Study on Geographical Distribution of Neolithic Seated Figurines of Near East


1 Ph.D. Candidate, Tarbiyat Modares University

2 Associate Professor, Tariyat Modares University

3 Professor, Tarbiyat Modares University

4 Professor, University of Sydney


In the Neolithic period, the production of clay figurines in animal and human shapes became common in Fertile Crescent and soon became prevalent in most sites of the Near East. The abundance of the figurines in many Neolithic sites shows its importance by the mentioned societies. Although there is a considerable variety in the forms of the Neolithic human figurines, some striking similarities are distinguishable. One of the common form is the form of seated figurines which has been common in many Neolithic sites. It was only from the early Neolithic period when this style got common while in prior period, Upper Paleolithic, this style was not considered. The result shows that the seated figurines from Neolithic to early Chalcolithic period covers a vast geographical area from West Levant to North East part of Iran’s central plateau. In this paper, by adding some data from Iran, it is attempted to draw geographical distribution of seated human figurines in Near East. The main aim of this research is to see how the figurines were related together based on the form and style. While the figurines of some sites of Iran were in hand in this study, the rest information was gathered based on the publications. The method of this study is comparative study of the figurines forms to see their relation together. With the cultural historic point of view, this research is attempted to provide an overview to the geographical and timetable dispersion of the human seated figurines of Neolithic to Chalcolithic period. Based on the coincidence of the domestication distribution and the clay figurines manufactory in many sites of Near East on one hand and the repetition of some forms like seated figurines on the other hand, it seems that some forms of figurines were affected by the cultural interactions. 
Keywords: Figurine, Seated Figurines, Near East Figurines, Neolithic Figurines, Human Figurines.
In the long process of Neolithisation, strike changes happened in the social and economic structures of Near East societies which caused in increasing diversity of symbolic behaviors which were performance in different ways. On the other hand, in this period, population growth and need for food increased the economical exchanges, especially in the area of equal latitudes in the way that the agriculture life style of south West of Asia reached to Europe, Egypt and Indian valley with the average speed of 1.1 kilometer in year (Diamond 1999: 178). In the result of economic and social interaction, the culture exchange too (Voigt 2002: 289). Among the cultural idea which got involved in cultural exchanges was the idea of manufacturing clay human, animal figurines and also geometric forms. According to the evidence, the tradition of clay human and animal figurines in Near East started at the early pre pottery Neolithic period (PPNA) in some parts of fertile crescent and soon after it was prevalent in most of the Near East sites. Most of these figurines are out of clay, in small size and most of them have been dried under the sun or heated with low temperature. Many of these figurines have been found in the household dump and trash bins. Based on what is mentioned, this article with an art historical point of view, aims to clarify the connection and exchange of the figurines form and style in different Neolithic and Chalcolithic sites of Near East. In the other word, it is attempted to response this question that did the tradition of figurine production in each sites was only based on the personal and local forms? Where the manufactures of each sites made the figurines only based on what they have seen in their society? Or this tradition was effected by the cultural interaction and therefore the idea, form and the kind of performances were exchanged too?
Seated Figurines
In contrast to Upper Paleolithic figurines which were always performed in standing position, in Neolithic period the form of seated figurines appears and stand for a several millennia. The oldest seated figurines has been obtain from PPNA site of Murybet III in Syria (Bar Yosef et al., 1991). During the PPNB the number of figurine and seated figurines increased. In Syria the seated figurines have been found in some sites include Seker al Aheimar (Nishiaki 2007), Netiv Haghdud (Bar Yosef et al., 1991). In Turkey, from Mezraa Teleilat (Hansen 2006), Çayönü (Broman-Morles 1990, plat: 23) and also in Çatal Höyük. In Catal Höyük, the form of seated figurine have been use to performance some very abbreviation forms which might be a combination of seated human form and horned animal too (Nakumara & Meskel 2008. Fig: 146). The geography of Turkey like a bridge connected the Mesopotamia to South East Europe so it is not strange if the figurines of Turkey and South East Europe to have some interaction (Hansen 2006).  In Iran the seated figurines have been obtain from Sheikh-e Abad (Mohamadifar et al., 2010 fig), Chogha Golan (Zeidi et al., 2012, fig 8.3). Chogha Banut (Alizadeh 2003, Plat 18), Ali kosh (Hole et al., 1969: 225) Sarab (Brman Morales 1990), Singe Chaxmaq and the early Calclothic site of Zaghe. The position of seated figurines have been interpreted as the moment of giving birth (Noy 1985: 64) but not all seated figurines shows the female gender, in some few cases like Halaf, the same position has been used to show the male figurine. On the other hand, the form of the figurines brings to mind if this position helps the figurines to be seated at some place but some seated figurines like Zaghe figurines are not stable and shows that the seated position in these small clay object had no practical functions.
In the Neolithic period, with settling the first farming villages, the manufactory of clay figurines in human and animal shape became common. The prevalence of the clay figurines in Near East was almost coincide with the domestication distribution. With increasing the farming sites, the number of the figurines increased too. The coincidence of farming life style and figurines prevalence on one hand and the repetition of some forms like seated figurines on the other hand could shows that some forms of the figurines have been distributed. According to this study, the form of the seated figurines covers a vast geography from West of Levant to North East part of the Iran’s plateau. In Iran, based on the archaeological documents, the figurine production appears first in Western areas, where the domestication were started. Afterward, with reaching the domestication to North East part of Iran’s plateau, from Zagros area, the producing figurines appears in some sites like Sang-e Chaxmaq. In general, based on the repetition of seated figurine form in many Neolithic sites, it seems that the cultural interaction affected the distribution of mentioned style. Beside the style, some similarities like size, organs omission or performance in figurines could support this claim.


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