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University of Manchester

School of Arts, Histories and Cultures


Archaeology Department
Complex Societies MA
A Re-conceptualiation of !igurines
"y Raymond !eliciano
#D$ %&&'(()
AR*+ ',))&
Course Assesement -ssay .'/01 2ords3
Course 4roffesor5 Dr$ Stuart Camp6ell
Raymond !eliciano )
AR*+ ',))& Reconstructing 4rehistoric Societies in the 7ear -ast
Dr$ Stuart Camp6ell
Introduction:
!igurines as artifacts created 6y ancient and mysterious cultures of the past represent a
defining and interesting aspect of the archaeological record$ !igurines arouse a lot of enthusiasm,
interest, 8uestions and de6ates among archaeologists and sometimes lead researchers into
esoteric formulations in the 8uest to try to ma9e sense of them$ :hese artifacts have al2ays
puled archaeologists 6ecause even though they are so mundane and o6viously easy to grasp,
they enclose a lot of mysteriousness$ #t is their apparent simplicity the aspect that proves most
deceiving at the moment of their study and interpretation$ Such sym6olic representations of the
2orld made 6y past humans, such as figurines 6ut also paintings and carvings, present 6ig
challenges 6ecause of their am6ivalent and undefined nature$
Aspects as such as the material and construction techni8ue of the figurines can 6e 8uic9ly
o6served and descri6ed on great detail$ #t is possi6le to determine the chemical and mineralogical
composition of its fa6rics and the techni8ues employed in their constructions$ :he location and
context in 2hich they 2ere found on the site can 6e recorded and correlated to other elements
identified on the dig, and their distri6ution and num6ers can 6e accounted in minute detail$ Still,
all these elements do not tell us much a6out the most important and particular element of
archaeological understanding, 2hich is the insight on the role and function that these artifacts
played on the societies that created them, 6e it in a large or small scale$ #n other 2ords, 2e can
9no2 ho2 they 2ere made, 2here they ended up and ho2 many 2ere found, 6ut 2e cannot
properly and certainly say 2ho made them, ho2 and 2here they 2ere used and for 2hat purpose
these societies employed them$
Archaeologists have uncovered figurines in many different archaeological locations
6elonging to different periods and societies$ :he contexts in 2hich such finds have 6een made
are varied and even more varied have 6een the interpretations and explanations put for2ard 6y
researchers, all destined to try to explain the presence of such materials$ *iven that figurines are
found on such different cultures, places and times, figurines as scholarly items have 6een given
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AR*+ ',))& Reconstructing 4rehistoric Societies in the 7ear -ast
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different meanings and interpretations although the concept in itself have never 6een clearly
defined, as 2ith many other things in archaeology$
;hat is interpreted as a figurine 6y one researcher might not 6e it to another$ #t 2ould
seem that 2hat constitute a figurine to scholars sometimes seem to 6e more a general and lax
mental construction defined 6y am6ivalence than 2hat the actual artifacts 2ould suggest at first
glance$ +et, figurines are concrete aspects of the archaeological record 2ith the same potential
for information yielding than the more hum6le and simple pottery fragments or flint 6lades found
along them$ "ecause of their am6ivalent meaning, 2hich is anything 6ut apparent, various
explanations for the functions of figurines have 6een proposed 6y researchers throughout the
years and across the landscape$ Such explanations and ideas have had po2erful and long-lasting
effects on defining the understanding of different aspects of the ancient cultures that interest us$
:he perfect example of this influence have 6een the definition of 2hat 2as suggested as
the most ancient religion, that centered around the concept of <femaleness=, the cult of the
>Mother goddess? .Hodder &,,', Uc9o )@'&3$ :he existence of that proto-religion 2as proposed
6y many different researchers 6ased on the discovery of various and distinctive figurines that
2ere interpreted as representations of female shapes .!igure )3 characteried 6y exaggerated
anatomical female parts such as large 6reasts, pu6ic triangles and large 6ellies .Mellaart )@'(3$
:hese models defined 2hole interpretations a6out the sym6olic structures of archaeological sites,
especially for the 7eolithic period in the 7ear -ast and the Cyclades$ :he 2hole cosmography of
sites such as AatalhByC9 2as structured around models 6ased on the mother goddess cult, and
their influence lasted for many decades, all the 2ay to contemporary times .Mes9ell &,,%3$ 7e2
discoveries, approaches and reinterpretations of the artifacts considered as figurines have
challenged these classical models and vie2s .Hodder &,,', Mes9ell &,,%, Mes9ell et al$ &,,13$
7e2 or different loo9s at the same artifacts have proposed different or alternative
interpretations of the uses and purposes of the figurine assem6lages$ Still, even though such ne2
models and explanations have 6roaden our possi6le interpretations of the evidence and the
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AR*+ ',))& Reconstructing 4rehistoric Societies in the 7ear -ast
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ultimate understanding of the sites, no clear and universally accepted overall panorama have
6een achieved yet$ Different interpretations of figurines are still defended 6y different
researchers, and they all seem to share the same pro6lem of perspective$ :his is, they all treat the
figures, .no matter the definition assigned3, as a singular and rigid element$ All figurines seem to
6e portrayed as having the same destiny or function$ Among the most commonly suggested
functions proposed for figurines 2e find explanations related to the character of religion, magic,
education, recreation and memory, 6ut no space for varia6ility or multiplicity of functions is
