Protosumerian or Protoelamite Marble seated animal
Period: Circa 3000 B.C.
Dimensions: Lenght: 10 cm
Acquired on the English art market, London, 1994.
This statuette, whose size is much greater than average, was sculpted from an extremely thin stone plaque. The animal is represented in a posture of repose, seated with his four legs folded beneath the body; the head and the neck are ever so slightly turned to the right of the observer. The hole pierced horizontally through the center of the body was used to suspent the object, which was probably used as an amulet or an ex-voto.
Stylistically, the animal is in silhouette and some incisions that reproduce the pelt, the tail and the hooves, were sufficeint for the sculptor to indicate that this was a quadruped; only the spiral horns were rendered in the round. The animal represented seems to be a ram, judging from the twisting horns, short tail and long fleece that are typical for this species; the tuncated shape of the muzzle and the massive proportions of the body could nevertheless bring to mind a bovid. From the origins of Near Eastern iconography, caprids were already among the favorite subjects for artists: sheep, goats and mountain rams appeared in all the known artistic media (seals, statuettes, reliefs, paintings, etc.) and in all the regions, from the Iranian plateau to the Levant.
After the dog (domesticated between 18000 and 12000 B.C.) and at the same time as the pig and bovids, sheep and goats were among the first species of animals that man domesticated, namely for reasons of food procurement; in the Near East, their domestication occurred much later, during the 9th millennium B.C. As shown in cuneiform texts and Mesopotamian iconography in general, the raising of these flocks often occurred in tandem with each other. Economically, the importance of the small beast was not limited only to the consumption of its meat: its milk played a fundamental role in their diet (making of cheese and butter) and their fleece served as wool for fabric, even for the making of rope. There also existed flocks of wild goats, who were the prey of hunters. The cuneiform texts indicate that there were sacred flocks, dedicated to temples of different divinities, consisting always of large numbers of goats and sheep, which were the animals most often offered to the gods.
Mesopotamia in its First Days, cat. Exhibit., New York, 1994.
ADAMS D.N. et al., When Orpheus Sang, An Ancient Bestiary, Paris, 2004, n. 5-6, pp. 23-24.
BEHM-BLANCKE M.R., Das Tierbild in der altmesopotamischen Rundplastik, Mayence/Rhin, 1979.
On Neolithic animal husbandry:
VIGNE J.-D., Les origines de la culture, Les débuts de l’élevage, Paris, 2004.