Key-Visual der Ausstellung "Menschen in Stein gemeisselt"

Humans. Carved in Stone

Exhibition | accessibility.time_to


6,000 years ago, people in Europe started erecting large stone sculptures. These sculptures were in the shape of women and men with faces and arms, hairstyles and even tattoos. They also carried or wore highly desirable items such as weapons, jewellery or clothing that depicted the innovations of their time. But the stelae were also symbols of power and status, and were used for ancestor worship and rituals. These likenesses were created in an age when people were increasingly engaging in agriculture and animal husbandry, coming together in village communities and beginning to use metal. The temporary exhibition in the National Museum Zurich’s extension wing brings together stelae from a number of European countries, including new finds from the cantons of Zurich and Valais, and offers a unique insight into the world of people in the Neolithic period.



Key-Visual der Ausstellung "Menschen in Stein gemeisselt"

Humans. Carved in Stone – Introductory tour

Intermediate level | secondary levels I and II

Guided tour of the exhibition «Humans. Carved in Stone».

1 hour
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Blog articles


Humans. Carved in Stone

National Museum Zurich | 17.9.2021 - 16.1.2022
published on 16.9.2021

In its major new temporary exhibition, the National Museum displays Neolithic stelae from various European countries, offering a unique insight into the world of people who lived around 6,000 years ago.

In the Neolithic period, people in Europe began to settle down; they started practicing agriculture, keeping animals and using metal. These changes brought about tremendous societal upheaval. The stone stelae in human shape found throughout Europe, erected at great effort, are testament to this. They are among the earliest monuments on our continent. Some of the stone figures have faces and arms, hairstyles and even tattoos. Others are wearing or carrying valuable or useful items that depict the innovations of their time: axes for felling trees or for fighting, a plough for working the fields, jewellery made of copper for prestige display, bows and arrows for hunting and weapons for hand-to-hand combat.

Even today, the stelae tell of the reality of life in an era that was marked by violence and change. The growing population, the struggle for resources and jealousy led to conflicts that can be read from the stone sculptures and the places where they were found. Depicted on the stone stelae are members of the new elite, high-ranking women and men at the head of an increasingly hierarchical society. With their symbols of power, they had themselves immortalised in stone, demonstrating their exalted status. The stelae were also used for ancestor worship – for their descendants, the individuals depicted became heroes and heroines or even gods, and passed on the collective history of the clan in visual form. If those in power lost social control and prestige, their ancestors too were forgotten. Subsequent groups of people destroyed their images.

The major temporary exhibition in the National Museum’s extension wing brings together around 40 stelae from Italy, France, Germany and Switzerland, including new finds from the cantons of Valais and Zurich. The opportunity to see so many original steles from several countries in one exhibition side by side is unique. The presentation is completed by top-class original finds of weapons, tools and jewellery items depicted on the sculptures. Thus, the show offers a unique insight into the world of the people of the Neolithic period.


Moncigoli I

Female stela with U-shaped face, breasts and arms. Sandstone. 3,000–2,000 BC. Italy, Tuscany, Fivizzano.

© Angelo Ghiretti, Museo delle Statue Stele Lunigianesi

Bau Carradore II

Male stela with T-shaped face, symbol in shape of bull’s head and double dagger. Trachyte. 2,800–2,500 BC. Italy, Sardinia, Laconi.

© Nicola Castangia

Petit-Chasseur 25

Male stela with T-shaped face, patterned garment, bow and arrow. Marble. 2,500–2,200 BC. Switzerland, Canton of Valais, Sion.

© Musées cantonaux du Valais, Sion. Hervé Paitier

Don Bosco 2

Human-shaped stela with arms and hands, broad belt and neck ornament with double spiral pendants. Marble. 3,000–2,500 BC. Switzerland, Canton of Valais, Sion. Office cantonal d’Archéologie VS

Swiss National Museum

Double spiral pendant

Copper. Around 3,000 BC. Switzerland, Canton of Vaud, Grandson-Corcelettes.

© Swiss National Museum

A view of the exhibition.

Swiss National Museum

A view of the exhibition.

Swiss National Museum

A view of the exhibition.

Swiss National Museum

A view of the exhibition.