allo2ed in most of these panoramas$ All researchers seem to suggest that all figurines had one
single uni8ue purpose and deny the possi6ility of variation of destinies for different parts of the
assem6lage$ #t can 6e argued that this vie2 seems to 6e a reducing tendency that undermines the
possi6ilities of interpretation of figurines 6y trying to characterie all of them as a single, rigid
and universal entity 2ith a common origin and purpose$
#t is my intention to suggest that a different point of vie2 should 6e attempted at the time
of conceptualiing figurines in order to 6etter understand their presence in the archaeological
record and their possi6le functions to past societies$ Although figurines seem to 6e a common
occurrence on a variety of sites 6elonging to different cultures and timeframes, it has 6een
suggested that the 4re-pottery 7eolithic " constitutes the period in 2hich their presence is more
a6undant, declining in fre8uency to2ards the Date 447" period .Rollefson &,,13$ A loo9 at t2o
7ear -astern 7eolithic sites from this period might provide us 2ith ample evidence of <figurine=
contexts from t2o distinct 6ut similar locations, and 2ith t2o distinct 6ut similar artifact
assem6lages$ :he sites of Ain *haal and AatalhByC9 have yielded a variety of artifact and site
data 2hich have proven enriching into the understanding of the circumstances in 2hich people
lived in the area during the 447"$ At 6oth site different 9inds of figurines have 6een recovered
on different circumstances, so a loo9 at these should prove useful in illustrating the different
possi6le roles that figurines played in these societies$
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Dr$ Stuart Camp6ell
The Nature of Figurines:
:here seem to 6e no specific or roc9 hard definition of 2hat constitutes a figurine among
archaeologists$ As mentioned previously, the concept seems to 6e one of a common or generally
agreed a6straction of the <collective consciousness= .Dur9heim )@'@3 more than a concrete term
2ith 2ell-defined characteristics$ Attempts have 6een made to define figurines and it is possi6le
to grasp some of these attempts 2hile searching for a standard definition$ An example is the
definition found at the Oxford Concise Dictionary of Archaeology 2hich defines figurine as5
>A small model of a human or animal, usually of clay,
stone, 2ood or metal, 2hose purpose generally seems to 6e
ceremonial, devotional, or some 9ind of offering to a
deity$? .Darvill, &,,13
:his definition seems simple enough to prove useful and undisputed, nevertheless at the
time of engaging 2ith the so-called figurines$ archaeologists do not necessarily follo2 this 2ell-
defined path$ :hings that do not fit this description are sometimes identified as figurines, and
some that are supposed to fit in are sometimes cataloged as something else$ :he definition of
figurine is one that is negotiated and contested .Desure &,,&3 constantly$ :he general overall
consensus that can 6e extracted 2hen 2e ta9e a loo9 at the share properties of 2hat are defined
6y researchers as figurines is that they are all three dimensional o6Eects$ :hese three dimensional
representations tend to 6e mainly of organic nature, representations of animals, humans or
a6stractions of such$ Fther structures such as model houses and geometric shapes have 6een
defined sometimes as figurines 6y some researchers .Mes9ell &,,%3 6ut the overall element that
seems to commonly define a figurine in the <collective consciousness= of archaeologists and
anthropologists seems to 6e the scaled do2n representation of a natural or supernatural 6eing to
2hich living characteristics are assigned$
Although some authors have decided to include all sies of representations under the term
figurines .Rollefson &,,13, it is the scaled do2n feature 2hat is essential, referring mainly to the
fact that all representations tend to 6e smaller than half the natural sie of a human 6eing .as a
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AR*+ ',))& Reconstructing 4rehistoric Societies in the 7ear -ast
Dr$ Stuart Camp6ell
personal non quantified observation). Sie can vary from very small to relatively large, and
different terms are sometimes employed to create specific divisions of sies$ :he term figurine or
figure is employed to differentiate the smaller tri-dimensional representations from the larger
statues$ :he vast maEority of the figurines identified as such in the archaeological record tend to
6e small o6Eects that do not exceed ), to &,cm in height, although some times larger shapes are
included in the definition, as are the statuettes from Aim *haal, 2hich 2ill 6e discussed later$
Shape, and fa6ric do not seem to 6e regarded as determinate aspects involved in the
process of defining a <figurine=, although they are ta9en in account 2hen conceptualiing the
grouping or cataloging of the varia6les that can 6e encompassed in such artefact group$ !igurines
and statuettes come in different forms .realistic or not3 and different materials, 6ut the varia6les
of sie and shape are the aspect that give them meaning and purpose$
Why Figurines at all?
Having the concept of 2hat constitutes a figurine 6een explained in 6roader detail one
can move for2ard into more productive 6ut mur9ier matters$ Fne of the 8uestions that have
al2ays puled researchers is the nature of the existence of these artifacts$ :his refers to the
8uestions a6out the uses that people have given to figurines in the past$ Why did humans
engaged in the creation of these small shapes in the first placeG What purpose did they have and
why they seem to be part of different cultures in different places and different contexts all over
the world
:hese 8uestions have 6een more directly addressed than the actual definition of the term
and different researchers 2ith different perspectives and 2or9ing 2ith different sets of data have
suggested various possi6le functions throughout the years$ :he cases can 6e handily illustrated
6y employing the 7ear -astern 7eolithic sites of Ain *haal in the Devant and AatalhByC9 in
Anatolia$ "oth sites have yielded a 6ounty of figurines throughout the years, in different 6ut
