2010 | 13 | 5-8
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THE NEOLITHIC AMBER ELK HEAD OF SARNATE (Neolita dzintara alna galvas figura Sarnata)

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Round sculptures of elk heads in stone, antler or wood were common in a wide area of Northern and Eastern European forests, including Scandinavia, Western Russia and the Eastern Baltics. They have also been found in Mesolithic sites. Unlike practical tools, figural images and ornament forms a particular group related to the issue of the origins of art. Among such items in Latvia, there is the head of an elk carved in amber found in dwelling No. 3 of the Sarnate settlement in 1957. It is worth noting that that the head had been broken in three pieces found in different places. In addition, the dwelling contained unworked amber pieces, some unfinished beads as well as part of the torso of the figure of a bear. There is no doubt that the inhabitant was engaged in amber carving. The whole of the Sarnate find would indicate that the elk head belongs to Comb Ceramic Culture. Although the plastic execution of the Sarnate head sets it apart from Latvia's Mesolithic and Neolithic amber artefacts, it is certainly not an imported piece and testifies to the importance of Sarnate as an amber working centre and the skilful embodiment of animals seen in nature. The artistic qualities of this small masterpiece have not yet been revealed and explained in Latvian art history circles. Thus the aim of this short article is to demonstrate the comparative significance of the Sarnate head, to promote its reputation and to try to include it in the local artistic canon. Although the specific place of the elk in Neolithic man's mythological worldview remains hypothetical, primitive artists' attempts to imitate nature are not always purely practical even though these aims are considerable and possibly dominant. Elk had a place in the food supply of Neolithic man, as evidenced by the data of ethnographic literature; for instance, the Evenk people from Nerechinsk in Siberia used to celebrate the so-called annual life renewal festival that featured the imitation of hunting and killing of elk pursuit.
  • Ilze Loze, Institute of Latvian History, University of Latvia, Akademijas laukums 1, Riga LV-1050, Latvia
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