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Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at NYU to Show European Artifacts
Architectural Model, Fired Clay, Gumelniţa, Căscioarele, 4600–3900 BC. National History Museum of Romania, Bucharest. Photo: Marius Amarie.

NEW YORK, NY.- The Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University will open an unprecedented free exhibition, The Lost World of Old Europe The Danube Valley, 5000 – 3500 BC, on November 11 and will run through April 25, 2010.

This unprecedented exhibition brings to the United States for the first time more than 250 objects recovered by archaeologists from the graves, towns, and villages of Old Europe, a cycle of related prehistoric cultures that achieved a precocious peak of sophistication and creativity in what is now southeastern Europe between 5000 and 4000 BC, and then mysteriously collapsed by 3500 BC. Long before Egypt or Mesopotamia rose to an equivalent level of achievement, Old Europe was among the most sophisticated places that humans inhabited. Some of its towns grew to city-like sizes. Potters developed striking designs, and the ubiquitous goddess figurines found in houses and shrines have triggered intense debates about women’s roles in Old European society. Copper-smiths were, in their day, the most advanced metal artisans in the world. Their passionate interest in acquiring copper, gold, Aegean shells, and other rare valuables created networks of negotiation that reached surprisingly far, permitting some of their chiefs to be buried with pounds of gold and copper in funerals without parallel in the Near East or Egypt at the time. The exhibition, arranged through loan agreements with 20 museums in three countries, brings the exuberant art, enigmatic ‘goddess’ cults, and elaborate metal ornaments and weapons of Old Europe to the United States for the first time.

The enigmatic female-centered cults of Old Europe have generated sharp disagreement among archaeologists, historians, and feminists about the ritual and political power of women in Old Europe. The exhibition does not try to solve this argument, but instead presents some central pieces of evidence to the visitor. These include dozens of elaborately painted and decorated female figures of many kinds and styles, some found in groups sitting on hornback chairs as if in council, others placed inside ceramic models of houses, and others discovered scattered among the ruins of ordinary homes. A strikingly modern male figure from Hamangia, Romania, widely known as ‘The Thinker’, is among the most famous art objects from prehistoric Europe; with a group of appealing animal figures it complements the female images. Superbly crafted and exuberantly painted ceramic vessels demonstrate the creativity of Old European potters, and stunning ornaments made of gold and copper testify to the aesthetic sophistication and technical skill of Old European metal-smiths. The exhibition also includes ornaments, weapons, and a horse-head mace found in the graves of people who are thought to have migrated into the Danube valley from the arid grasslands to the east, possibly on horseback, who could have played a role, still debated, in the mysterious collapse of Old Europe.

NYU | Old Europe | Prehistoric Cultures |

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