June 24, 2010


These clay figurines are from Karkarinchinkat Nord, a neolithic site in the Tilemsi Valley, Republic of Mali. They were excavated in 1972 by Dr. Andrew Smith as part of his doctoral dissertation. A radiocarbon date of the stratigraphic horizon indicated that they were buried between 2000 and 1360 B.C.
Simple, small figurines similar to these are commonly found among the remains of early agro-pastoral villages in Africa, Europe and the Near East. I excavated two myself (here's an example) while working at the neolithic tell of Çatalhöyük, Turkey, a few years back. Together with the simplicity of their human shape, a common feature is the large, flat bottom, which likely served the purpose of having them sitting on small chairs or stools. Elaborate, finely crafted sets of figurines were found in Neolithic villages in Southeastern Europe (e.g., from Cucuteni, Romania) and their significance and use within a particular household or the entire community have been variously interpreted. The figurines from Karkarinchinkat, even accounting for their considerable age, seem to have been fashioned in a rather expedient way without a great attention to details. Not far from where the figurines were excavated laid the burial of a young child. Although the two archaeological features were not considered associated, it is still possible to imagine that these figurines could be child toys.

The numerous toys and game pieces that are housed at the PAHMA, both archaeological and ethnographic, were made using various materials; stone, grasses, ivory, bones and wood. Below the figurines are two objects from the African collection, all of them made with clay.

Hearst Museum # 5-11898
Mali; Tilemsi Valley; Karkarinchinkat Nord
Collected by Andrew Smith, 1972

Hearst Museum # 5-13623
Clay figurine, hump-backed (Zebu) cow; modern ethnographic; child’s toy.
Africa; Malawi
Collected and donated by J. Desmond Clark, 1965


Hearst Museum # 5-10656
Fired clay cylinders; roulette decoration on surface (gaming pieces?)
Africa; Mali; Tin Aberz
Collected by J. Desmond Clark, 1972

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