Mesopotamia, Mesopotamian art (Mesopotamia, 7000-2400 B.C.)
In the early Seventeenth Century, an Italian aristocrat Pietro della Valle, spurred by curiosity about the Biblical past, was one of the first modern western Europeans to venture to Anatolia, Turkey. He is thought to be the first collector of Mesopotamian
cylinder seals. della Valle also was an amateur artist and made sketches of ancient inscriptions. At about the same time in the Seventeenth Century, an English scholar, the Second Earl of Arundel, Thomas Howard,
was the first European amassing a significant collection of Ancient Near Eastern sculpture. These were mostly from about ca. 500 B.C., and from Turkey, then under Ottoman control. (Seton Lloyd, Foundations in the Dust The Story of Mesopotamian Exploration,
Thames & Hudson, London, revised edition, 1980, pp. 7-10.) In the late Seventeenth Century, a German, Carsten Niebuhr, made extensive drawings of the buildings, reliefs, and inscriptions at Persepolis, Iran.
These dated from about 515 B.C.
In 1808, the geographer and linguist Claudius James Rich (1787-1821) was put in charge of Baghdad by the British government. Rich traveled extensively in the region and made the first reliable, modern maps for the
British government. He made the first rigorous investigation of the many mysterious mounds doting the Iraqi countryside. Rich reported to the British Museum that they probably contained the remnants of buildings,
burial sites, and hoards of artifacts. When he died in 1821 of cholera, Rich’s collection of coins, cylinder seals, and small pieces of sculpture were bought by the British Museum. They formed the foundation
of the British Museum’s Ancient Near East collection. (P.R.S. Moorey, Catalogue of the Ancient Persian Bronzes in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford University Press, 1971, pp. 20-23.)
Until the mid-nineteenth century, most Europeans and Americans knew little about the Ancient Near East. Their only sources were the Bible or passing references in Greek and Latin works. Collecting antiquities to
them meant collecting objects from ancient Greece, Egypt or Rome. (Ancient Near Eastern Art: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, vol. 17, no. 4, 1984.)
Popular interest in collecting art of the Ancient Near East was sparked by a series of articles in French newspapers about the excavations by Paul-Emile Botta (1802-1870). Botta’s digs were in what was once ancient
Assyria, now part of Iraq. Botta found objects dating from about 2500 B.C. In 1854, an English geologist and naturalist William Kennett Loftus (1820-1858), was commissioned by the Assyrian Excavation Fund to
dig in Iraq. Loftus discovered part of the wall of the city of Ur, portions of Eridu, and Nineveh, all dating from the Fourth Century B.C. (W.K. Loftus, Travels and Researches in Chaldaea and Susiana,
Nisbet & Co., London, 1858.) Before becoming a prominent British politician, Austen Henry Layard (1817-1894), published a series of books and articles on his excavations at Nimrud and Nineveh. Many of Layard’s
discoveries were sent to the British Museum, but quite a few others were left behind to form the basis of the Iraqi National Museum’s collection. (A.H. Layard, Discoveries among the ruins of Nineveh and Babylon;
with travels to Armenia, Kurdistan, and the desert. Being the result of a second expedition undertaken for the Trustees of the British Museum, Barnes, New York, pp. ix-xli.) In the mid-to-late Nineteenth Century,
the main importance of such discoveries was thought to be the light they shed on the Bible. (Michael Ivanovitch Rostovtzeff, “The Sumerian Treasure of Astrabad,” Journal of Near Eastern Archaeology,
1920, vol. 6, pp. 4-27.)
At the end of the Nineteenth Century, ethical standards were tacitly agreed upon by the Europeans excavating in the Middle East, and widespread looting and spoliation of ruins stopped. (J.B. Stearns, Reliefs from the Palace of Ashurbanipal II,
Graz, Austria, 1961, pp. 7-12.) A joint dig by the University of Pennsylvania and British Museum at Nippur in the 1880s was at first marred by violence, then in 1900 the group’s leader Hermann V. Hilprecht found
a massive group of carved tablets. This was the biggest find of the most ancient written material discovered so far. (Froehlich Rainey, “Director’s Desk,” Expedition, vol. 3, Spring 1962, pp. 14-16.)
