admin1 – March 6, 2007 – 11:55am

Irena Kolistrkoska Nasteva

The international cooperation – Meeting of archaeologists-prehistoric from the Balkans and Japan in Sainsbury Centre in Norwich, the United Kingdom, in Sainsbury Institute (, on the topic Prehistoric Figurines; Irena Kolistrkoska Nasteva, archaeologist, expert in prehistoric figurines, was the participant from the Republic of Macedonia.

The subject Prehistoric Figurines gathered at a recent archaeological assembly archaeologists from the Balkans (Macedonia, Albania, and Kosovo), as well as their colleagues from Japan and Great Britain. It was exactly from 19 to 23 December 2006 that in the United Kingdom, in the small town of Norwich, this idea came true in the organization of Dr. Simon Kaner and Professor Richard Hodges. Archaeologist Irena Kolistrkoska-Nasteva, author of the extraordinary exposition “Prehistoric Ladies from Macedonia” in 2005 in the Macedonian Museum, was the representative of the Republic of Macedonia. This exhibition had inspired eminent archaeologists from the United Kingdom to organize this scientific assembly. 95 female figurines originating from several sites throughout Macedonia were collected and presented at the exhibition. It was accompanied by a rich color catalogue in Macedonian and English, and following its distribution around the world, interests and desires for contacts with the author (Irena Kolistrkoska-Nasteva -archaeologist) followed, with the aim of presenting the exhibition in other parts of Europe and the world.

After becoming familiar with the “Prehistoric Ladies” from Macedonia, the Sainsbury Institute from the UK expressed the wish to see them in a Balkan-Japanese presentation of prehistoric figurines that is to be organized in 2009. In this way, a segment from the Macedonian prehistoric archaeology will be once again presented in order to sense the rich spiritual life of our ancestors. World’s archaeological eminent persons will have the opportunity to evaluate chronologically and stylistically these artifacts in a broader context of this archaeological discovery. The basic idea of the organizers to join, on one spot in the world, which is in the case Norwich, a part of the Balkan and a part of the Japanese prehistoric archaeology, proved to be very successful. It is interesting for the archaeologists to trace the similarities and the differences in the presented artifacts, taking into consideration the distance that was insurmountable five thousand years B. C. However, in spite of that, the development of prehistory is evident, and also similar on the two far ends of the Planet. The purpose is to link a part of the prehistoric figurines from the Balkans (Macedonia, Kosovo, and Albania) and from Japan and to show them in a joint exhibition that would start in the UK, Norwich, in the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, which would continue in museums in the Balkans and end-up in the Sainsbury Centre in Japan, Tokyo, in 2009. In the meantime, this task is developing into a Project for the realization of the international exhibition “Prehistoric figurines from the Balkans and Jomon figurines from Japan”. The ambitious project in which the Republic of Macedonia is also taking part will include a number of researchers and archaeologists, museum experts, and theoreticians. The entire museum approach of a conglomerate of prehistoric artifacts from diametrically different parts of the Earth will be presented.

The abundance of terracotta figurines depicting the woman from prehistory, more precisely from the Neolithic and Eneolithic eras, which were discovered in the Republic of Macedonia, have imposed the idea of jointly presenting archaeological artifacts that are inter-related merely by one concept – the woman. The purpose is to elucidate a segment of the rich spiritual life of the prehistoric populace settling the territory of present day Macedonia from the sixth till the third millennia BC.

This collection has been compiled in excavations carried out throughout the sixty years of Macedonian archaeology.

