Wednesday 20 December 2017

Mask from Belo Brdo

This is one of the most amazing figurines I have ever seen. The official description says: "Anthropomorphic figurine, terracotta, Vinča culture, Neolithic period, around 5000 - 4500 BC, excavated at depth of 5.7 meters at Vinča - Belo brdo archaeological site, near Belgrade, capital of Serbia. Dimensions - height 9.6 cm. Archaeological collection of Faculty of Philosophy in Belgrade." That's it? That's it? Are people blind? Don't they see that the figurine represents a man wearing a MASK!!! How many Neolithic figurines of people wearing masks do you know? Well, this was the end of my original post :) Then my friend Adela Kovacs from Botosani County Museum posted this comment: "There are several masked figurines in Vinča culture. The Vinčan masks are pentagonal and rounded. There is not a very common iconography, but the ones presenting masks are made intentionally in the manner of representing big eyes and the rims of the object."

The possibility that these stylized faces are masks is discussed in this article (in Romanian) by Cristian. Roman from university Lucian Blaga, Sibiu entitled "TlPOLOGIA MĂŞTII ŞI A OCHILOR iN PLASTICA ANTROPOMORFĂ VINCIANĂ". It it he defines different types of mask shapes and postulates that the shape changed through time possibly reflecting change in beliefs or in religious fashion:

Basically this means that the common consensus is that any triangular and pentagonal face on Vinča figurines is a mask. Like these ones?

This is of course possible. There are many Vinca figurines where the face can be interpreted as a mask. And they probably were masks. Archaeologists have been proposing this for decades. But I still couldn't see any other figurine where there is an obvious distinction between the surface of the head and the surface of the mask. How do we know that these were indeed masks?

Well here is a figurine head with what is undoubtedly a "horned mask" and not a human face. It was found in Pločnik, Serbia and was dated to 5th millennium BC.

But again, was this a mask or a depiction of some deity or demon head? 

Well, thanks to my friend Adela Kovacs, now I know that this indeed could have been a mask.

"There is a full size mask made of clay found at Uivar site..."

And here it is:

The mask from Uivar site from "Uivar: a late Neolithic-early Eneolithic fortified tell site western Romania"  by Wolfram Schier

The mask from Uivar site in situ and reconstructed from "BUCRANIUL – SIMBOL ŞI SEMN (PARTEA A II-A)" by Cornelia-Magda Lazarovici, Gheorghe-Corneliu Lazarovici

And then my friend Stefan Bogdanovic told me to have a look at this figurine, which was found on the same Belo Brdo Vinča site as the above figurine with the mask:

This is the so called "Vidovdanka", one of the most beautiful anthropomorphic figurines of Vinča culture, also one of the biggest - 30.6 cm high. 

It was named Vidovdanka because it was discovered on Vidovdan (the day of Svetovid), 1930. It is made of polished clay it represents female figurine, with emphasized eyes and nose on the face, and on the body gluteus and rounded belly with the navel. Neolithic period, around 5000 BC, excavated at depth of 6.2 meters at Vinča - Belo brdo site, near Belgrade, capital of Serbia. This figurine is also kept at the archaeological collection of Faculty of Philosophy in Belgrade. 

I have only ever seen the picture taken from the front. From this picture it is impossible to see whether the figure has a stylised facial features or if it's wearing a mask. But if you look at this figurine from the side you can clearly see that this is a woman wearing a mask.

So now we have two figurines from the same Vinča site which have been designed in such a way to obviously show a person wearing a mask.

And here is another Vinča figurine, this time just a head wearing a mask:

And the best bit:

"Also there is a statuette from Liubcova site taking the mask off the face, holding it in a hand..."

Carved figure with mask from Liubcova site. In the left hand, the figure is holding a mask. In the right hand, it's holding a jug (of beer, perhaps?). From "Figurines as multiple art - Studying the shape and forms of Neolithic Statuettes" by Adele Änggård.

This is incredible...

Now big question: Why masks?


  1. Really obscure and astonishing, never seen something like this. Especially, the figure from the Liubcova site.

  2. Ski mask for hunting in winter?

  3. It's hard to make some guesses about the neolitic culture. But we can think about european maskarades. What is same for venecian carnival, german Fasching the battle of Fast and Schrovetide depicted in famous Breugels painting.

    East slavonic folk traditions have their own maskarade also in winter. On New year, Christmas and old style New year in Ukraine groups of masked gues come to neighbor households. They sing ritual songs, through corns and grains, make improvisation theatre pieses. If they are treeted good they wish good luck for the whole next year. If the host treet them badly or dont give them traditional for this ocasion foods they can
    vandalize, make noise or some unpleasant treeks to him.

    I think all this maskarades have connection to the end of an old year and the beginning of the new year, the symbolic deth of Sun and its reborn, te battle between the powers of good (fertile) and evel (hunger).

  4. Some scholars think that those faces represent masks worn as a protection by Vinča miners while they were digging for cinnabarite mineral which contains mercury and therefore is poisonous

  5. vinca smelted industrially. he is dressed for smelting but taking a water break