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Figurines from Romania dating to 5000-4600 B.C. were rendered in contemplative poses, a popular Copper Age motif. (Courtesy Institute for the Study of the Ancient World)

The people of the Copper Age cultures that flourished in today's Bulgaria, Romania, and Moldova lived in enormous villages, some of which were larger than Mesopotamia's earliest cities. Their specialized craftspeople, especially metal workers, were among the world's most accomplished. And yet in the United States, these remarkable chiefdoms are only known, if at all, for inspiring the idea that ancient Europeans were goddess worshipers. A new exhibit, 'The Lost World of Old Europe: Danube Valley, 5000-3500 B.C.', running at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World in New York until April 25, 2010, reminds us that there was much more to this neglected era. While the exhibit does showcase a fair number of voluptuous "goddess" figurines, the more than 250 excavated artifacts, from models of houses to anthropomorphic figures, reflect surprising sophistication. Expressive ceramic figurines in the "thinking" pose are particularly striking, and eerily prefigure modern art. Copper and gold grave goods round out the exhibit, which ends with a display of weapons wielded by the Indo-European peoples who brought an end to "Old Europe."

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