The Art of the Natufians

Natufian art was part of the Natufian culture which dates back to over 10,000 years ago. The post history of the Holy Land shows the Natufian people were living in the pre-biblical era. Although their art is now ancient, we are lucky that we can enjoy it, not only in the museums like this great sculpture named “Ain Sakhri Lover” but you also can get print on canvas showing the culture in Natufian Art.

Limestone & basalt mortars from Eynan early Natufian circa 12500 BC

Today, Natufian Art belongs to a museum but that does not mean that you cannot enjoy Natufian art on your mantelpiece of the wall. But before going into that, let’s first have a better understanding of the Natufian Culture and Civilization.

Mesolithic Era

During the Mesolithic era, some cultural characteristics were widespread both in Europe and in Central Asia and North Africa. During the domination of the Natufian culture, this direction disappeared, and in general, it is very different from the previous Mesolithic.

Natufian Art Ain Sakhri Lovers - British Museum - Joy of Museums
Natufian Art Ain Sakhri Lovers - British Museum - Joy of Museums

The traditional schematic ornament gave way to the unique Natufian plastic art. In the Paleolithic era, hunters also, for magical reasons, portrayed their potential prey before going hunting.

Some examples of Natufian art can probably be cited as an example. Until now, researchers have not been able to accurately determine whether the animals depicted by the Natufians were wild or domestic.

One of the ways of depicting animals in Natufian art was associated with the cult of fertility. As a rule, pets are depicted, but the answer to the question of how realistic Natufian art has not yet been found.
Natufian Art: The Mother Of Goddess

The cult of the mother goddess or pregnant goddess has existed since the Upper Paleolithic.

The mystery of pregnancy and birth worried people long before the Mesolithic, but, apparently, it was in Natufian art that the idea that a man was the cause was first manifested.

In the Natufian layers, archaeologists found a large number of necklaces, pendants, hoops, and other adornments. Therefore, we can assume that the Natufians had an amazing sense of beauty and harmony, especially since they decorated their tools and other practical items.

In the work of Natufian artists, one can trace their amazing sense of harmony, which is in no way inferior to what is present in modern works. Judging by the art of the Palestinian Natufians, their psychology was very different from that which was characteristic of representatives of the Mesolithic communities.

While the Mesolithic for antiquity was a kind of Middle Ages, that is, a time of abandonment of former values and an indiscriminate search for new ones, during the heyday of Natufian culture in Palestine, a real era of revival began, accompanied by a new rhythm of life and gradual economic development.

The art of the Natufians is one of the most characteristic features of their culture, testifying to their vitality, the presence of a sense of harmony, and the emergence of ideology.

All of them were the result of the development of the values of the Upper Paleolithic, but at the same time, they differ significantly from all other Mesolithic cultures. At present, it is difficult to add anything else to the story of the origin of Natufian art.

Şanlıurfa Müzesi barınak

Already at the very beginning of the Mesolithic, it was characterized by highly developed complex traditions, which are, without any doubt, the heritage of the Upper Paleolithic. True, so far not a single object has been found dating from the Upper Paleolithic period, which could be recognized as the prototype of the Natufian works.

Our Three Incredible Findings

The thriving Natufian art is likely to become a bridge between the art of Palestinian hunters and farmers. All Natufian art objects were found in only three places – on Mount Carmel, in Wadi Haraitun, and Einan.

The finds from the first two sites probably belong to the early period of development of the Natufian culture, and from Nahal-Oren – to the late one. The deer was carved from the natural articulation of the bone, which is very characteristic of Natufian art.

Details such as large eyes, ears, mouth, and legs are carved very harmoniously – the artist, obviously, first carefully examined the animal. This item has been carefully polished, apparently using sand and leather. This item was found in the vicinity of the child’s grave.

Other, less significant finds of artistic value include basalt pistils decorated with various ornaments, three polished phallic stones, several fragments of bones with artificially cut notches, and a long animal bone drilled in the upper articulation, similar to those characteristic of the European Upper Paleolithic.

The second showed an image of an animal very similar to that found in El Wad. Large protruding eyes are a characteristic feature of this tradition of depicting animals.

These Kebara pens are not like all the others, which makes them even more interesting – because the cave is located near Nahal Oren, where Moshe Stekelis also discovered works of art. Excavations in Nahal-Oren continue to this day, and their results have not been published.

We can only hope that a more thorough study of stratigraphy in the future will make it possible to clarify the chronology of Natufian art. Each of the three items Stekelis described in the preliminary report is different.

Misliya cave in Megadim Cliff Mount Carmel
Misliya cave in Megadim Cliff Mount Carmel

Stekelis thinks it resembles an animal’s face, but I tend to see it as a human face. This item, although less realistic than the others found on Mount Carmel, The second find is very different from the previous one.

This is a piece of limestone with an indistinctly visible head, however, it is impossible to determine to whom, man or animal, it belongs. Stekelis’s version that this head belongs to a bird is quite reasonable.

This figurine is very different from all the others in the shape of the eyes – they represent barely outlined circles, while Natufian art suggests the presence of bulging eyes. The third item is an anthropomorphic image carved into a pebble.

During the entire study of Natufian art, not a single similar object was found. Stekelis, this third find will help clarify the dating of the existence of the Natufian culture. During the last season in Nahal-Oren, Stekelis discovered two more similar pebble figurines in the early Neolithic layers.

One of them is the erotic statuette I have already described, and the second is an image of an animal similar to a deer, possibly a gazelle, found in the Ummez-Zuvaitina cave.

Natufian Culture

The Natufian culture is the main social substance in the southern Levant to have huge cemeteries and a wide exhibit of representative articulations. Several Natufian entombments have been found and examined; at some Natufian pre-historic sites the presence of stone chunks inside the graves has been also been discovered.

One interesting yet rare phenomenon documented is the slabs bearing clear incised patterns, suggesting the Natufians were using these flat stone blocks as ‘canvases’. The human figure, most likely shown as dancing, adds another dimension to the rich assemblage of Natufian burial practices and symbolism as recorded at the site of Raqefet Cave as well as at other Natufian sites.

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