Archaeological Museum Chaironeia:
Neolithic figurines, famed, but still difficult to interpret:
Although the figurines are the most vivid images produced by the Neolithic Culture, their interpretation remains problematical. Even so, they yield much information on the ideology, and every day life of Neolithic people, since they are frequently realistic representations of them, portraits rendering the dress, the hairstyle and the adornment of the human body.
They are found very frequently is Neolithic settlements. They have been interpreted as deities, magical effigies, toys, and even a means of communication. In rare cases where they have been discovered as they had been placed during their last use it seems that they were being used in rites concering significant events during the cycle of life: birth, creating a new house, marriage, pregrancy, death. Figurines have been found in cemeteries, as well as in the foundations of houses, close to the hearth.
I think the difficulty of interpreting these figurines is all about why is there such an emphasis on female figures- which harbors the notion that only men made art, so they should be depicting themselves too. However, I don’t think there is anything too difficult to interpret here. With permanent settlements the survival and continuation of communities lied exclusively on the number of sexually mature women who could successfully bear many children.
In an era before modern gynaecology, and the constant danger of malnutrition*, miscarriages and the death of the mother during labour, combined with high rates of infant and child mortality could lead to the extinction of an entire community no matter how many men there were around who could successfully reproduce. The possibility of war and the abduction of women could also mean that the identity of the community would be eradicated.
Keeping women out of harm’s way, in safe and organized environments was a solution for focusing on both successful reproduction and the continuation of the cultural activities that kept the community going.
Naturally, the female population that mostly remained within the safety of the settled community played a pivotal role in the development and establishment of the cultural identity of that community. The woman became a symbol for the development of the house-based community. Woman, house and family are all positive, comforting, and neighboring concepts; a simple symbol for the livelihood and continuation of the human effort to ensure its place in the world..
*This is also why the “fatness” of these idols is a beauty feature, because it promises, or wishes the necessary abundance and prosperity to ensure successful reproductive cycles and labour for the women. Periods, successful labours and the culture surrounding the reproductive choices of women were important. And they still are, despite the fact that the reproductive health of women has been constantly assailed in historic times, evidence of how much women are dehumanized on account of their reproductive system.