The Ashmolean Museum will launch its major new exhibition programme with The Lost World of Old Europe: The Danube Valley, 5000–3500 BC. This unprecedented exhibition, prepared by the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University (ISAW), has been made possible through loan agreements with over 20 museums in Romania, Bulgaria and Moldova.

On display in Britain for the first time are more than 250 artefacts recovered by archaeologists from the settlements and cemeteries of ‘Old Europe’, a period of great sophistication, creativity and technological advance in southeast Europe between 5000 and 3500 BC. 

Before the invention of writing and the first cities of Mesopotamia and Egypt were established in 4500 BC, ‘Old Europe’ was among the most technologically advanced and sophisticated places in the world. At the heart of the region were the fertile valleys of the Danube River, where Neolithic farmers established long-lasting settlements upon the agriculturally rich plains. During the 1500 year period covered in the exhibition, some villages grew to city-like proportions, complex metalworking techniques were developed, and an exchange network for precious materials stretched from the Aegean to northwest Europe. 

The exhibition encompasses the surprising and little known artistic and technological achievements of 'Old Europe', from their elaborate female figurines and stunning painted pottery, to their vast variety of copper and gold objects. Highlights of these extraordinary finds include the earliest major assemblage of gold artefacts to be found anywhere in the world from the Varna cemetery, Bulgaria; the enigmatic set of 21 terracotta female figurines and chairs from Poduri-Dealul Ghindaru, which had symbolic meaning for the makers; and, Spondylus shell ornaments that provide tangible evidence for the existence of very early exchange networks in Europe. 

Although archaeological work has taken place in the region since the end of the 19th century, there is little general awareness of the wealth of its prehistoric cultural heritage –in large part due to the confines of the late 20th century ‘Cold War’. Today with new studies of old collections, planned future excavation projects, and international exhibitions such as The Lost World of Old Europe, recognition of the early prehistory of southeastern Europe enters a new exciting era. 

Christopher Brown, Director of the Ashmolean said, “We are delighted to host this remarkable exhibition, which I was tremendously excited by when I first saw it in New York. ISAW has revealed the richness and complexity of ancient cultures, which are rediscovered in this exhibition and for the first time given the importance they deserve in the development of western civilisations”.

The exhibition has been organised by the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University (ISAW) in collaboration with the National History Museum of Romania, Bucharest, and with the participation of  and the National Museum of Archaeology and History of Moldova, Chişinău; and has been made possible by the Leon Levy Foundation.

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