and are bisected on the front by a vertical incision. The genital triangle has been marked with two oblique incisions. A late Neolithic anthropomorph with so lowly bended upper part was found at Tell Kapitan Dimitrievo, also in Thrace (Băčvarov K., 1999, tabl. 5/8), although it belongs to another iconographic type. However, the figurine from Harmanli has a specific peculiarity. Its surface is covered by a pointillée pattern, which consists of dots in groups of four, closely resembling the rosette patterned coat of a leopard. Its yellowish-brown color (with gray blots) is rather different than the surface of the other anthropomorphic figurines from Harmanli; most probably, it was intentionally sought, and emphasizes the overall “feline” impression. It should be kept in mind that the leopard (Panthera pardus) have never inhabited the Neolithic Balkans but the early farmers had not been unfamiliar with it, as is evidenced by certain feline figures (e.g. from the early Neolithic site at Eleshnitsa in the Mesta valley, southwest Bulgaria: Nikolov V., 1986). The “investment” of the character represented by the Harmanli figurine with a leopard skin seems to suggest her functions and meaning since in the early farmers’ religio-mythological beliefs, great cats have been closely related to the character of the female divinity. The bended position of her body also contributes to the general expression of the feminine principals.

Type 5 . The anthropomorph of this type belongs to the group of sitting figurines (Fig. 1: 4). Although only the right leg of the figurine is intact, it preserved enough telltale features to allow a comparative reconstruction using numerous parallels from Thrace with complete upper part, for instance from Tell Karanovo, Drama, Yasatepe-Plovdiv, Aşağıpınar, Lyubimets. These figurines have been formed of several parts: separately modeled legs, a cylindrical head and oval torso (see the reconstruction in Berger L., 2004, Figs. 5-6). In this case, the buttocks were formed separately and have probably been intended for sitting upon a stool, as distinguished from a figurine from Drama, which has been formed together with the stool (Fol A. et al., 1989, Taf. 35). By contrast with the well-smoothed or burnished surface of the figurines from the other sites, the surface of the Harmanli fragment is relatively rough but it is possible that this is due to the eroding effects of the alkaline soils. Besides its broad distributional area, this figurine type obviously showed a long stability since it had survived to the very end of the Thracian late Neolithic. The piece from Harmanli belongs to the Karanovo IV period, i.e. to the final of the Neolithic whereas the most figurines of the same type from other sites, including the nearby Lyubimets, predate it and belong to the Karanovo II-III to Karanovo III-IV periods.

Type 6 . A head with obvious anthropomorphic and ornithomorphic features (Fig. 1: 3). It has a flat crown and a telltale hooked nose/beak. This head has most likely belonged to a standing figurine.

Although the significance of the Neolithic bird figures is far from satisfactorily explained, it seems to be related to the female divinity, too, for instance, in her aspect of mistress of Death, though probably not as her symbols, as is per Mellaart (1964, 64), but as her attributes. It is possible to assume, too, a relation to the ancestors, as is per Nikolov, on the basis of examples from the very close – both culturally and territorially – late Neolithic site at Lyubimets (Nikolov V., 2002, 32; see also Băčvarov K., 2003, 152ff).

Zoomorphic figurines

The excavations of the late Neolithic site at Harmanli yielded two types of zoomorphs: zoomorphic knobs and protomes.

Type 1 . I refer to this type five zoomorphic knobs of clay vessels, in the form of bull’s heads ( Fig. 2: 1 , 5 , 7-9 ). The heads of three figurines have been formed of two slightly concave planes. Special attention should be given to a relatively well-preserved figurine representing quite realistic bull’s head ( Fig. 2: 5 ). It is flat, has triangular muzzle and the horns are curved upwards. Some part has been broken between the two horns, which had probably been related directly to the significance of the character represented. There are some traces of red paint on the dark-gray, eroded surface. The red color, which has been very rarely used in the Thracian late Neolithic, as well as certain parallels to figurines of bulls and bucrania allow me to consider the Harmanli finds in the context of the religio-mythological beliefs related to the bull as a personification of the fertilizing male principals.

Type 2 . This type is represented by two protomes of conical clay lids. The first protome is almost intact and has been formed as a hollow feline head (Fig. 2: 4). The plastic ears have been vertically pierced. The head is covered by a spiral band of incisions. As is the case with the bull’s head, some part between the feline’s ears has been broken.

The other zoomorph of the same type is a fragment of similar protome; however, it bears some facial features – pointed muzzle and eyes represented as long and deep excisions, which emphasize the “feline” impression (Fig. 2: 3). Both figurines have dark-gray eroded surface.

The group of plastic representations includes a collection of six clay artifacts, all of which are damaged and only parts of them have been preserved ( Fig. 3: 1-3, 5-7 ). They have rectangular shape, and rectangular or slightly oval cross-section. Other common feature is the incised ornamentation, which in one case is white-encrusted. The decoration covers the surface of five artifacts completely but one long base, which seems to suggest that they have probably been intended to lie on this plain side. All intact sides of the white-encrusted piece are decorated, which means that it was either completely covered by ornaments, or only the now missing short base has been left plain. Decoration consists of bows, spirals, straight lines and zigzags etc. but because of fragmentary nature of the finds, it is not possible to reconstruct the overall ornamental patterns. The functions of these artifacts have not been identical considering the different decorations and the parallels from other simultaneous sites in Thrace, for instance Nova Zagora – Hlebozavoda and Tell Karanovo. The interpretations of their purpose vary from decorative models, ideograms or ritual artifacts ( Detev P., 1956, 66, 71 f ), to altars ( Ilcheva V., 2002, 69), or stamps for textile/tattoos or hanging objects ( Höglinger P., 1997, 280) . Depending on the shape and size of the artifacts as well as on the decorated surfaces, T. Kănčeva-Russeva classifies the collection from Hlebozavoda into three functional groups: ritual objects, amulets and ideograms (2000, 62).

