Astaroth the God of the Zidons, and Camos the God of the Moabites and Milcom the God of the children of Ammon
Jacques Cauvin (1978.134; 2000.22–29, 204–205,207–208) has postulated that Levantine ceramic female figurines were markers of the new ‘expansionist’ religion, which became a powerful social force and facilitated at an ideological level the transition to an agricultural way of life. In identifying what he understood was clear evidence for an inter-linked economic and religious transformation he believed that he had also discovered the reason why hunter gatherer people in villages outside the Levant did not develop subsistence production for themselves. He suggested that their failure to move over to the ‘humanisation’ of art and related new divinities could also have prevented them from moving over to a new type of economic practice. According to this interpretative scenario Europe thus could not have become Neolithicised until the ‘wave of advance’ and ceramic female figurines had reached the Balkans.
It was suggested recently that the distribution of Neolithic ceramic female figurines appears to have links with human genetic evidence. As Roy King and Peter A. Underhill (2002.707–714) have hypothesised, these figures are perhaps ‘the best genetic predictor’ of Neolithic farmers’ haplogrups and of the (re)population dynamics in Europe and Western Asia. It is due to the postulates that their geographic distribution correlates closely with the southeast-northwest cline of frequencies of Y chromosome markers and associated haplogroup Eu9 (J–M67* and J–M92 according to Semino et al. 2004.1030) in modern populations in Asia Minor and Europe, and, that all appear to originate in the same area of south-central Anatolia. The ceramic female figurines were hypothesized to appear at the same time as the emergence of cereal cultivation in the PPNA of the Levant. Moreover, they were believed to symbolise a series of gender and symbolic attributes that were carried forward with the spread of farming and went on to constitute part of the ‘new materiality’ that defined the key economic and ideological features of the Balkan Neolithic (Gimbuts 1989; Biehl 1996.153–175; Marangou 1996.176–2002; Chapman 2000;Bailey 2005; Hansen 2005.199–200).
However, the introduction of ceramic female statuettes, animal figurines and constructional ceramics were certainly not within the cultural domain of earlier Levantine hunter-gatherer societies, and nor they did not appear only on the ‘eve of the appearance of an agricultural economy’ as Cauvin (2000.25) suggested. The tradition of making figurines can be traced back to Central Europe, across the Russian Plain, into southern Siberia, and ultimately back to the Levant and Northern Africa. It is now clear that the clay figurine tradition was deeply embedded in pre-existing Eurasian hunter-gatherer social and symbolic contexts and that the dates of these figures begins as earlier as 26 000 years BP (Verpoorte 2001; Budja2004.59–81; 2005.53–72). For example, more than 16000 fragments of anthropomorphic figurines, zoomorphic statuettes, pellets, ‘earplugs’, flat fragments and constructional ceramic were recovered from the Central European Palaeolithic sites of Dolní Vestonice, Pavlov, Petrkovice, and Predmostí in Moravia. In the same region poorly preserved fragments of fired clay have also have also been recorded at Krems- Wachtberg, Moravany-Lopata, Jaro”ov, and hypothetically at Ka”ov and Cejkov (Soffer and Vandiver 1997.383–402; Verpoorte 2001) (Figs. 1 and 2), and while some may have been statuettes, their exact form remains unclear. Further to the East, on the Russian Plain, low-temperature-fired clay fragments were reported at Zaraisk and Kostenki Gravettian sites. At the latter, located on the banks of the River Don, more than four hundred fragments were found, contextually associated with marl and ivory Venus figures, and animal statuettes (Iakovleva 1999.125–134; Soffer, Adovasio and Hyland 2000.511–537;Soffer et al. 2000.814). Finally, the most easterly anthropomorphic ceramic figurine was found at an open air site at Maininskaya (Maina), on the left bank of the Yenisei River in Siberia (Vasil’ev 1985.193–196; Maina on-line).
All these early ceramic figurine assemblages can be assigned to the Pavlovian, a local variant of the Eastern Gravettian techno-complex, which dates back to around 26000 BP (Verpoorte 2001.86). For example, the ceramics at Kostenki were embedded in range of contexts, the oldest of which dates to 24 100 BP, and the most recent, to 18 000 BP (Soffer et al. 2000.814). Two dates are available for a ceramic figurine at Mayininskaya: at 16 540±170BP and 16 176±180BP (Vasil’ev 1985.193–196; Vasil’ev et al. 2002.526,Tab. 1). In addition, a lesser known fired ceramic sculpture, possibly representing a wild Barbary sheep (Ovis tragelaphus), was recovered from Tamar Hat Cave in Algeria, in an Ibero-Maurisian context which has been dated to 19 800±500 bp (Saxon 1976.327–329).
These finds point clearly to the fact that knowledge of ceramic technology had become ‘embedded’ into the agency of Eurasian hunter-gatherers many millennia before the appearance of food-producing agricultural societies. We must also note two other facts, first, that the making of ceramic figurines predates the making of pottery, and second, that pottery was not necessarily associated with the emergence of farming, as ceramic vessels were being made before the practice of early agriculture in Eastern Asia, and subsequently in the Levant, and Anatolia in Southwestern Asia.
Currently, the earliest known dates for ceramic vessels are from Southern China, where the direct dating of pottery at Miaoyan and Yuchanyan sites, based on insoluble residues, yield 14C values of 17 200–16 300 calBC (15 220±260 BP [BA94137b]) and 16 150–15 400 calBC respectively (14 390±230 BP [BA95057b]) (Zhao and Wu 2000.236–237; Pearson 2005.823). In the Russian Far East very early pottery found was also produced by hunter gatherer societies at the sites of Gromatukha and Gasya and has been dated to between 14 560–13 070 calBC (13 240 BP±85 [AA–20939] and 14 160–12 530 calBC (12 960±120 BP [LE–1781] (Kuzmin 2002.41,Tab.1; Zhushchikhovsaya 2005.13,17). Kuzmin, on contrary suggests there was an almost simultaneous appearance of pottery in Southern China at c. 13 700–13 300 BP, in Japan at c. 13 500 BP, and in the Russian Far East at c. 13 300 BP (Kuzmin 2006.362–371; see also Keally et al. 2004.349).
The first occurrence of ceramic vessels in Western Eurasia at circa 6900–6800 calBC marks the transition from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic C (PPNC) to the Pottery (or Late) Neolithic. The earlier pottery assemblages consist of coarse-wares, which are planttempered and undecorated. Several centuries pass before the emergence of elaborate painted styles and diverse shapes, which suggests that pottery had acquired a much wider significance in wider social contexts (Le Mière et Picon 1999.5–26; Aurenche et al. 2001.1197; Akkermans et al. 2006.123–156; Kozłowski and Aurenche 2005). However, the knowledge of firing clay was older than the first pottery vessels. We see the production of fired ceramic female and animal figurines from the very start of Pre- Pottery Neolithic (PPNA), at about 10 200 calBC onward, although these were being produced alongside ‘white ware’ vessels of carved sandstone, alabaster and marble.