Thinker of Cernavoda
Characteristics, History, Analysis of Neolithic Terracotta Sculpture.

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Thinker of Cernavoda
(5,000 BCE) Terracotta Sculpture
National Museum of Romania.
An iconic work of Ancient art.

Thinker of Cernavoda (c.5,000 BCE)


Characteristics and History
Other Mesolithic/Neolithic Sculptures

Further Resources
How to Appreciate Sculpture
Venus de Milo (130-100 BCE)
Lacoon and His Sons (42-20 BCE)

For a list of the Venus Figurines
of the Aurignacian, Gravettian
and Magdalenian cultures of
the Upper Paleolithic, see:
Venus of Hohle Fels (35,000 BCE)
Venus of Willendorf (c.25,000 BCE)
Venus of Brassempouy (c.23,000 BCE)
Venus of Kostenky (c.22,000 BCE)
For animal sculptures, see:
Ivory Carvings of Swabian Jura
For therianthropic carvings, see:
Lion Man of Hohlenstein Stadel

For a list of the world's most
talented 3-D artists, see:
Greatest Sculptors.


One of the great masterpieces of late Stone Age art, this extraordinary terracotta sculpture, known as The Thinker ("Ganditorul"), was unearthed in 1956 - together with a similar statuette of a female figure, known as The Sitting Woman of Cernavoda, and numerous other similar, though headless figurines - during archeological excavations of Neolithic settlement and burial debris in the lower Danube region, near Cernavoda in Romania. Created during the Hamangia culture, it is believed to be the oldest known prehistoric sculpture that reflects human introspection, rather than the usual artistic concerns of hunting or fertility. As a result it has become an iconic sculptural figure of prehistoric art, and a striking example of Neolithic art for art's sake. It currently resides in the National Museum of Romanian History, Bucharest. For another important but much older example of prehistoric art from Romania, see: Coliboaia Cave Art (30,000 BCE).

For more about Stone Age
paintings and engravings, see:
Rock Art (200,000-2,000 BCE)
Petroglyphs ((290,000 - 4,000 BCE)
Cave Painting (30,000 - 10,000 BCE).

Characteristics and History

The Thinker of Cernavoda depicts a human figure (traditionally interpreted as male) sitting on a stool, with his head in his hands and his elbows on his knees. Although seen as male, the figure's gender is not completely unambiguous - an attribute common to many ancient figurines from southeast Europe. His small angular head sits on top of a thick extended neck, while the eyes, which are too large for the face, are rendered as concave rather than the more usual convex-shape typical of Romanian carvings. His broad-hipped trunk has thick thighs and calves.

Coloured a dark brownish-red, the sculpture is 4.5 inches tall and is made out of terracotta, an unglazed, clay-based ceramic. It was created during the Hamangia culture (named after the site of Baia-Hamangia), a Late Neolithic archeological culture (5250-4500 BCE) which took root in Dobruja (Romania and Bulgaria) between the River Danube and the Black Sea. It is worth noting that the body as a whole is entirely devoid of the ornamentation or engraved decoration which is frequently seen in plastic art and pottery of both the Hamangia culture and the subsequent Cucuteni culture (4500-3000 BCE). It is also quite different from the bolder zoomorphic and anthropomorphic figurines, animal-head jewellery, and other cult objects of the nearby Vinca culture (5500–4500 BCE; named after the type site, Vinca-Belo Brdo), which was centred on Serbia, but extended into Romania and Bulgaria. (See also: Primitive Art.)

The Sitting Woman of Cernavoda, too, is quite plain and undecorated, unlike the usually extremely stylized, faceless female figurines complete with exaggerated breasts and buttocks.

Unfortunately, nothing is known about the sculptor who created the Thinker of Cernavoda, his workshop or school, or whether his style was copied by his contemporaries. See also: History of Sculpture.

To see how the Romanian Thinker of Cernavoda - arguably one of the greatest sculptures ever - fits into the evolution of terracotta sculpture during the late Stone Age, see: Prehistoric Art Timeline.



Other Neolithic Sculptures

The era of Neolithic art (in southeast Europe, c.7,000-2,500 BCE) is the source for a number of important archeological finds of carvings and other 3-D art. They include the following:

The Enthroned Goddess of Catal Huyuk/Catalhoyuk (c.6000 BCE)
Baked-clay statuette of a nude female form, representing a fertile Mother Goddess about to give birth. Discovered in 1961, in Anatolia, Turkey.

Vidovdanka (5500-4700 BCE) National Museum of Serbia
Late Mesolithic terracotta anthropomorphic figurine discovered at Vinca-Belo Brdo, near Belgrade, Serbia, in 1930.

Lepenski Vir Sculptures (c.5000 BCE)
Consisting of a number of prehistoric sandstone carvings of therianthropic figures, discovered in the Danube settlement of Lepenski Vir in Serbia.

Greek Female Figurine (c.4250 BCE) Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC
Headless marble sculpture of a woman, carved using obsidian tools.

Egyptian Female Figurine (c.3700 BCE) British Museum, London.
Naqada I period sculpture made from bone and lapis lazuli.

Egyptian Mourning Figurine (c.3500 BCE) Brooklyn Museum of Art.
Naqada II period terracotta sculpture found at Burial 2 at El Mamariya.

Sleeping Lady of Malta (3100 BCE) Museum of Archeology, Valletta
Terracotta sculpture, symbol of the Maltese Temple Period (4100-2500 BCE).

Ram in a Thicket (c.2500 BCE)
Sculpture made from red limestone, copper, lapis lazuli, and gold-leaf, unearthed at the Great Death Pit, Ur, Iraq.

Maikop Gold Bull (c.2500 BCE)
One of four gold and silver sculptures of bulls, produced during the Russian Maikop culture of the North Caucasus.

• For a list of the greatest works of prehistoric painting and sculpture, see: Oldest Art.
• For a more comprehensive list, see: Oldest Stone Age Art: Top 100 Works.
• For more about the history of three-dimensional art, see: Homepage.

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