Selected works


Zebu-shaped askos

Askos, Acq.-No. 110.006.0001
© Stiftung DKM | Photo: Werner. J. Hannappel

Gilan civilisation, 1250 – 800 BCE
Baked clay

28.8 x 8.2 x 29.6cm LWH

The zebu-shaped vessels of the Gilan civilisation are in every respect powerfully and dynamically shaped. Their silhouettes form sweeping units in which a circular shape – starting at the paunch and leading past the hump to the hindquarters – is discernable. The impressive horns jut forwards slightly; the pointed ears seem small in comparison and are partially drilled enabling them to be decorated with gold or bronze earrings. A fine bridge marks the paunch and tail. The male genitals are also suggested. The zebus’ head is worked to form the beaked spout through which liquids could be poured in or out. The figurine is hollow with the exception of the short, thickset legs and the horns.

The zebu, which is clearly identifiable from its characteristic hump and paunch, probably originated in Iran and spread to India and Africa. The zebu has been a domestic animal that can be utilised for various purposes from ancient times to the present day. As the many zebu representations from Gilan show, this animal was especially popular in that region.

Zebu-shaped vessels are the most frequently documented in the burial sites at Marlik; a total of 17 came to light. Aside from these clay vessels, bronze zebu statuettes also exist. Wheels were attached to other clay vessels or figurines depicting cattle. However, it would probably be a mistake to characterise them disparagingly as toys. The earrings, in any case, indicate that they had a higher standing. The meaning of the vessels depicting the entire animal in conjunction with funerary rituals has been discussed in the introduction. The zebu in particular was considered a symbol of power and fertility, and has in fact been recognised as a symbol of sexual potency, comparable to the the bull, as documented in other civilisations (for example Egypt and Crete).

André Wiese

Catalogue _ Museum DKM: Iran _ Amlash

E.O. Negahban, Marlik. The Complete Excavation Report, The University Museum Monograph 87, 2 vols., Philadelphia PA 1996, 116–122 plates 36–38 nos. 83–99. Paradeisos. Frühe Tierbilder aus Persien aus der Sammlung Elisabeth und Peter Suter-Dürsteler, exhibition catalogue Basel, Basel 1992, 62f. no. 15. T.S. Kawami, Ancient Iranian Ceramics from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, New York 1992, 135f. no. 49. W. Seipel (ed.), 7000 Jahre persische Kunst. Meisterwerke aus dem Iranischen Nationalmuseum in Teheran, exhibition catalogue Basel, Vienna 2003, 156f. no. 83. M. Guggisberg, Frühgriechische Tierkeramik. Zur Entwicklung und Bedeutung der Tiergefäße und der hohlen Tierfiguren in der späten Bronze- und frühen Eisenzeit (ca. 1600–700 v.Chr.), Mainz 1996, 341–345. Iran_Amlash, 2011, cat.-No. 1, 20–22.