Anthropomorphic Figurines from the North Caucasus

Article excerpt

A report on human representations in cast bronze and terracotta from a Late Bronze Age cemetery near Grozni in the Checken region of the northwest Caucasus.

The brilliant culture of the Late Bronze Age in the north Caucasian region is well known from the distinctive sites of Koban type. During the last 30 years, new bronze items have been found on the territory of the Koban culture especially in its eastern part (Krupnov 1960; Kozenkova 1977; 1982).

The Sergen-jurt cemetery

The remarkable and technologically complicated anthropomorphic objects described here, a good evidence of an ancient rich and complex spiritual life, were found in the Sergen-jurt cemetery in the valley of the Hulhulau river, near to Grozni in the northwestern Caucasus dating to the 10th/9th centuries BC.

Bronze pin from tomb N 41

In tomb N 41 a bronze pin has been found which is a real masterpiece of ancient art. It is 17 cm long with round shaft and smoothed surface. The pin is crowned by a rectangular plate on which stand tiny female statuettes. The three figurines of young girls hold hands. The right and the left press one hand to the breast. The base of the figurines is decorated with six oblique incisions. There is a hole in the upper part of the pin. The object is probably made by lost-wax casting techniques. This splendid piece, obviously a part of a very complicated head-dress of the woman interred in the tomb, could indicate her high social rank.

Although the pin from tomb N 41 has no close analogies, it is very similar to other anthropomorphic figures of Koban plastic art, especially to ones from its central area at the time of its flowering, 12th-9th centuries BC (Uvarnova 1900; Tekhov 1977; Domansky 1984). Some bronze figurines of nude women were found also in the mid-1st-millennium BC shrines of the north Caucasian and Daghestan mountains (Markovin 1986).

The three girls on the top of the pin evoke the Greek myth of the Three Graces -- attendants of Aphrodite who personified feminine charm, brilliance and joy of life. In the Caucasus this subject is more ancient, a chronological difference which provokes the supposition that the Greeks adopted it from here -- like the myth of Prometheus, chained to a Caucasian rock.

Bronze pin from tomb N 81

Another pin of high artistic quality was found in tomb N 81 of Sergen-jurt cemetery, dated a little earlier than tomb N 41. This pin, 8.6 cm long with a round shaft, and a detail of dress decoration, probably pinned the cloak. On its top a human bust is placed, hands raised in 'adorant' pose, with rugged features -- large nose, heavy chin, large protruding ears. The clearly indicated breasts show that it is a female representation. On the reverse side of the figurine is a loop. The pin was also made by the lost-wax technique.

Like the first, this very individual object has no exact analogy. Its style and canonical pose of 'adorant' may be compared with the bronze female figurines from early tombs of the Koban cemetery (Virchov 1883) and later ones from different Caucasus sites (Markovin 1986). The pin from tomb N 81 may be one of the most ancient items with 'adorant' representation made of bronze, taking an intermediate position in the evolutionary line from clay to metal 'adorant' figurines. More than 70 clay statuettes of this type were discovered in the habitation site near Sergen-jurt cemetery that belongs to the Bronze-Early Iron Age (Kozenkova 1977).

Figurines of 'praying men'

Anthropomorphic figurines, with arms stretched up and forward, are rather primitive but demonstrate the pose of a praying man. In publishing the clay figurines (Kozenkova 1966), I supposed that both clay and bronze 'adorant' statuettes represented the same subject, characteristic of Caucasian art from very ancient times. The clay 'adorant' sculptures of the Sergen-jurt settlement were found near a bowl-shaped hearth which certainly had a sacral function, arguing for the ritual character of the clay figurine and -- by analogy -- to the bronze pin. …