In 1895, a French group of archaeologists started excavating Susa (modern Iran) but ran into insurmountable problems. The leader Marcel Dieulafoy abruptly quit. In 1897, a new highly trained leader took over the
Susa project. Jean-Jacques de Morgan (1857-1924) had a degree in mining engineering. Previously, he successfully ran the excavations of Memphis and Dashur in Egypt. de Morgan was particularly curious about a
large mound, previously unexcavated. It took the French led by de Morgan a decade to successfully excavate Susa, capitol of the Elamites. They found not only Elamite objects, but statues, monuments, and objects
taken as booty in war. These included the stele of Hammurabi’s Code of Laws. (Mogens Trolle Larsen, The Conquest of Assyria: excavations in an antique land, Routledge, London, 1996, pp. 26 et seq.)
By about 1900 a chronology of the Ancient Near East was generally agreed upon by most scholars. It was based on pottery styles. But no major city, fortress, or temple from the Ancient Near East had been excavated
by 1900. Right before the outset of World War I, the Deutsche Orient Gessellschat used new techniques to successfully excavate both the city of Babylon and Assur (the most important city of the Assyrians). They
used trained architects as archaeologists, who were able to determine where walls would have been, and how a city would have been planned. (Seton Lloyd, The Archaeology of Mesopotamia, Thames &
Hudson, London, 1978, pp. 64-8.) From 1912 to 1914 Leonard Woolley (1880-1960), of the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, worked with T.E. Lawrence to excavate Carchemish, a Hittite city.
In the period after World War I, more digs focused on earlier periods in Ancient Near Eastern history. In 1922, along with the University of Pennsylvania, Woolley and a team from the British Museum made significant
discoveries while excavating the cemeteries at Ur in Mesopotamia. They found untouched tombs with paintings, gold, and silver. Woolley was not a trained archaeologist and many now dispute his methods and “intuitive”
conclusions. Woolley volunteered for the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives division of the Allied Armies during World War II, and saved many Ancient Near Eastern sites from destruction during the war. After
World War II, Woolley continued his excavations in Mesopotamia until about 1950. (P.R.S. Moorey, A revised and updated version of Sir Leonard Woolley’s Excavations at Ur, Ur ‘of the Chaldees,’ Cornell
University Press, Ithaca, NY, 1982.)
Turkish archaeologists discovered the pre-Hittite site Alaca Höyük (north central Turkey) in the 1930s. This was the first Ancient Near Eastern site excavated by Near Easterners. The French had done very preliminary
soundings at Alaca Hoyük in the late nineteenth century. The site turned out to have elaborate buildings, sophisticated tools, and rich tombs with a great deal of gold. The site dated from about 2000 to 1200
B.C. In the 1930s, archaeologists from University of Chicago found and translated the earliest-known writing, which they dated from the Early Dynastic Period, from 2900-2340 B.C. French and German archaeologists
made significant discoveries about Canaanite, Phoenician, and Syrian history during the 1930s. They found remnants of palaces, and much superb ivory carving. Some of the most productive digs conducted in the
1930s were re-excavations of places originally excavated around the turn of the century. (J.B. Pritchard, The Ancient Near East, Princeton University Press, revised edition, 1969, pp. 317-320.)
In the late 1940s, the British, Germans, Americans, and French returned to Ancient Near Eastern archaeology. Since the 1960s the focus has been eastern Anatolia. The Delegation française en Perse had a series of
spectacular finds at Susa in northwestern Iran. Susa was the capitol of Elam, at its height during the 2000s B.C. (Prudence O. Harper, ed., The Royal City of Susa: Ancient Near Eastern Treasures in the Louvre,
Harry N. Abrams, New York, 1992, pp. xiv-xx.) American and Iranian scholars working together excavated important Achaemenid Persian sites during the 1950s and 1960s. These yielded magnificent pottery, jewelry,
sculpture. The digs also clarified the history of the extensive, early trade routes through ancient Persia. (Henri Frankfort, Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient, Penguin revised edition, London,
Major excavations in the later part of the twentieth century have included the Turkish digs at Izmir (formerly Smyrna), which show the region had earlier permanent settlements than previously thought, dating back
to about 5000 B.C. Austrian, German, British, Italian and American archaeologists have been active in Turkey since 1950. (V.G. Childe, New Light on the Most Ancient East, Oxford University Press, 1958,
pp. 63-78.) In Syria, and other historically-important parts of the Near East, American universities work with local universities to conduct excavations. These concentrate on evidence of urbanization, fortress-building,
religious practices, the domestication of animals and plants, social and economic hierarchies. (Peter R.S. Moorey, The Ancient Near East: The Collection of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford University
Press, 1987.) Only a minority of professional archaeologists today set out to find the site of a passage from the Bible.
