Neolithic Animal Head Marble Amulet
Culture: Euro-Neolithic, Near-Eastern
Period: 6th millennium B.C.
Dimensions: H: 4.97 cm
Ex-Gwain McKinley, London-Paris, ca. 1985.
A rare marble pendentive amulet fashioned in the shape of an animal’s head. This pendant is in remarkably good condition considering its very early date. Aside from a small chip on the back of one of the volutes carved on top of the head, this piece is intact. It is difficult to say with certainty the species of animal depicted, but the elongated shape of the head, the small ears and the horn-like volutes suggest a ram or ibex. The stone used is a veined marble with bands of mottled gray and pink. This is consistent with contemporary finds from Syria, which often use the local colored marbles for small scale objects: vessels, figurines, amulets, etc. The stepped profi le of the head curves sharply into an elongated neck, the rounded end of which has been carefully drilled with a hole for suspension. Various grooves and ridges delineate the different planes of the head, including a groove at the base of the muzzle, the cheeks and the back of the neck. The volutes on either side of the head have been skillfully carved in low relief and protruding round nubs create rather prominent eyes. The design is perfectly symmetrical: due to the pendant’s shallow shape, the composition hinges on the vertical axis when looking at the animal’s head straight on.
This pendant heralds the beginnings of agricultural society and human civilization. The post Paleolithic period (7th – 6th millennium B.C.) saw the rise of the first permanent settlements in Syria, and with them, the first real signs of a material culture. Sites in the Euphrates River Valley, such as Tell Bouqras, have yielded information about the lives of the people who laid the foundation for our modern societal structure. They were mostly agricultural, raising crops and domesticated herds, rather than the nomadic hunter-gatherer cultures that had existed up until then. This pendant, and others like it, illustrates the new importance of these animals. An early 6th millennium amulet excavated at neighboring el-Kowm is a close parallel for our piece and displays the same elongated, abstract structure and vaguely zoomorphic features (horns or ears in low relief, round nubs for eyes), although our pendant is both more complex and of greater artistic quality. Tell Bouqras was known as a center for the manufacture of small stone objects, primarily vessels, and is also the site of some of the earliest figural designs known, emphasizing the rarity and importance of our pendant.
This marks the beginning of a long tradition in Syrian and Mesopotamian art of portable amuletic art in animal form. These objects obviously held a symbolic significance for their owners – perhaps to insure the fertility and health of the herds? – the exact nature of which is lost to us today.
For the el-Kowm example, see:
CLUZAN S. et al, Syrie: Mémoire et Civilisation, Paris, 1993, p. 58, no. 35.
On Tell Bouqras and Paleolithic Syria, see:
ACKERMANNS P. M. M. G. – SCHWARTZ G., The Archaeology of Syria: From Complex Hunter-Gatherers to Early Urban Societies, Cambridge, 2003,
MOOREY P. R. S., Ancient Mesopotamian Materials and Industries, Oxford, 1999, pp. 36-40, 323.