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related contexts$
Ain Ghazal-
Ain *haal is a 447" site discovered in )@%/ during the construction of a high2ay near
the Har8a River in the northeastern outs9irts of Amman .Rollefson )@1/3$ After a period of
initial inactivity, salvage excavations commenced at the site in )@1&$ Consecutively a second set
of excavations too9 place in )@1/ after unexpected and exiting finds 2ere uncovered in the first
excavations$ Along 2ith the salvage excavations, an extensive pedestrian and electronic survey
.2hich employed the resistivityIconductivity method3 2as performed, documenting an extension
for the site of around 0, acres .i6id$3$ Jarious architectural features 2ere identified on the
distur6ed areas, consisting of plaster floors, 6enches, 2alls, hearts, and pits$
:he artifacts recovered during the excavations consist of the usual assem6lage of
7eolithic artifacts expected for a site of that period, consisting mainly of chipped and ground
stone o6Eects, 6one tools and implements, and 6urial pits containing human remains$ "esides the
6urials, three plaster s9ulls and the remains of three plaster mas9s that once covered the faces of
s9ulls 2ere uncovered 6et2een )@1& and )@11 .Schmandt-"esserat )@@13$ Another category of
artifacts discovered at the site consists of figurines$ :his category 2as the most exiting element
of discovery at the site and the reason it stands out from the rest of the 447" locations
discovered up to date .2ith the exception of Kericho3$
:he figurines found at Ain *haal can 6e 6roadly divided in t2o groups$ :he first group
consists of small clay figurines$ :hese figurines have 6een found to 6e un6a9ed and 6a9ed and
represent animals and anthropomorphic forms$ #n addition, many figurines have 6een identified
and cataloged as having <geometric forms= .Rollefson )@1/3 consisting of discs, cones, cylinders
and 6all shapes also made out of un6a9ed or 6a9ed clay$ :hese figurines 2ere recovered near
domestic contexts, mainly in middens and ru66ish pits .4arry &,,&, Rollefson &,,13$ Ff the
2hole group of small clay figurines a total of /0 have 6een identified on the 447" layers,
representing anthropomorphic shapes$ )% of them 6ear clear female characteristics and 0 present
male characteristics .4arry, &,,&3$ :he female shapes are also distinguished 6y the presence of
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roc9er-stamped, cord impressed decorations .Rollefson &,,13 :he remaining &0
anthropomorphic figurines 6ear no discerni6le sexual distinction$ Although num6ers seem to
vary among researchers .and even inside the 2or9 of one single author3 6et2een )(, and )'(
oomorphic shape figurines 2ere recovered at the site from the 447" period$ :he vast maEority
of the shapes found represent 2hat seem to 6e cattle, although goats, e8uids, pigs, reptiles and
dogs have also 6een identified among the forms .i6id$3$
:he treatment of these figurines does not seem to have 6een to ela6orate$ Many of the
anthropomorphic shapes 2ere found to have 6een decapitated intentionally and discarded in
2aste deposit areas on the site such as middens and ru66ish pits$ Animal shape figurines also
2ere found mostly on this context, although some of the oomorphic figurines 2ere located in
more <special conditions=$ A set of t2o cattle shape figurines 2ere found 6uried in a pit
underneath a house floor$ :hese figurines have 6een pierced or sta66ed 2ith flint 6lades in places
li9e the ri6s, the chest and the eye areas$ -ven though these represent an exception to the
depositional pattern of small figurines at the site, many other oomorphic figurines have 6een
found to have 6een slashed in similar fashion prior to discard$ #nterpretations around these small
artifacts have not 6een as intensively pursued as 2ith other artifacts found at the site .as 2e 2ill
see later on3$ :he strongest shared line of thought seems to hover around interpreting these small
artifacts as magical to9ens involved in small-scale ritual practices$
:he second group of figurines found at the site consists of 2hat have 6een called <4laster
Statues=$ :hese artifacts 2ere found on different excavation seasons and constitute the most
tal9ed a6out discovery of the site$ :hey consist of t2o independent caches of large, flat statuettes
composed of internal reed armatures and outer plaster modeling .Rollefson &,,13$ :he first
cache .!igure &3, 2hich turned out to 6e the largest one, 2as found in )@10 during the initial
salvage excavations$ :his group 2as formed 6y &( individual pieces containing )0 full-sie
statues and )& one-headed 6usts .Schmand-"esserat )@@13$ Cache & .!igure 03 2as excavated in
)@1( and contained seven figures composed of t2o full statues, three t2o-headed 6usts and t2o
fragmentary heads .i6id$3$ According to the experts, the t2o caches are diachronic, 6eing
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separated 6y at least t2o centuries$ #t have 6een determined that the first &( piece assem6lage is
the oldest dating to around '%(, "$C$ 2hile the second smaller cache have 6een estimated to
6elong to '(%, "$C$ .i6id$3$
All the statuettes represent anthropomorphic shapes, 6e it of full representations of
human 6odies or 6usts representing heads and shoulders$ :he most stri9ing features of the
statuettes are the sie and the facial features$ #n average, they fluctuate in sie around 0(cm in
height for the 6usts and ),,cm for the statuettes .i6id$3, 6eing the ones found cache & the largest$
:his large sie contrasts greatly 2ith the much smaller clay figurines discussed earlier, 2hich
2ere much smaller and almost featureless$ :he main attention of the plaster statuettes is centered
on the head and face, 2hich represents a large part of the figurine$ :he facial features are unusual
.!igure /3$ :hey present high foreheads, short upturned noses, thin and minuscule lips, and
disproportionately large, 2ide-open eyes outlined 2ith 6itumen, and in the case of the second
cache, eyes that loo9 almost <reptilian in nature= ."anning )@@13$