Shards of proto-Hassuna pottery from Tell es-Sotto, in Jazira, northern Mesopotamia, ca. 6900 B.C., excavated in 2007.
The first objects excavated from the Ancient Near East date from about 10,000 B.C. They are knives discovered in Israel. (Y. Aharoni and M. Avi-Yonah, eds. The Macmillan Bible Atlas, 2nd edition, New York-London,
1977, pp. 3-7.) Archaeologists have found pottery shards from northern Mesopotamia dating from about 8000 B.C. However, many scholars believe these pieces of clay were fired accidentally. The first decorated
pieces of pottery from this part of the world date from about 6000 B.C. They come from Umm Dabaghiya, Tell es-Sotto, and Kültepe in northern Mesopotamia. They date from the period when organized agriculture
developed, cattle were domesticated, and permanent settlements were established in the Ancient Near East. (H.W.F. Saggs, The Greatness that was Babylon: A sketch of the ancient civilization of the Tigris-Euphrates Valley,
Sidwick & Jackson, London, 1962, pp. 104-8.) Archaeologists think there was a mass migration to the southern area around the Tigris and Euphrates by people from the north in about 5500 B.C. This area was
called Sumer. Mesopotamia in Greek means, “land between the rivers.” Ancient Mesopotamia occupies current day Iraq and portions of Iran. The northerners brought wheat and barley, which required better drainage
than they found in northern Mesopotamia. The settlers had to organize large-scale drainage and irrigation. This led to the development of a stable government, the concept of the state, and a self-sustaining
economy. (Oppenheim, A. Leo, Ancient Mesopotamia, University of Chicago Press, 1964.)
Umm Dabaghiya was a particularly fertile site for pottery finds. (Diane Kirkbride,” Umm Dabaghiya: A Second Preliminary Report,” Iraq, no. 35, 1974, pp. 10-7.) It is about 70 miles south of present-day
Mosul, Iraq. Its environment is too arid for agriculture. Hunting seemed to have been important to the economy of Umm Dabaghiya. Archaeologists think the height of Umm Dabaghiya as an entrepôt and crafts-center
was between 6200 and 5750 B.C. Kilns, warehouses, and instruments for working hides were found in abundance in Umm Dabaghiya. There were fewer residences than warehouses. Many of the warehouses had no roofs.
Typical pottery was simple with minimal painting, and sometimes incised geographic decorations. (I.E.S. Edwards, Cambridge Ancient History, volume I, part II: “Early History of the Middle
East,” 3rd edition, 1971, Cambridge, U.K.)
Clay figure of woman with traces of paint, ca. 6000 B.C., Mesopotamia, 5.11 x 4.5 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
This piece retains its power despite its lack of a head, missing legs, and feet. The pose is a conventional one for female images throughout the Ancient Near East, as well as Greece, for many centuries. Pieces of
this quality are rare, but sometimes come up for sale.
Hunting and gathering societies were probably more materially equalitarian than agricultural ones. Hunters and gatherers were not wed to one place, they had to move to find food. Possessions were an encumbrance
to them. With agriculture, society became hierarchical. Wealth was accumulated. When society became more organized male elders gained more power as defenders of the city, judges, and managers. In the small villages
that predominated in the 7000s and before, everyone’s opinion counted. There was little separation between public and private realms. (William H. Stiebing, Jr., Ancient Near Eastern History and Culture, Longman, NewYork, 2003, pp. 114-128.)
Marble sculpture of woman, thought to be a fertility symbol, ca. 6000-5500 B.C., 6.4 cm high; 6.8 cm wide; Anatolia, private collection, Geneva, Switzerland.
This is an excellent piece: beautifully rendered and expressive. However, similar pieces of sculpture in similar condition are available on the international market.