Three more pieces belong to the plastic representations’ group, unique as shapes but otherwise more or less common as types. These are a miniature clay bowl, a miniature clay tripod, and a greenstone amulet.

Miniature clay bowl (Fig. 2: 6). It has conical shape and a low pedestal base. Its light-brown surface is smoothed but the artifact as a whole has been roughly modeled. Its diameter is 2.8 cm and its height is 1.7 cm. Miniature clay vessels of the same type are relatively common finds at the Neolithic/Chalcolithic sites in Thrace, although their functions have not been satisfactorily explained, probably because of the absence of relevant contexts. One of the extremely rare cases where such context is available – the late Chalcolithic Tell Ovcharovo, in northeast Bulgaria – yielded a ritual scene, which most likely is the function of this artifacts type.

Miniature clay tripod (Fig. 3: 4). Although clay tripods are commonly found in the Thracian later prehistory, such miniaturized pieces are unique. With its width of barely 4 cm, it has a slightly concave, triangular dish 3 or 4 mm high, on three rounded conical legs with broken lower ends. Small plastic bulges are fitted between the legs. The grayish-brown surface of the tripod is deeply eroded. For the lack of meaningful reasons for a functional interpretation, the significance of this artifact should probably be considered in the broader context of the Neolithic clay altars (Nikolov V., 2004).

Greenstone amulet (Fig. 2: 2). It is 1.5 cm long and has the shape of a horseshoe, with thinning ends, one of which has been pierced. Both beams have a vertical groove each in their upper ends. Similar fine amulets are relatively rarely found, and sometimes represent frogs or have M/W-shape, which have been generally interpreted in relation to the “fertility cult”.

The majority of the artifacts from Harmanli find relatively close parallels in the Thracian Neolithic. Despite the lack of relevant archaeological contexts, which should refer to the functional interpretation of the Harmanli finds, certain hints are inherent in their nature itself. One of their common – almost always – features is their fragmentariness. They were found in the cultural layer at the village periphery as well as in pits, the backfill of which has been more or less the same as the cultural layer itself; it seems that they have already fulfilled their functions related to the early farmers’ ritual activities, and after their fragmentation – so typical that it is most likely intentional, as is being recently acknowledged – they had been “desacralized” and become useless, or at least their “dumped” part could be considered as such. That this could be assumed as more or less certain, at least with the anthropomorphs, is evidenced by their special forming modes, which suggest their splitting in several parts. As regards the “feline” and bulls characters of the zoomorphs, it is probably more reasonable to put them in a broader territorial and cultural context, and to consider them on a comparative basis with other simultaneous sites. Although fragmentary – or even because of that – and scanty, the plastic representations’ assemblage from Harmanli definitely expands the knowledge of the late Neolithic anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figurines in Thrace and elucidates certain moments of their functional interpretation in the context of the early farmers’ religio-mythological system.


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Băčvarov K., 2003 - Neolitni pogrebalni obredi: intramuralni grobove ot balgarskite zemi v konteksta na Yugoiztochna Evropa i Anatolia. Sofia: Bard (2003).

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Fol A. et al., 1989 - Fol A., Katinčarov R., Lichardus J., Bertemes F., Iliev I. Bericht über die bulgarisch-deutschen Ausgrabungen in Drama (1983-1988). Neolithikum-Kupferzeit-Bronzezeit. In: Bericht der Römisch-Germanischen Kommission (70), 1989, 7-127.

Höglinger P., 1997 - Schmuck und Trachtbestandteile. In: Hiller S., Nikolov, V. (Hrsg.) Die Ausgrabungen im Südsektor 1984-1992. Salzburg-Sofia: Phoibos (1997), 271-283.

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Kănčeva-Russeva T., 2000 - Ornamentirani keramichni predmeti ot praistoricheskoto selishte Hlebozavoda - Nova Zagora. In: Nikolov V. (ed.) Trakija i sasednite rajoni prez neolita I halkolita (Karanovski konferentsii za praistorijata na Balkanite, 1). Sofia: Arheologicheski institut s muzey (2000), 61-68.

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Nikolov V., 2003 - Anthropomorphe Plastik aus der spätneolithischen Siedlung Ljubimec, Südost-Bulgarien. In: Özdoğan M., Hauptmann H., Basgelen N. (eds.) From Village to Cities. Early Villages in the Near East. Istanbul: Arkeoloji ve Sanat Yayinlari (2003), 481-490.

Nikolov V., 2004 - Über dem Denotat der Kulttischen. In: Nikolov V., Băčvarov K. ( Hrsg. ) Von Domica bis Drama . Gedenkschrift für Jan Lichardus . Sofia: Archäologisches Institut mit Museum (2004), 33-41.


List of Figures

1. Late Neolithic site at Harmanli: 1-8 – anthropomorphic figurines.

2. Late Neolithic site at Harmanli: 1, 3-5, 7-9 – zoomorphic figurines; 2 – greenstone amulet; 6 – miniature bowl.

3. Late Neolithic site at Harmanli: 1-3, 5-7 – clay artifacts; 4 – miniature tripod.

Fig. 1. Late Neolithic site at Harmanli: 1-8 – anthropomorphic figurines.


Fig. 2. Late Neolithic site at Harmanli: 1, 3-5, 7-9 – zoomorphic figurines; 2 – greenstone amulet; 6 – miniature bowl.


Fig. 3. Late Neolithic site at Harmanli: 1-3, 5-7 – clay artifacts; 4 – miniature tripod.