:he figurines also present some interesting features and vary greatly from one cache to
the other$ :he ones identified in cache ) 2ere more carefully modeled, presenting greater
anatomical details$ :hey present features as arms and legs, although 2ith odd num6er of fingers
and toes, 2hich range from four to seven$ Fther features had 6een paid good attention such as
the shaping of 6reasts .2hen present3, 6uttoc9s, shoulders and 2aists$ :his contrast greatly 2ith
the statuettes in cache & 2hich in general do not present any 6ody elements and 2hose torsos
resem6les more a rectangular 6loc9 2ith a head or heads attached to it than human 6odies$ #t
have 6een suggested that the differences in the shapes of the torsos 6et2een the figurines from
the t2o caches responds to the fact that the ones in the second group might have 6een destined to
6e covered 6y ro6es, thus ma9ing unnecessary the modeling of features that 2ere never going to
6e seen .Rollefson &,,13$
"eyond the allure that the shape and essence that these artifacts present, the context in
2hich they 2ere recovered also proves extremely important$ "oth caches 2ere found in
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isolation, carefully arranged in pits interred underneath 2hat have 6een descri6ed as a6andoned
6uildings or houses .4arry &,,&3$ :he statuettes 2ere carefully arranged, and covered$ :his
contrast greatly 2ith the discard treatment to 2hich the clay figurines 2ere su6Eected, suggesting
great differences in the contexts for 2hich the artifacts might have 6een created$ :he presence of
these artifacts have 6een interpreted 6y researchers under many analytical lenses, 6ut all share
the common idea that these statuettes 2ere destined to function on a cult or ritual 6asis of large
scale than the one represented 6y the smaller clay figurines$
atalhyk-
:he site of AatalhByC9 2hich dates to the period of %/,,-',,, "$C$ .Hodder &,,%3 2as
discovered in the Anatolian plateau during the )@(,=s$ :he archaeologists Kames Mellaart
conducted the first excavations at the site in four separate seasons 6et2een )@') and )@'($
Mellaart=s excavations 2ere concentrated on the -ast mound in the south2estern part of the site
.Mes9ell &,,13 and revealed that the site proved the existence of early settled village life in the
!ertile Crescent of the Middle -ast .Hodder &,,%3$ "eyond this, 6eing the site a very 2ell
preserved example, it represented prove of the great complexity in iconographic expressions of
the near eastern 7eolithic and of the early settlement composition of the 447" in Anatolia$
Mellaart discovered a large amount of mud 6ric9 structures that 2ere interpreted as
6elonging to residential context 6ut also some of them 2ere thought as locations of shrines or
ritual related structures$ :hese interpretations 2ere 6ased on the rich iconography that 2as found
at the site$ :he spaces 2ere interpreted as special locations 6ased on architectural features 2hich
included 6enches, 6ucrania assem6lages, 2all paintings, plaster modeling, and the presence of
various special artifacts and 6urials .Mellaart )@'(3$ Among the most ritually significant artifacts
identified 6y Mellaart, .excluding the paintings or architectural features3 2e find the mention of
<ex-voto figurines of seated human 6eings and animals= .i6id$3 2hich 2ere recovered normally
outside the location of shrines or in special contexts such as interred 6eneath plastered floors or
inside grain 6ins .Mellaart )@'(, Hodder &,,'3$
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:he figurines descri6ed 6y him consisted mainly of stone or clay representations of
seated 2omen 2ith large 6reasts, protruding 6ellies and other female fertility related features$
:hese figurines 2ere interpreted as a representation of the deities 2orshiped at the shrines in
AatalhByC9, 2hich led him to formulate a 2hole theory of ritual structure 6ased on the presence
of these figurines$ :his theory postulated the pro6a6le existence of a <mother goddess= fertility
cult for the location .Mellaart )@'(, Mes9ell &,,13$
Dater 2or9s at the site have challenged these interpretations$ -xcavations directed at the
site 6y #an Hodder since )@@0 have ta9en a slo2er and more detailed approach to the excavation
of the site than Mellaart=s 2or9 did 6ac9 in the )@',=s$ :he more detailed excavations have
proven very successful in revealing ne2 data that 2as overloo9ed 6y the earlier excavations and
also a reinterpretation of the data gather in the )@',=s have ta9en place$ A proEect called
:-M4-R 2hich is destined to re-sift all the 6ac9-dirt from Mellaart=s excavations, along 2ith a
ne2 integration of all the site data, have revealed that a lot of evidence 2as not accounted for
6ac9 then, specially that related to the remains of small clay figurines .Mes9ell &,,%3$
Although the current excavations have also uncovered examples of similar figurines to
the ones Mellaart found, it has yet failed to identify the depositional and fre8uency pattern of
female figurine presence descri6ed 6y the early investigations$ :his, along 2ith a revision of the
evidence, has led investigators to dou6t the mother goddess iconographic interpretation for the
site$ :he figurine composition of AatalhByC9 has 6een found to 6e dominated 6y the presence of
small .less than ), cm in height3, simple clay figurine and fragments of them that 2ere ignored
and discarded 6y the early excavations at the site$ A reassessment of the data have also
uncovered that the most common iconographic item is formed 6y the shapes of oomorphic
.!igure (3 figurines, follo2ed 6y anthropomorphic ones .i6id$3
!urther more, it has 6een discovered that the maEority of the oomorphic figurines do not
present any clear sexual traits .!igure '3 and also that there is a normal 6ut lo2 presence of
phallic imagery to 6e found among the figurine imagery$ Current excavation data have also
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revealed that the figurines, made from clay or stone, are commonly found deposited in middens
and fill in a6andoned 6uildings along 2ith other ru66ish deposited there, 2hich contradicts