Anthropologists believe that hunting and gathering groups were organized by clan or tribe. In these groups, late weaning was used as form of birth control. Women had children every three or four years until the
Agricultural Revolution of about 5500 B.C. Then fertility increased and women stayed at home to care for small children. Harvests required many people, young children could be put to work in fields, and a large
population was desirable. If there were too many people to be supported by the land, they left and brought new land under cultivation. (Ray Westbrook, “The Enforcement of Morals in Mesopotamian Law,” Journal of the American Oriental Society,
vol. 104 (1984), pp. 753-56.)
This beaker is particularly charming because of its minimalist animal images. It is in extremely fine condition. Similar beakers, but with more wear, are frequently offered for auction at the international auction houses.
Clay beaker decorated with geometric designs and images of ibexes, from Susa (now Shusa, Iran), ca. 5000 B.C., 28.9 cm high; 16.4 cm diameter, Louvre, Paris, France.
During the years 6000-5000 B.C, the Pre-Sumerian period, Southern Mesopotamia mass-produced pottery such as the beaker above. Vessels and other objects of fired clay were found in great abundance at sites near the
Euphrates River. They had simple—even crude--decoration and were produced on a fast potter’s wheel. Wheels were used for war chariots by this period as well. The chariots were drawn by onagers (wild donkeys).
(Samuel Noah Kramer, History Begins at Sumer, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 1981.) By about 4000 B.C., each settlement in Southern Mesopotamia near the Euphrates seemed to specialize
in one form of pottery to the exclusion of others, and by about 3000 B.C. potters are listed as a profession in administrative documents. (June Moon, “Some Early Dynastic Pottery from Abu Salabikh,” Iraq,
vol. xliii (1981) pp.47-75.)
Clay statue of a female, ca. 4600-4400 B.C., 7.1 cm high; private collection, Switzerland.
This well-made piece is similar to the female figure in Image 2, with its emphasis on thighs and breasts, missing head, legs, or hands. The neck here in longer than in Image 2, and overall the figure is more graceful.
During the Fifth and Fourth millennia B.C. it was the style in pottery to paint decorations on these female figures, which were probably fertility deities. This is probably not the goddess Inanna who ruled love
and war. (She was called Ishtar by a later group the Akkadians.) More likely, this is a family deity, not one of the higher gods to whom temples were dedicated. (Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Kramer, Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth, Harper & Row, New York, 1983, pp. 58-61.)
Sometimes painted designs on pottery at this time were elaborate; here it is simple, consisting only of parallel lines. The decoration was from a pigment made of iron oxide. Potters used fluxes by this time to lower
the melting point of pigments. This also created a glaze. Light incising was also more frequent on pottery during the period 5000 to 4000 B.C. The buff colored clay is typical of painted pottery widely-distributed
south of Mosul. (H.P. Martin, “The Early Dynastic Cemetery at al-Ubaid: A Reevaluation,” Iraq, vol. xliv, (1982), pp. 145-85.)
Clay beaker with images of snakes; ca. 4000 B.C.; excavated at Susa, Mesopotamia; 30 cm high; Louvre, Paris, France.
Pottery still basically intact but with large, obvious repairs is available on the international market for antiquities. This beaker is winsome because of the minimalist, but slightly dangerous-looking snake motif.
Archaeologists believe this is an image of Echis carinatus, a side-winding, saw-scaled viper still typical in the Near East and North Africa. Its venom is particularly lethal. It can be up to three
A beaker similar to this was found with an infant buried at Susa, and shards of vessels with a single snake on each side, image resembling this one, were found at nearby burial sites. (Guillermo Algaze, “The Uruk
Expansion: Cross-cultural exchange in Early Mesopotamian Culture,” Sumer, no. 38, 1989, pp. 68-88.)
Some art historians think the cutting near the top of the beaker, and the snake’s head, was intended to create a detachable top, which would “decapitate” the snake. But no detachable top was created.
Head of a sheep, sandstone, 9 cm high, 11.5 cm wide; Mesopotamia, Uruk, E-anna, ca. 3300-2900 B.C., Staatliche Museen zu Berlin Vonderasiatiches Museum.
This head is part of large hoard called the Sammelfund. It was discovered in a courtyard used for animal sacrifices. This period is considered one of the most prosperous of Mesopotamian history. The largest
section of the wall of Uruk, and many structures were built around 3000 B.C. There was a massive growth in population, and invading tribes were expelled. People lived in closer proximity. (Henri Frankfort, Archaeology and the Sumerian Problem, Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, Studies in Ancient Civilization, no. 4, Chicago, 1952, pp. 11-28.)
