The Thinker of Hamangia (R) and his lady friend, thought to be created by the same hand. (WikiMedia Commons)
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When we mention “The Thinker,” many of us will probably think of the marvel of Rodin. It was casted just 100 years ago, in 1904, so this might be the main reason why we first think of it. But what if we knew these “thinker” statues have a history of over 7,000 years?
The most famous prehistoric statue that carries this name comes from the Hamangia culture. This culture is a Late Neolithic archaeological culture of Dobruja, a dry Romanian area between Danube and Black Sea. It began around 5250–5200 BC and lasted until around 4550–4500 BC.
It was at that time when The Thinker of Hamangia came into being. He was discovered in 1956, together with another statue, similar in style, called The Sitting Woman, at Cernavodă, close to the Black Sea coast. These two clay figurines are considered masterpieces of Neolithic art.
Both figurines look like they were carved by the same hand and share many particularities: the long neck, the flattened head with the long profiled nose and sunken eyes.
One particularity of Neolithic statues is, of course, the wide hips and robust thighs which symbolize fertility. This is very obvious for our Sitting Woman. She sits relaxed, with her arms resting on her right knee, expressing a calm and detached state of mind. This could be appreciated as a quite sensual and subtle portrayal of the woman of those times.
But the sculptor cared even more for The Thinker’s lines and shapes, adding to this the fact that at that age, male portrayals were quite rare. The Thinker has a height of 4.5 inches and a shoulder width of 2.9 inches. He is seated on a meticulously modeled realistic stool. The lines of his hands and feet are treated with more refinement and his symmetrical posture looks more natural still. At the same time, these expressions make his lack of action look more serious in and his eyes more worried.
So what was the purpose of these statues? What were they thinking about? It is understandable for a sculpture of 100 or even 2,000 years old to illustrate a great thinker, but what could these “prehistoric clay philosophers” think about back then besides hunting and housekeeping?
It is very obvious that they were not made for religious purposes either. The Neolithic artist put great effort in communicating the inner process of thinking of these characters. If they were part of an ensemble of religious statues, he wouldn’t need to put so much emphasis on this. The complexity of these two statuettes reaches far beyond their age, and what’s even more intriguing, is that if they were carved 30 years ago, they could have been very easily accepted as part of the modern art and nobody would find them odd.
Especially The Thinker, with its pyramidal shape and perfection of lines and elegance in proportions, looks more like a result of hundreds of years of artistic process, in which artists tried their best to find the most simple and powerful way in expressing the human body and realm of thought, and finally did it through this piece.
This is what makes The Thinker a masterpiece of the Neolithic and a mystery. It is internationally recognized as such, and it has also won its place on Romania’s 200 RON banknote.