figrini 1

Analogies, chronological and cultural framework

Analogies to the figurines are being found, above all, by analysis of the overall discovered archaeological material, including both the architecture (houses, structures, dug-outs, etc.) and the movable material excavated at particular sites. These observations and accomplishments are being compared with the features of the nearest and most closely associated cultural groups in the region and at large. In this way the discovered archaeological material is assigned within a certain chronological framework.
Throughout the decades of archaeological excavations, researches and reconnaissance activities that have been rather intense in the past thirty years, about four hundred prehistoric sites have been identified on the territory of the Republic of Macedonia dating from the Neolithic and Eneolithic periods. Archaeological excavations have been carried out only at some of them, having resulted so far with a pretty clear picture of the prehistoric chronological development. Having been correlated with the analysis of the overall archaeological material, figurines have been ascribed to a certain chronological framework. They have also been attributed with specific features and traits of the designated period.
By C 14 analysis carried out in Macedonia and in the neighboring countries, and also by comparative analyses, the chronological framework of the Neolithic era has been set from 6500 till 4800 BC and of the Eneolithic from 4800 till 2500 BC.
Concerning the Neolithic period on the territory of the Republic of Macedonia the basic widely accepted cultural groups are the Anzabegovo - Vrsnik, i.e.(st)., Zelenikovo culture and Velusina - Porodin culture. On the grounds of an overall chronological analysis three stages have been identified in the Neolithic, classified as Early, Middle and Late Neolithic Ages. They correlate with the cultural compounds in the Balkans at large, above all with the Balkan-Anatolian compound, rather than with the Starcevo, i.e., Vinca-Tordos compound, Zelenikovo; and the compounds Karanovo; Proto-Sesklo, Sesklo and Dimini. Each of the mentioned cultural compounds has been classified into sub-groups according to specific stylistic features and chronological definitions.
As to the Eneolithic, the basic cultural group in the Republic of Macedonia is Suplevec – Bakarno Gumno, which corresponds to the wider cultural compound in the region of Bubanj – Salkutca – Krivodol. The Eneolithic has also been assigned a more detailed chronology, having been classified as Early, Middle and Late Eneolithic Ages with a further division into sub-groups.

figrini 2

Settlements and dwellings

As we know, the Neolithic settlements were relatively small, consisting of twenty to thirty houses and located on mounds in plains. In their vicinity there were regularly clear drinking water, fertile soil for cultivating grain, natural resources of salty earth for the cattle, and other necessities. Houses were built of vertical support beams with wattle-and-daub between them. They were coated with mud mixed with cattle manure as binding material. Walls built in this way were covered with thatched roof of light structure, presumably of a pitched type. The interior space was often parted with parapet walls. The width of the houses was normally five to six meters, their length measuring up to ten meters. The Eneolithic settlements were smaller, with a less number of houses, situated on higher spots with strategic positions. The houses were more-or-less the same as the Neolithic dwellings.

Places of discovery of ladies

Prehistoric ladies were discovered almost regularly in houses, at places which where, in some way, marked as cult points, where they were laid on pedestal altars. Some times there are assumptions that the entire structure was used as a shrine for performing certain ritual activities.

Typological classification

Regarding the Neolithic typological analyses, there have been classified figurines as: 1. free-style figurines expressing postures from everyday life, standing and seated  2. free style figurines showing stylization, often column-shaped with emphasized feminine features, and 3. cylinder-figurines, lay on top of house models. Most of the depicted women were adorned with bracelets, armbands, necklaces, and diverse hairdos..

The Eneolithic period lacked the type of cylinder-figurine on the house model, whereas production continued of: 1. free-style realistic, standing and seated figurines, often adorned with engraved decorations on the body, resembling tattoo (bodies were presumably painted on occasion of some festivities or to express some beliefs) 2. free - style figurines stylization, standing and seated, and also slightly stylized, with emphasized feminine attributes, jewelry, coiffure, and pieces of garment.

It should be added that certain differences can be perceived in the execution: Neolithic figurines were often depicted nude or partly dressed, whereas garment was rendered on most of the Eneolithic ones. There are no essential differences between the two periods in the concept of representing the woman, apart from the ones stated above.

Some artifacts of different nature should be singled out, such as utilitarian objects – vases depicting woman, which are considered by some scholars to have played a certain role in performing cult ceremonies.

Very unusual and so far unique is the totem from Madzari, which arouses a sense of admiration, respect, and protection by its voluminousness.