Scholars believe this sheep’s head was once attached to a life-sized statue. The head was once attached by dowels. The right ear has broken off, as have both horns. Impressive, though damaged, pieces of sculpture
like this often come on the market. One so old, however, is rare. (Pierre Amiet, Art of the Ancient Near East, vol. 7, Lucien Mazonod, Paris, 1977).
Limestone figure of a lioness, 8.26 cm high, Elam, ca. 3000-2800 B.C., private collection, United Kingdom.
This is one of the most well-known works of Ancient Near Eastern art. It is popularly known as the Guennol Lioness. It belonged to the Martin family, Guennol is Martin in Gaelic. (Sotheby’s New York, “Egyptian,
Classical and Western Asiatic Antiquities,” December 5, 2007, p. 38.) The Martins bought it in 1948, and loaned it to the Brooklyn Museum, until they sold it through Sotheby’s in 2007. The anonymous buyer at
the December 2007 auction set a new record for the price of a piece of sculpture--$57.2 million. (Carol Vogel, “On Arts,” New York Times, 8 December 2007.)
Some scholars believe it was made in Elam, southwestern Iran, in the proto-Elamite period. An impression of a seal at the Louvre, which dates from 3000-2800 B.C., shows a very similar standing lion and was used
to date the sculpture. On this theory, at the time this piece of sculpture was made, the Elamites were at the height of their power. Their influence extended as far as present-day Afghanistan. (Seton Lloyd,
The Art of the Ancient Near East, Praeger, London, 1961, pp. 8-14.) Other scholars think it was Mesopotamian. (Edith Porada, The Art of Ancient Iran: Pre-Islamic Cultures, New York, 1965,
p. 35; plate 6.) Still others contend it was made by an Elamite craftsman living in Mesopotamia.
It was excavated by the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago at Tell Agrab in 1936. (Seton Lloyd, “The Shara Temple at Tell Agrab,” Oriental Institute Publications, vol. 58, 1942, p. 218.) Art
historians believe this statue represents a lion/demon. It’s function or religious significance remains enigmatic. This piece was probably once painted. Scholars speculate that the tail was made of gold ribbon.
This was a popular motif for sculpture, and pieces resembling it have been found thorough Mesopotamia. (Joan Aruz, Art of the First Cities, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2003, pp. 42-43.)
Cylinder seals with impressions, Mesopotamia, Early Dynastic Period (ca. 2900-2334 B.C.), Baghdad Museum, Iraq.
Cylinder seals are almost always available for sale. The most desirable ones are made of precious stones, for instance, fine marble. Look for the most intricately carved ones with naturalistically-rendered humans
and creatures. They often tell an engaging story. There is such an abundance of cylinder seals that it is often possible to find ones in excellent condition, like the ones above.
The Sumerians developed the first writing about 3500 B.C., but it did not become widely used for several hundred years. At first writing was in pictograms, in other words an actual picture of the object.
The next phase (ca. 3200 B.C.) was ideograms, so, for instance, to demonstrate the concept of “sleep” they would show a man lying down. (Sabatino Moscati, Ancient Semitic Civilizations,
Anchor Press, New York, 1957, pp. 28-35.) Then (in about 3100 B.C.) words were represented by sounds that were similar to the word; these were called phonograms. This simplified the task of communication
and syllables were developed, leading to a real vocabulary that could be written. The Sumerians used a stylus shaped like a wedge to press the shape of the syllabi onto clay. This was later called cuneiform,
which came from the Latin word cuneus meaning wedge. Cuneiform was used mainly for administrative and commercial records. (Edward Chiera, They Wrote on Clay, University of Chicago Press, 1938.)
Disks, cones, and small spheres were used as stamps from about 8000 B.C. in Mesopotamia. They were stamped to show objects in an inventory or an accounting. These shapes were supplemented by a larger variety of
shapes: squares, ovals, triangles. Each symbolized a different commodity. For instance, an oval with an incised cross meant a sheep. By about 4000 B.C., these stamps were made of marble, steatite, serpentine,
or talc. Sometimes the back of the seal had an image of a divine animal and may have had a votive purpose.