Mellaart=s suggestion of their relationship to the <shrines=$ :he presence of the shrines have 6een
heavily contested 6y the current excavators, driving Hodder to suggest that there is no evidence
for the presence of shrines at AatalhByC9 and that 2hat 2as once identified as such Eust
constitutes part of the domestic spaces at the site$
:hus under the light of the ne2 evidence, the iconography for the location have shifted
from one of specialied rituals to one of ritual em6edded in the fa6ric of daily life and daily
spaces, similar to the interpretation presented for the Ain *haal figurines$ Although the mother
goddess and shrine argument has 6een deconstructed, the researchers at the site still consider the
presence of figurines to 6e one related to ritual in some character$ !igurines at the site, as 2ith
many other clay figurines from the 447" are normally found missing the head or 2ith presence
of specific manipulation, as the sta66ing or incrusting of them 2ith flint or seeds .Richard &,,03$
Proposed functions of figurines by researchers:
:he information a6out the figurines from Ain *haal and AatalhByC9 descri6ed a6ove
presents a couple of the most famous cases of figurine composition on sites from the 447" in
the 7ear -ast$ Although 6oth are considered to 6elong to t2o distinct geographical areas .Devant
and Anatolia3 they still presents figurines 2hich have 6een interpreted similarly 6y the experts
and are tal9 a6out as homologous 2hen referring to them$ :he o6vious and common
interpretation given to these figurines, 6oth large and small is that of ritual related o6Eects$ All
clay or plaster representations are mainly loo9ed at from this perspective at the time of
interpretation$
As exposed previously in the outline of 6oth sites, the interpretation for the figurines
might have shifted traEectory throughout the years, 6ut it still remains predominantly aimed on
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the course of ritual$ Among these shifts in interpretation, 2e can account the division of the
figurines on t2o different ritual perspectives, that of the small simpler ones and that of the larger
complex ones .a case of the unimpressive vs$ the impressive3$ Small figurines initially 2ere
interpreted as fertility idols from ancient religious practices, as central pieces of an ancient
religion, 6ut such interpretations have changed under the ne2 light of the evidence$ 7o2adays
they have come to 6e seen as o6Eects used in small scale or personal-household rituals 2hose
function is 6ased on that of homeopathic magic .!raer )@&&3$ #t has 6een argued that these small
to9ens 2ere meant to aid in pregnancy, child-6irth and hunting 6y representing a temporal
magical item 2ith temporary po2er ."anning )@@1, Hodder &,,', Mes9ell &,,13$
:he magical po2er they represented has 6een seen as ephemeral, the reason they 2ere
constantly discarded after their purpose 2as achieved, .Hodder &,,'3 in the same 2ay a 6one is
discarded after a meal$ :he large num6ers in 2hich they are found have 6een interpreted as a
proof of this ephemeral nature, 2hich re8uired constant replacement$ #t has 6een argued that the
decapitation of the figurines 2as an action necessary in the process of their discard$ "y means of
the intentional decapitation, the figurine 2as ritually 9illed releasing the life force, spirit, or
magic that it held, thus rendering it dead or useless after that act too9 place ."anning )@@13$ :his
2ould also explain their deposition in ru66ish deposits among other discarded items, having 6een
stripped of all ritual purposes after decapitation, the figurine 2ould 6ecome an useless item that
could 6e thro2n a2ay 2ithout repercussions$
#nterestingly enough the decapitation process have also 6een lin9ed to the practice of
s9ull removal from corpses, .a ritual practice of un9no2n purpose for the 7eolithic communities
of the 7ear -ast3 suggesting an unexplained lin9 6et2een the t2o .Hodder &,,'3$ :his level of
small-scale practice contrasts greatly 2ith the primary level of ritual represented 6y the other
figurines found in special contexts and the larger and physically different statuettes from Ain
*haal and AatalhByC9$
#f the small figurines 2ere meant for small scale or everyday magic, then the special
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o6Eects found in <framed deposits= .Jerhoven &,,&3 are on a higher level of the ritual scale$ :he
plaster statuettes from Ain *haal and the stone seated female figures from AatalhByC9, 6ecause
of their special attri6utes of shape, sie, material and context represent something more special,
more significant than the hum6ler clay figurines$ :hese larger artifacts are interpreted as items of
cult, involved in community sie rituals, different from the less significant personal rituals of the
clay figurines$ #t have 6een suggested that the use of these statuettes 2as meant to function as
representations of ancestors, special individuals, gods, or mythical individuals used in pu6lic or
restricted rituals$ :hey even have 6een interpreted as images of ghosts employed in exorcisms
.Schmandt-"esserat )@@1, "anning )@@13$
:hese references are mainly 6ased on three factors$ :he first is the nature of the pieces,
2hich seem to 6e large and complex items re8uiring careful manufacture and great care
throughout their useful lives$ :he second factor relates to the actual depositional .discarding
perhaps3 process and context of the pieces$ :he careful <6urial= of the artifacts has 6een
contrasted to the disposal of the smaller clay figurines$ ;hile the second ones 2ere apparently
discarded as ru66ish, these more impressive statues 2ere carefully >laid to rest?$ :he real reasons
for this have 6een lost to time, 6ut researchers speculated that the figurines 2ere too important,
respected or po2erful to 6e discarded in a non ritual fashion, thus great care 2as ta9en to ta9e
them out of circulation in a 2ay that proved respectful, and careful enough .Schmandt-"esserat
)@@13$
:he third factor used in the interpretation of these artifacts is 6ased on comparisons 2ith
