Karina Grömer: Neolithic Stamps for spiral design

By Karina Grömer, Textile archaeologist at the Natural History Museum Vienna, Austria

Spirals are among the oldest pattern types of mankind. From Neolithic Europe, they can be found as decoration on pottery, but also on clay stamps, so called “pintadera”. Those objects derive from the Middle Neolithic and early Copper age, more or less around 4300-3900 BC.

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Stamps from Dietenberg, Salanovo and Drama (after Grömer 2016, fig. 124)

Spiral designs can be identified on stamps from Dietenberg, Austria (1), Salmanovo, Bulgaria (2) and Drama, Bulgaria (3). The practice of using such stamps for decoration may have originated in the Mediterranean region.

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Stamp from Stillfried (© Museum Stillfried)

The stamp from Stillfried in Austria also shows such a spiral motif. Within the incised lines, traces of red pigment can be identified. So we know that this tool was used to stamp a color pattern.

We don’t know if those Stone Age people applied the spiral pattern to the surface of ceramic vessels, or if they decorated organic materials like leather, textiles or even human skin. In general, within the time-span 4300-3900 BC, a lot of color was used to decorate everyday items such as vessels, as well as clay figurines and even the walls of houses. The colors were made from natural red and yellow pigments such as ochre, red ochre, hematite and black obtained from charcoal. These pigments were mixed with milk or eggs as an adhesive agent.

References:

Karina Grömer 2016. “The Art of Prehistoric Textile Making – The development of craft traditions and clothing in Central Europe”. Veröffentlichungen der Prähistorischen Abteilung 5 (Vienna 2016): Verlag Naturhistorisches Museum Wien.

Elisabeth Ruttkay 1993/1994. „Neue Tonstempel der Kanzianiberg-Lasinja-Gruppe“. Mitteilungen der Anthropologischen Gesellschaft in Wien 123/124, Wien 1993/1994: Verlag Berger, 221–238.