Cylinder seals made their first appearance in Uruk in about 3500 B.C., their use spread north into Anatolia and Syria. But seal production remained primarily in southern Mesopotamia. (B. Buchanan, Catalogue of Ancient Near Eastern Seals in the Ashmolean Museum II: The Prehistoric Stamp Seals, Oxford University Press, 1984, pp. 70-76.) The use of cylinder seals remained popular until about 900 B.C. The seal contained the name of its owner, the owner’s occupation, the name of the father of the owner.
Cylinder seals were used as a signature. They were used by both men and women. The cylinder seal was impressed into clay (bullae), which secured doors, barrels, bundles of wheat, jars, etc. Sometimes
seals contained prayers or were supposed to act as “good luck” charms. Sometimes they were worn around the neck as jewelry. (Edith Porada, Ancient Art in Seals, Princeton University Press, 1980, pp.
In addition to signature and family and occupational information, cylinder seals were highly-decorated. Typical themes included hunting or fishing scenes with animals, mythical beasts, as well as humans realistically
rendered, as in the seals above. Groups of people harvesting or planting crops was another common theme. Later seals (2600 to 2200 B.C.) show battle scenes, or scenes of royal triumph. (M. Gibson and R.D. Biggs,
Seals and Sealing in the Ancient Near East, Bibliotheca Mesopotamica, Los Angeles, CA, 1977.)
Pendant, eagle with lion’s head; gold, lapis lazuli, copper, 12.8 cm high; 11.9 cm wide; excavated at the Palace of Mari, “Treasure of Ur,” Early Dynastic Period IIIb, ca. 2500 B.C., National Museum of Syria, Damascus.
Metalwork from this period is regarded as the highest quality craftsmanship of the Mesopotamian period. The “Treasure of Ur,” produced some of the most elaborate and accomplished pieces of jewelry from the Ancient
Near East. This is obviously a piece of singular, outstanding quality. Its inventiveness and craftsmanship, however, can be found in many other pieces more readily available for sale.
The lion-headed eagle was called a imdugad, and was considered a lower-level divinity in Sumerian religion. In this piece, the gold head was attached to the lapis lazuli body with tiny copper nails and
bitumen (a petroleum product with the consistency of tar). The wings are also made of lapis lazuli. They are meticulously etched with details of the feathers. The pendant is inscribed with the name “Messanapada
of Ur,” who may have been the artist or the patron. (P.R.S. Moorey, Materials and Manufacture in Ancient Mesopotamia: The Evidence of Archaeology and Art, British Archaeological Reports, Oxford University
Pair of hammered, gold chalices; ca. 2200-2000 B.C., Northeastern Iran, Heights: 6 and 8 cm; private collection, Germany.
These extremely simple but elegant gold cups may have been used for wine in ritual banquets. The bottoms are cylindrical, while at the very top of each there is a small rim. Gold chalices don’t often come on the
market, but chalices made of other metals are quite common.
There are few mineral deposits in Mesopotamia. There is some copper, and we see evidence of copper jewelry dating from about 5000 B.C. from Mesopotamia. Early Mesopotamian commerce records show that gold came from
Dilmun, which was described as being somewhere between India and Mesopotamia. It was a source of many precious metals in addition to gold. In the Sumerian creation myths, it is called “the place where the sun
rises,” and considered the site at which creation took place. We still don’t know where Dilmun was. Gold was not indigenous to the northeastern region of Iran. It was probably mined in Anatolia (Turkey). Gold
was often recycled in ancient Mesopotamia. (John Curtis, Early Mesopotamia and Iran, British Museum Press, London, 1993, pp. 63-45.)
Axe-head, bronze with a red patina, Iran, 21. 8 cm long, ca. 2400 – 2200 B.C., private collection, Switzerland.
Pieces of this quality come up for auction fairly regularly. The axe-head above was purchased by its present owner at an auction in Paris in 1980. This axe-head emulates the shape of a horse’s head. The axe was
probably purely ceremonial. Such zoomorphism was common in agricultural tools found from this period. Scholars believe that during the time that the axe-head above was made, metal-working was confined to only
the most significant religious/governmental centers. This piece has tin added to the bronze to harden it. In some cases arsenic was added instead of tin, to increase the hardness of the metal so that it can
be hammered. (John E. Curtis, Bronze-working Centres of Western Asia, ca. 1000-539 B.C., John Kegan, London, 1988, [papers originally presented at the British Museum, July 1986] pp. 70-100.)