o6Eects in the ethnographic record, 2hich are deemed as similar$ :hus, relationships 6et2een the
anthropologically recorded uses for similar items are dra2n 2ith these archaeological artifacts,
though none have proven to represent a definitive or strong enough analogy that 2ould define
their use undisputedly$
Analysis of figurines:
Raymond !eliciano )/
AR*+ ',))& Reconstructing 4rehistoric Societies in the 7ear -ast
Dr$ Stuart Camp6ell
"eyond the spectrum of the <ritual= sphere, 2hich dominates interpretation of these
artifacts, different authors have proposed other possi6le uses for the figurines$ # general such
alternative interpretations have 6een reEected 6y the mainstream academia 6ecause they do not
conform to the esta6lished vie2 of rituality, 2hich is the one preferred$ #nterpretations of the
figurines as toys .Uc9o )@'&3, teaching aids .Lamp &,,)3, o6Eects of adornment .Mes9ell &,,%3,
and others have 6een heavily criticied and denied a part on the narrative of the figurine 2orld$
:his tendency although generalied might prove dangerous$ :he Eudgment of cataloging
all figurines from the sites as ritual items is not only incarcerating and 6urdensome, 6ut also
ignores current ethnographic analogical examples that present us 2ith alternative uses for similar
artifacts$ #f it is true that many of the circumstantial evidence points to a possi6le use of figurines
as ritual items in many cases, it does not means that all figurines produced in the past 2ere
intended for this purpose$ :his is especially true for the smaller clay figurines than the larger
plaster and stone statuettes$ :he second group seems to 6e more heavily >framed? in conditions
that define them as special due to their fre8uency, physical characteristics, as 2ell as the context
in 2hich they 2ere found$ :he case of the more mundane and a6undant clay figurines might
paint a different panorama 2hen approached from a different perspective$
-xamples of figurines given diverse uses can 6e found in many anthropological studies$
;hat comes as stri9ing 2hen revie2ing such cases is the great similarity that the figurines found
in the archaeological record on the 7ear--astern 447" sites have 2ith the figurines presented on
the anthropological pu6lications$ Fne such case that stri9es as eerily familiar is the )@&0
description that !e29es ma9es of figurines produced 6y 7avaEo children in the American
south2est .!igure %3$ :he images on the small clay figurines on !e29e=s 2or9 might easily 6e
confused 2ith the plates illustrating the volumes of archaeological reports for sites as Ain *haal
and AatalhByC9$
"oth artifact assem6lages are similar in sie, shape, construction techni8ues, composition
and other facts$ :he ratio 6et2een the oomorphic vs$ anthropomorphic figurines is similar to
Raymond !eliciano )(
AR*+ ',))& Reconstructing 4rehistoric Societies in the 7ear -ast
Dr$ Stuart Camp6ell
that of the archaeological sites discussed previously$ #n addition, among the anthropomorphic
shapes, the tendency to of sex representation is almost identicalM 6eing most of them figurines
2ithout clearly defined characteristics and in the case that a sex is present, it is mostly dominated
6y female shape figurines$ ;ith all these similarities one 2ould expect that !e29es 2ould
presents us 2ith an explanation of the figurines 6ased on a ritual context, as have 6een suggested
6y the archaeologists$
7othing farther from the truth, having the advantage of actually 6eing a6le to o6serve,
8uestion and record the culture and individuals that created the artifacts, !e29es .)@&0, pp$((@3
descri6es the artifacts as 6eing made 6y children as amusement items to play 2ith and that they
2ere in no 2ay related to any ritual action$ He even goes further and points to the fact that in
South2estern archaeology at the time, similar artifacts 2ere 6eing recovered from mounds and
2ere 6eing interpreted exclusively as fetish items destined for shrines or rituals ignoring such
clear ethnographic evidence .i6id$3$
Lathryn Lamp, also 2or9ing 2ith the 7avaEo, more recently .&,,), pp$/0'-//%3 has
descri6ed the same pattern of figurine production 6y children as >toys?, 6ut also has pointed out
the fact that sometimes they serve dou6le or triple functions$ !or example, they serve as teaching
aids in the process of ceramic craft production or as fertility idols that are reused as toys 2hen
the rituals are finished$ Fn the other hand different ethnographic evidence attest to the full ritual
use of small clay figurines in some cultures, as in the case of the HuNi=s solstice rituals descri6ed
6y 4arsons .)@)@, pp$ &%@-&1'3 in 2hich small clay figurines 2ere create and destined
specifically for use in a similar ritual fashion as suggested 6y the archaeologists$
An alternative approach to conceptualizing the objects:
Raymond !eliciano )'
AR*+ ',))& Reconstructing 4rehistoric Societies in the 7ear -ast
Dr$ Stuart Camp6ell
;ith such a panorama, it is clear that there is a multitude of functions that a figurine can
serve$ :hen the pro6lems of interpretation 2e are faced 2ith might not 6e directly lin9ed to the
actual physicality or context of the figurines themselves$ :he o6Eects seem to 6e 8uite simple to
identify and descri6e, 6ut the interpretation is difficult 6ecause of the am6ivalent meaning and
also 6ecause of the conceptualiation and definition of 2hat a figurines constitutes in the mind of
the archaeologists, .the collective consciousness3$
!igurines are defined physically 6y their sie and shape, 2hich is the primary 2ay of
identifying them in the field, 6ut also 6y default they are heavily 6urden 2ith the definition of
ritualism$ :hese three elements unconsciously define figurines and catalogue them apart from
other similar o6Eects that are considered to 6e different$ :hus, a figurine cannot 6e considered to
have 6een a toy, 6ecause the function of a toy is for play .fun3 and a figurine is for ritual
.seriousness3, although the t2o of them might 6e very similar or in some cases physical
homologous$ A figurine also cannot 6e a teaching tool 6ecause that does not constitute a ritual