Swiss National Museum

Swiss National Museum press contact

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Exhibition imprint

  • Overall management Denise Tonella, Andreas Spillmann (till 31.3.2021)
  • Project direction and Curatorship Jacqueline Perifanakis, Luca Tori
  • Concept and Content Heidi Amrein, Jacqueline Perifanakis, Luca Tori, Samuel van Willigen (till 15.7.2020)
  • Scientific collaboration Cynthia Marti
  • Scientific consultancy Philippe Curdy, Philippe Della Casa, Franco Marzatico
  • Scenography Alex Harb
  • Exhibition graphic LDSGN, Zürich: Thomas Lehmann
  • Advisory committee Heidi Amrein, Beat Högger, Markus Leuthard, Sabrina Médioni, Denise Tonella
  • Controlling of project Sabrina Médioni
  • Cultural services and museum education Stefanie Bittmann, Lisa Engi, Vera Humbel
  • Advertising graphic Roli Hofer, Zürich
  • Technical management Mike Zaugg, Debbie Sledsens, Ladina Fait
  • Exhibition construction Mike Roder, Dave Schwitter Bachir Ezzerari, Marc Hägeli, Janine auf der Maur, Kim Badertscher
  • Conservation management Tino Zagermann
  • Conservation and montage of objects Anna Jurt, Sarah Longrée, Jürg Mathys, Ulrike Rothenhäusler, Alexandra Schorpp, Tino Zagermann; Alder Stahl und Schweiss, Wädenswil: Chrigel Alder; TH-Conservations GmbH, Weinfelden: Tobias Hotz; Aventicum, Avenches: Noé Terrapon
  • Lending and logistics of objects Christian Affentranger, David Blazquez, Simon D‘Hollosy, Reto Hegetschweiler, Maya Jucker, Markus Scherer, Angela Zeier
  • Photography Jörg Brandt
  • Picture library Fabian Müller, Andrea Kunz
  • IT and Web Thomas Bucher, Ulrich Heiniger, Pasquale Pollastro, Danilo Rüttimann, René Vogel; 2av GmbH, Ulm
  • Media planning 2av GmbH, Ulm: Martin Schmitt, Beata Smigielska, Surya Wöhrle
  • Listening points Kellerthurgau, Frauenfeld: Markus Keller
  • Marketing and communication Andrej Abplanalp, Alexander Rechsteiner, Carole Neuenschwander, Sebastiano Mereu, Anna-Britta Maag, Stefania Nicolini
  • Head of legal affairs and contracts Beatrice Käser, Jana Pfyl
  • Translations Laurence Neuffer, Nigel Stephenson
  • Final editing Bill Gilonis, Erika Hebeisen, Christine Keller, Cynthia Marti, Carmela Petralia, Christian Weiss

Items generously loaned by

  • Aosta, Area megalitica di Saint-Martin-de-Corléans
  • Aosta, Soprintendenza per i beni e le attività culturali perla valle d’Aosta
  • Avignon, Musée Calvet, Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie d’Avignon
  • Bern, Archäologischer Dienst des Kantons Bern
  • Bozen, Autonome Provinz Bozen - Südtirol, Landesdenkmalamt, Amt für Archäologie
  • Brescia, Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle arti e Paesaggio per le province di Bergamo e Brescia
  • Cagliari, Soprintendenza Archeologia, belle arti e paesaggio per la città metropolitana di Cagliari e le province di Oristano e Sud Sardegna
  • Capo di Ponte, Museo Nazionale della Preistoria della Valle Camonica
  • Chur, Rätisches Museum
  • Dübendorf, Amt für Raumentwicklung, Archäologie und Denkmalpflege, Kanton Zürich
  • Frankfurt am Main, Frobenius-Institut für kulturanthropologische Forschung an der Goethe-Universität Frankfurt
  • Halle, Landesmuseum für Vorgeschichte
  • Hauterive, Laténium, Parc et Musée d’archéologie, Espace Paul Vouga
  • Konstanz, Archäologisches Landesmuseum Baden-Württemberg
  • Laconi, Menhir Museum, Museo della statuaria preistorica in Sardegna
  • Latsch, Pfarrei zu den hll. Aposteln Petrus und Paulus
  • Lourmarin, Château de Lourmarin
  • Lucca, Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle arti e Paesaggio per le province di Lucca e Massa Carrara
  • Meran, Palais Mamming Museum
  • Nîmes, Musée d’Histoire naturelle
  • Pontremoli, Museo delle Statue Stele Lunigianesi
  • Reggio Emilia, Musei Civici, Museo Gaetano Chierici di Paletnologia
  • Riva del Garda, Museo Alto Garda
  • Rodez, Musée Fenaille
  • Sion, Office cantonal d’Archéologie, Canton du Valais
  • Sion, Musée d’histoire du Valais
  • Trento, Soprintendenza per i beni culturali
  • Toulouse, Musée Saint-Raymond, Société archéologique du Midi de la France
  • Zug, Museum für Urgeschichte(n)
  • Zürich, ETH Zürich, Departement Erdwissenschaften