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NYU’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World Offers a Rare Look at Some of Europe’s Earliest Civilizations in a New Exhibition

November 11, 2009
N-136, 2009-10

“The Lost World of Old Europe: The Danube Valley, 5000-3500 BC” on View Nov. 11 - Apr. 25

NYU’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (ISAW) has organized an unprecedented exhibition never before seen in the United States that brings together 250 objects recovered by archaeologists from the graves, towns, and villages of Old Europe. Entitled The Lost World of Old Europe: The Danube Valley, 5000 - 3500 BC, the exhibition features works on loan from 20 museums in Romania, Bulgaria, and Moldova. Included are goddess figures, golden jewelry, elaborate metal ornaments, and weapons from Europe’s first civilization.

Lost World of Old Europe is on view from November 11, 2009 - April 25, 2010 at ISAW, located 15 East 84th Street in Manhattan. Exhibition hours are: Tuesday - Sunday, 11 am - 6 pm; Friday 11 am - 8 pm. Closed Monday. The exhibition is free and open to the public.

Old Europe is a series of related prehistoric cultures that achieved a precocious peak of sophistication and creativity in what is now southeastern Europe between 5000 and 4000 BC, and then mysteriously collapsed by 3500 BC. Long before Egypt or Mesopotamia rose to an equivalent level of achievement, Old Europe was among the most sophisticated places that humans inhabited. Some of its towns grew to city-like sizes. Potters developed striking designs, and the ubiquitous goddess figurines found in houses and shrines have triggered intense debates about women’s roles in Old European society.

Moreover, the copper-smiths were, in their day, the most advanced metal artisans in the world. Their passionate interest in acquiring copper, gold, Aegean shells, and other rare valuables created networks of negotiation that reached surprisingly far, permitting some of their chiefs to be buried with pounds of gold and copper in funerals without parallel in the Near East or Egypt at the time.

The enigmatic female-centered cults of Old Europe have generated sharp disagreement among archaeologists, historians, and feminists about the ritual and political power of women in Old Europe. And while the exhibition does not try to solve this argument, it does include some central pieces of evidence. For example, there are dozens of elaborately painted and decorated female figures of many kinds and styles, some found in groups sitting on hornback chairs as if in council, others placed inside ceramic models of houses, and others discovered scattered among the ruins of ordinary homes.

Also included is a strikingly modern male figure from Hamangia, Romania, widely known as The Thinker, which is among the most famous art objects from prehistoric Europe; with a group of appealing animal figures it complements the female images. Superbly crafted and exuberantly painted ceramic vessels demonstrate the creativity of Old European potters, and stunning ornaments made of gold and copper testify to the aesthetic sophistication and technical skill of Old European metal-smiths. The exhibition also includes ornaments, weapons, and a horse-head mace found in the graves of people who are thought to have migrated into the Danube Valley from the arid grasslands to the east, possibly on horseback, who could have played a role, still debated, in the mysterious collapse of Old Europe.

Guest curator for Lost World of Old Europe isDavid W. Anthony, professor of Anthropology, Hartwick College. This exhibition has been organized by the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University in collaboration with the National History Museum of Romania and with the participation of the National Museum of History and Archaeology in Chisinau, Republic of Moldova and the Varna Museum of Archaeology, Bulgaria; and has been made possible by The Leon Levy Foundation. The show is drawn from objects excavated over the last century and housed in local and national museums.

In conjunction with the exhibition, ISAW will present an array of free public programs, including films, lectures and music. For a detailed list, visit:

This Press Release is in the following Topics:
Events and Traditions

Type: Press Release

Press Contact: Richard Pierce | (212) 998-6796

The ‘Thinker’ and Female Figurine from Cernavodă, Fired Clay, Hamangia, Cernavodă, 5000-4600 BC, National History Museum of Romania, Bucharest: 15906, 15907 Photo: Marius Amarie

The ‘Thinker’ and Female Figurine from Cernavodă, Fired Clay, Hamangia, Cernavodă, 5000-4600 BC, National History Museum of Romania, Bucharest: 15906, 15907 Photo: Marius Amarie

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