practice, even if they might 6e identical artifacts in identical am6ivalent contexts$
:hus, if the possi6le uses of figurines are to 6e explored there has to 6e a redefinition of
the conceptualiation of 2hat constitutes a figurine, not on the physical realm, 6ut in the
conception of it as a thing$ :he essence of the figurine can no longer lie on our preconceptions$
Fne has to accept the fact that perhaps it is possi6le that figurines are Eust a mental construction
of contemporary researchers$ Fne has to argue that perhaps figurines did not exist as a concrete
category in the past in the same 2ay 2e intend to understand them no2$ :rying to define their
meaning and purpose proves difficult 6ecause these are elements that are temporarily assem6led
and experience 6y the people that create them .Ro66 )@@13, and 2hich are outside our sphere of
experience and understanding$
;hat 2e 6ul9y and generally conceive as figurines actually seems to constitute o6Eects
2ith different functions 2hich have 6een 6rought together as a single category 2hen in fact they
might not have 6een$ Suspecting that this is the case, 2e should realie that 2hat 2e see9 as
Raymond !eliciano )%
AR*+ ',))& Reconstructing 4rehistoric Societies in the 7ear -ast
Dr$ Stuart Camp6ell
primary figurine functions should not 6e their uses as ritual or magical o6Eects or tools of
learning and recreation$ # propose that a 6etter conceptualiation of 2hat constitutes a figurine
lies on something larger and more a6stract$ Researchers have centered their attention too much in
trying to define specific purposes 2hile not clearly defining larger general patterns of human
socio-psychological conduct$ #t is possi6le that the reason 2hy the definition of the purpose of
figurines has proved so difficult lies on the fact that 2e are trying to understand something from
the 2rong perspective$
"eyond the varia6le specific functions that can 6e assigned to a figurine .ritual, play,
learning, adornment3, the overall utility of these o6Eects seem to rely on their sie$ :he scale of a
figurine in comparison to the human 6ody seems to ma9e it managea6le, allo2ing the
representations of the 2orld to 6e handled 6y people in 2ays in 2hich the reality can never 6e
grasped$ As "ailey have suggested in his study of figurines from the "al9an 7eolithic, the
miniaturiation of the 2orld in the form of a figurine empo2ers individuals, ma9ing them
omnipotent and omniscient 6y investing them 2ith physical control ."ailey &,,(3$ :his physical
control of the person over the o6Eect 2or9s on the concept of homology in 2hich control of the
representation translates into po2er over the represented$ :he scaling do2n of a thing 6rings it
under control of the individual 6ut it also 6rings it closer and aids in the understanding of the real
6y means of a6stracting it into an understanda6le and managea6le element that can 6e
completely o6served and analye 6y the person$
;ith a miniature, 9no2ledge of the 2hole precedes 9no2ledge of the parts .i6id$3$ #t
provides a simpler 2ay of dealing 2ith reality 6y scaling it do2n and ma9ing it more accessi6le,
managea6le and less threatening$ !igurines 6ring the larger 2orld into the personal space of the
individual in a safe and controlled 2ay and 6ecause they form part of this personal space, they
can carry sym6olism, meanings and purpose$ :hus, figurines can 6e conceptualied as utilitarian
items, not in the sense of physical 2or9ing tools as 9nifes and grinders can 6e, 6ut as physical
em6odiments of the a6stractions of human cognitions and experiences$ !igurines purposes are to
serve as a tool of interaction 6et2een the physical, concrete 2orld of 6iological and social life
Raymond !eliciano )1
AR*+ ',))& Reconstructing 4rehistoric Societies in the 7ear -ast
Dr$ Stuart Camp6ell
and the cognitive element of the human mind$
All the possi6le functions ascri6ed 6y the experts as possi6le uses of figurines can 6e
interpreted in this light 6ecause they are all related to cognitive processes$ Ritual is a mental
process involved in ma9ing sense of the 2orld and trying to ta9e control of it, a primitive science
of sorts$ #n the same 2ay, play and learning are aspects related to the development of cognitive
a6ilities destined at interaction 2ith the 2orld$ :he figurine defined in this light allo2s for such
interpretations and 6roadens the spectrum of use of the figurines from a ritualistic item to one of
mediation 6et2een the human cognition and the environment it tries to understand and control$
onclusion:
!igurines can 6e interpreted as o6Eects that mediate interaction 6et2een the human
animal and his environment 6y means of facilitating understanding and management of the
elements that surround him in an accessi6le 2ays$ :his conceptualiation of a figurine might
prove to 6e more flexi6le and encompassing than the cataloging of them in small categories as
ritual or play$ "oth of these categories or practices actually can 6e considered as manners of
interaction 6et2een the person and the environment, existing on the same space-time plane, 6ut
serving different functions in the same spectrum$
#t is true that figurines might 6e ritual or have existed in a ritual environment, 6ut it is
also true that some of them could have had other more mundane functions$ :he existence of one
should not negate the possi6ility of the other, specially if 2e ta9e in account all the material
items around us that if found in an archaeological context, 2ould not 6e interpreted as ritualistic$
After all, no6ody 2ould suggest that a "ar6ie doll and an image of the virgin marry serve the
same purpose, even if they 6oth could 6e cataloged as figurines$ 7evertheless, 2hat they share in
common is the purpose of mediation for 2hich they 2ere consciously or unconsciously created,
mediation in different spheres and environments, 6ut tools of interaction after all$
Raymond !eliciano )@
AR*+ ',))& Reconstructing 4rehistoric Societies in the 7ear -ast
Dr$ Stuart Camp6ell
!eferences:
"ailey, Douglass ;$, &,,($ !rehistoric "igurines# $epresentation and Corporeality in the
%eolithic$ Fxon5 Routledge$