The figurines were made by hand, almost regularly of well purified clay. After being modeled, they were baked at high temperature from 900oC to 1000oC. Larger figurines or altars were molded on wooden pole, which served as a carrier for holding the heavy clay applied. These poles must have been burnt in the process of baking, but there are visible imprints of them on the inside of these figurines. Decorations on the bodies were made either by applying ornaments of clay, or by carving with sharp bone tools.

The figurines have been executed with a high sense of creativity. Every figurine is unique, although they often resemble each other, according to the stylistic- typological analyses carried out. Such is the case with the Great Mother Goddess, whose image has been discovered in the regions of Skopje, Tetovo, Kumanovo and Ovce Pole, as well as in Pelagonija. This should certainly be taken into consideration, since it indicates mutual contacts of the population from these areas, showing also that they worshiped the same gods and shared the same beliefs. These goddess-figurines were confined to a specific area. Namely, they have so far been discovered merely in the Republic of Macedonia. In some of the neighboring countries fragments have been discovered, which could not be confirmed with certainty to have belonged to the same altar type. This is an argument in favor of certain local beliefs and features distinctive only to this territory.

Anyway, a question has arisen of who made these ladies, a man or a woman? In that sense, interesting information has been obtained from analyses of fingerprints preserved on the clay. In some cases, the fingers were thinner, which leads to an assumption that they were sometimes created by woman’s hands. However, not always have obvious traces of fingers been preserved, so that we cannot state with certainty the above mentioned presumption. The question shall certainly remain without an answer. The fact is that they were always designed by skillful hands of an artisan showing concern for accurate depicting. In cases where the image showed stylized expression, the creator made efforts to emphasize the feminine attributes. The abundance and diversity of coiffures and jewelry point to realistic examples from everyday life.

figrini 3


Following the data acquired from archaeological excavations, we could conclude that figurines have been discovered inside the houses, within the homes of our ancestors. These images were laid in areas designed especially for that purpose, forming podiums, pedestals, altar tables, identified as cult places.

There is a considerable number of images of pregnant women and they were probably adored, above all as bearers of the new life, of the generations to come. Due to the fact that figurines were frequently found in fragments, they are considered to have been ritually broken during performance of certain rites, conveying wishes for fertility, easy birth without losses of the mother-to-be and invoking regeneration for the Mother Earth. According to the semantics and the stylistic features of the figurines, as well as the issues that inspired the creative spirit of prehistoric artisans, the woman was sometimes captured as a symbol of beauty. Some figurines reflect woman’s concern for the hearth and home, house and family. An example of this are the altars with the image of the Great Mother (Mother Goddess, Magna Mater) embracing the cosmogony symbol, the relation between the Mother-Earth and the universe. This is presumably the reason why these images have holes on the top of the cylinder-heads and, occasionally, on the floor of the house model. They are to facilitate the communication of the earth-house-mother-fertility-cosmos forces.

The woman epitomizing a symbol, modeled into a figurine and multiplied in diverse varieties, implies that she was highly esteemed in the prehistoric community.

From the present view, the social status of the woman has more-or-less the same characteristics, at least on these territories, so, we find no difficulties in interpreting the symbolic elements encountered with some figurines.

The worship, adoration and respect for women in the prehistory were confirmed in almost every house. There was hardly any of the researched Neolithic and Eneolithic houses that did not contain an idol of a woman.

Through these figurines, one can feel the skilful hands of our ancestor showing a sense of beauty, harmony and, at some points, an irresistible urge for stylization, always with the sole purpose of depicting her - the highly respected and widely worshiped prehistoric Lady. The woman was adored intensively and modeled in clay in the Neolithic and Eneolithic Ages. However, towards the end of the Eneolithic Age and the beginning of the Bronze Age the precedence was taken by the newly discovered metal (copper and bronze) and the creative potentials of artisans were focused on it. Designing figurines of clay gradually died out. New trends emerged in making details as cult objects, including pendants, buttons, buckles, pins, belts, etc., inspiring a new breath in the spirit of the prehistoric populace.


Ms.Irena Kolistrkoska Nasteva is an archaeologist-prehistoric. She is Head of  the Archaeological Department of the Museum of Macedonia and President of MAND (Macedonian Archaeology Scientific Society).