This four-and-a-half-inch-tall terracotta sculpture was a product of the Stone Age “Hamangia culture” of present-day Romania and dates to approximately 5,000 BCE. Most of the extant art of the era depicts hunting or fertility, but the Ganditorul, or “thinker” as it’s been called, sits in introspection, or perhaps gloom, nearly identical to the famous statue by Rodin despite the gap of some 7,000 years between them. (Note that this thinker wasn’t discovered until 1956, while Rodin’s was conceived in 1880.)
The thinker of Cernavoda is, without a doubt, my favorite work of art in the entire history of our species. For one, it is staggeringly old. At 7,000 years, it is older than almost anything we call ancient, including the Old Testament, the great pyramids, Stonehenge, even writing itself, which didn’t appear in Mesopotamia for another millennia and a half. And yet, looking at it, we can immediately identify with this pensive fellow and share in his thoughts and struggles, which suggests to me that, whatever else has happened, being human hasn’t changed all that much.