Today the ‘The Lost World of Old Europe The Danube Valley, 5000-3500BC’ exhibition opens at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. When visiting you can expect to see the famed goddess figurines which have triggered intense debates about women’s roles in Old European society; the oldest major gold treasure found (in the earliest known male elite burial); and more exuberant (and suprisingly ‘modern’) art and pottery from Europe’s first civilisation.
Having only previously visited New York, it’s a must-attend exhibition containing objects on loan from over 20 museums in Romania, Bulgaria and Moldova. It’s a chance to learn about a relatively unknown culture that developed advanced metallurgical practices and created pottery with amazing geometric designs ages, before writing or the wheel were invented.
We are used to being excited about King Tut, Stonehenge, the Terracotta Warriors, mysterious Maya tombs and the like, but the peoples of Old Europe achieved all this when the Egyptians were still practising their buildingand burial skills (Step pyramid of Djoser – 2650BC), before the First Qin Emperor ordered the construction of his mausoleum (210BC) and even before Stonehenge was built (the first stones went up c2600BC, although there are some alternative suggestions).
When we wonder ‘how and why was Stonehenge built?’ we (or at least I) often simplify: we imagine primitive people, with primitive tools, minds and fashion sense. But even a quick look at the highlights of the ‘The Lost World of Europe’ exhibit shows us a civilisation with a great sense of design (the Cucuteni pottery is stunning), good tools (I wouldn’t want to be hit with that copper axe), and evocative female figures – all of them unique (with or without clothes; some have a detailed head, different materials are used and many depict different positions).
Although archaeological work has taken place in the region since the end of the 19th century, there is little general awareness of the wealth of its prehistoric cultural heritage, largely due to the Cold War.
Today with new studies of old collections, planned future excavation projects and international exhibitions such as The Lost World of Old Europe, recognition of the early prehistory of southeastern Europe enters an exciting new era.
If you want to learn more about the latest research, events and lectures organised by the Ashomlean to coincide with the exhibition are obligatory:
- Dr John Chapman from Durham University will talk about ancestors, hierarchies and urban growth in Balkan prehistory
- Peoples, space and society in the Chalcolithic period of the Danube Valley will be considered by Professor Drogramir Popvici, Director of Archaeology for the Romanian National History Museum in Bucharest (which has contributed many artefacts to the exhibition)
- How the study of the remote past was an important component in the new national consciousness in the states of the Eastern Bloc, and how it contributed to the collapse of the communist regimes is the subject of Professor John Wilkes’ lecture ‘Archaeology and Politics in the Cold War and After’
- Dr Rick Shulting will explain that Stone Age man was already up to no good 6,000 years ago in his lecture ‘The Crime-Ridden Stone Age Violence in the Neolithic of Northwest Europe’
Also coinciding with ‘The Lost World of Europe’ at the Ashmolean is the ‘Festival of British Archaeology 2010’ that runs from Saturday the 17th of July until August 1st. The Ashmolean is celebrating this (and their new gallery) with a special Prehistory Month and fun activities such as discovering prehistoricmusic instruments and Bronze Age CSI.
With all this going on, don’t you think they deserve 100,000 and thus your vote for the the Art Fund Prize 2010?