Raymond !eliciano &,
AR*+ ',))& Reconstructing 4rehistoric Societies in the 7ear -ast
Dr$ Stuart Camp6ell
"anning, -$"$, )@@1$ &he %eolithic !eriod# &riumphs of Architecture' Agriculture and Art. 7ear
-astern Archaeology, ')./3, pp$ )11-&0%$
"anning, -$"$ O "yrd, "rian, !$, )@1/$ &he Architecture of Ain (ha)al' *ordan$ "ulletin of the
American Schools of Friental Research, &((, pp$ )(-&,
AatalhByC95 -xcavations of a 7eolithic Anatolian HByC9$ Research 4roEect 2e6site$ Availa6le at
http5II222$catalhoyu9$comI PAccessed & May &,,@Q$
Daems, Aurelie, &,,/$ On !rehistoric +uman "igurines in ,ran# Current -nowledge and .ome
$eflections$ #ranica Anti8ua, 0@, pp$ )-&0$
Darvill, :imothy, &,,1$ Oxford Concise Dictionary of Archaeology$ Fxford5 Fxford University
4ress$
Dur9heim, -mile, )@'@$ :he Division of Da6our in Society$ DondonM !ree 4ress$
!e29es, ;alter K$, )@&0$ Clay "igurines /ade by %avaho Children. American Anthropologist5
7e2 Series, &(./3, pp$ ((@-('0$
!raer, Kames *eorge, )@&&$ &he (olden 0ough# A .tudy of /agic and $eligion$ 7e2 +or95 :he
Macmillan Company$
*ray6ill, K$, Lamp, L$, Dind, *$, 7ato2s9y, #$ and :immerman, 7$, )@@@$ Discovering
Childhood# 1sing "ingerprints to "ind Children in the Archaeological $ecord$ American
Anti8uity, '/.&3, pp$ 0,@-0)($

Hodder, #an, &,,'$ 2atalh3y45 # &he 6eopards &ale. 6ondon5 :hames and Hudson$
Raymond !eliciano &)
AR*+ ',))& Reconstructing 4rehistoric Societies in the 7ear -ast
Dr$ Stuart Camp6ell
RRRRRRRRRR, &,,%$ 2atalh3y45 in the Context of the /iddle 7astern %eolithic$ Annual Revie2
of Anthropology, 0', pp$ ),(-)&,$
Lamp, Lathryn A$, &,,)$ !rehistoric Children Wor5ing and !laying# A .outhwestern Case
.tudy in 6earning Ceramics$ Kournal of Anthropological Research, (%./3, pp /&%-/(,$
LuiEt, #an, &,,1$ &he $egeneration of 6ife# %eolithic .tructures of .ymbolic $emembering and
"orgetting. Current Anthropology, /@.&&3, pp$ )%)-)@0$
Desure, Richard *$, &,,&$ &he (oddess Diffracted# &hin5ing About the "igurines of 7arly
8illages. Current Anthropology, /0./3, pp$ (1%-'),$
Mellaart, Kames, )@'($ 7arliest Civili)ations of the %ear 7ast$ Dondon5 :hames and Hudson$
Mes9ell, D, Ling, R$, 7a9amura, C$, O !arid, S$, &,,1$ "igured 6ifeworlds and Depositional
!ractices at 2atalh3y45. Cam6ridge Archaeological Kournal, )1.&3, pp$ )0@-)')$
Mes9ell, Dynn, &,,%$ $econfiguring the Corpus at 2atalh3y45. #n Renfre2, C$ O Morley, #$
/aterial 0eginnings# A (lobal !rehistory of "igurative $epresentation$ Cam6ridge5
McDonald #nstitute Monographs$
4arry$ Rachel Ann, &,,&$ $eligion and $itual in the %eolithic %ear 7ast9 Ain (ha)al# A Case
.tudy. M$A$ Manchester5 University of Manchester$
4arsons, -lsie C$, )@)@$ ,ncrease by /agic# A :i;i !attern$ American Anthropologist5 7e2
Series, &).03, pp$&%@-&1'$
Ro66, Kohn -$, )@@1$ &he Archaeology of .ymbols$ Annual Revie2 of Anthropology, &%, pp 0&@-
0/'$
Raymond !eliciano &&
AR*+ ',))& Reconstructing 4rehistoric Societies in the 7ear -ast
Dr$ Stuart Camp6ell
Rollefson, *ary F$, )@1/$ Ain *haal5 An -arly 7eolithic Community in Highland Kordan, near
Amman$ "ulletin of the American School of Friental Research, &((, pp$ 0-)/$
<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<' &,,1$ Charming 6ives# +uman and Animal "igurines in the 6ate
7pipaleolithic and 7arly %eolithic !eriods in the (reater 6evant and 7astern Anatolia.
#n "oc8uet-Appel, K$4$ O "ar- +osef$ &he %eolithic Demographic &ransition and its
Consequences. Dondon5 Springer Science O "usiness Media$
Schmandt-"esserat, Denise, )@@1$ Ain (ha)al /onumental "igures# A .tylistic Analysis.
Availa6le at http5IImenic$utexas$eduIghaalIChapJ#Ids6$html PAccessed &) April &,,@Q$
RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR, )@@1$ Ain (ha)al >/onumental= "igures$ "ulletin of the American
Schools of Friental Research, 0),, pp$ )-)%$
Stanford Humanities Da6oratory and Stanford Archaeology Center$ .tanford "igurine !ro>ect$
Availa6le at http5IIfigurines$stanford$eduI PAccessed )0 May &,,@Q$
Uc9o, 4eter K, )@'&$ &he ,nterpretation of !rehistoric Anthropomorphic "igurines. :he Kournal
of the Royal Anthropological #nstitute of *reat "ritain and #reland, @&.)3, pp$ 01-(/$
Jerhoven, Marc$, &,,&$ $itual and ,deology in the !re9!ottery %eolithic 0 of the 6evant and
.outheast Anatolia. Cam6ridge Archaeological Kournal, )&.&3, pp$&00-&(1$
Raymond !eliciano &0
AR*+ ',))& Reconstructing 4rehistoric Societies in the 7ear -ast
Dr$ Stuart Camp6ell
Appendix A
Raymond !eliciano &/
AR*+ ',))& Reconstructing 4rehistoric Societies in the 7ear -ast
Dr$ Stuart Camp6ell

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Raymond !eliciano &(
AR*+ ',))& Reconstructing 4rehistoric Societies in the 7ear -ast
Dr$ Stuart Camp6ell
!igure )$ -xamples of Mother *oddess !igurines$ .222$catalhoyu9$com3
Raymond !eliciano &'
AR*+ ',))& Reconstructing 4rehistoric Societies in the 7ear -ast
Dr$ Stuart Camp6ell
!igure &$ -xamples of !igurines from Cache ) from Ain *haal$ .Schmandt-"esserat, )@@13
Raymond !eliciano &%
AR*+ ',))& Reconstructing 4rehistoric Societies in the 7ear -ast
Dr$ Stuart Camp6ell
!igure 0$ -xamples of !igurines from Cache & from Ain *haal$ .Schmandt-"esserat, )@@13
Raymond !eliciano &1
AR*+ ',))& Reconstructing 4rehistoric Societies in the 7ear -ast
Dr$ Stuart Camp6ell
!igure /$ -xamples of !igurines from Cache & from Ain *haal$ .Schmandt-"esserat, )@@13
Raymond !eliciano &@
AR*+ ',))& Reconstructing 4rehistoric Societies in the 7ear -ast
Dr$ Stuart Camp6ell
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!igure ($ -xamples of oomorphic figurines from AatalhByC9$ .Stanford !igurine 4roEect3
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Raymond !eliciano 0,
AR*+ ',))& Reconstructing 4rehistoric Societies in the 7ear -ast
Dr$ Stuart Camp6ell
!igure '$ -xamples of anthropomorphic figurines from AatalhByC9$ .Stanford !igurine
4roEect3
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Raymond !eliciano 0)
AR*+ ',))& Reconstructing 4rehistoric Societies in the 7ear -ast
Dr$ Stuart Camp6ell
!igure %$ -xamples of oomorphic and anthropomorphic figurines produced 6y 7avaEo
Children .!e29es )@&03