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Bust of a Neolithic chieftain

This Neolithic chieftain is part of the ‘Primitive human races’, a series of models used for didactic purposes, which were compiled by prehistorian Aimé Rutot and sculpted by artist Louis Mascré. When reconstructing the various ‘races’, Rutot relied on bones and archeological artefacts, yet at times he would let his imagination run wild. In fact, the axe is the only realistic part of this sculpture. However, it is presented as a weapon, whereas Neolithic flint axes were most likely predominantly used for chopping wood.
  • Maker: Louis Mascré en Aimé Rutot
  • Date: 1ste helft 20ste eeuw
  • Collection: Archaeology
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Een model geïnspireerd op fantasie.

Who are the artists?

Louis Mascré (1871-1929) was a Belgian sculptor. Aimé Rutot (1847-1933) was a mining engineer, geologist and prehistorian. He earned his spurs with the geological map of Belgium, and was a curator of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels. Rutot is renowned for his reconstructions of ‘primitive human races’ that he commissioned Mascré to render as busts.

What is the Neolithic?

The Neolithic or New Stone Age (6500/6000-3000/2500 BCE in the Low Countries) was a period in human history characterised by the development of agriculture and livestock farming. People used heavy, polished flint axes for large-scale deforestation in order to gain new agricultural land. The flint mines in Spiennes in Hainaut were among the most important in Europe.

How was the reconstruction made?

The bust of the Neolithic man belongs to a series of statues of ‘primitive human races’ conceived by the prehistorian Aimé Rutot. He based his ideas on archaeological finds, but was also influenced by the 19th-century ‘theory of cultural evolution’, which proposed that ‘primitive races’ were out-competed by more ‘civilized’ peoples. The statues of the ‘primitive peoples’ bear strong resemblances to groups of people who were considered ‘savage’ and ‘underdeveloped’ at the time.

Is the statue realistic?

The only accurate thing about the bust of the Neolithic man is the flint axe. The winged helmet, headdress and clothing are all the work of Rutot and the artist Louis Mascré’s imaginations. The threatening pose and contrasts between light and darkness suggest a leader protecting his community. Here the axe has been given the role of a weapon, although its function is still hypothetical.

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