Prehistoric ornamentation: possible directions in research and aspects for interpretation as suggested by analysis of Tripolye-Cucuteni pottery
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The paper proposes an interpretation of ornamental patterns in Tripolye-Cucuteni pottery. In the past decades, abstract and geometric ornamental motifs have often been viewed quite subjectively as images of the ‘moonfaced Goddess’, the ‘world egg’, ‘shells’, etc. The meaning of the ornamentation has been reconstructed on the basis of various ethnographic analogies, usually rather distant from the material under study. Within the framework of the structural-semiotic approach, the ornamentation has been analysed as a sign system or proto-writing where each element or motif is supposed to have a particular meaning. However, careful study of the dynamics inherent in the development of ornamental patterns shows that such interpretation cannot really be substantiated. Most signs seem to have been elements of technical design. The patterns were mostly created by dividing ornamented areas and not by building whole sequences of signs as it is done in texts. What was meaningful was the ornament itself as an integrated whole, not its elements. Ethnographic evidence shows that interpretation of identical motifs may vary considerably even within the same society. This has been confirmed by the author’s study of variation in the Tripolye patterns, which seem to have no unambiguous meaning. The main areas of future research lie in paleo-ethnological and paleo-cultural studies, where ornamental patterns are regarded as specific markers which reflect changes in the ethnic composition and social structure of prehistoric communities, and which provide information about interactions between different human groups.
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