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HOME : Near Eastern Art : Archive : Chlorite Vessel
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Chlorite Vessel - LO.626 W
Origin: Mesopotamia
Circa: 3000 BC to 2000 BC

Collection: Near Eastern
Style: Intercultural
Medium: Chlorite

Location: Great Britain
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Chlorite is a distinctive gray-green stone that was utilized during antiquity for the fabrication of luxurious containers in the greater Gulf region as well as southern Iran. Excavations at the archeological site of Tepe Yaya, dated to the mid-third millennium B.C., in Iran unearthed the ruins of workshops where such vessels were discovered. As well, raw materials used for their manufacture, chlorite as well as steatite, quarried from the nearby hills were also present. On the island of Tarut, in the Gulf close to the Arabian coast, over six hundred complete and fragmentary vessels and weights have been unearthed. Because many partially formed objects found on Tarut were discovered next to chunks of unworked chlorite, it has been surmised that this island was once a center of production for these works.

Found throughout the ancient Near East, from Syria to the Indus Valley, revealing the extensive trade routes of the time, these works are classified by modern historians as belonging to the “Intercultural Style,” called so because they derive iconographical elements from both Near Eastern and Harappan traditions. Much like the written cuneiform alphabet was used by several distinct cultures throughout the ancient Near East to dictate their individual spoken languages, so such vessels were created by various cultures, each adorning the works with their own distinct aesthetic style. Many examples were discovered in the ruins of palace and temple structures or entombed in the graves of the nobility, including Sumerian Mesopotamia. Clearly these vessels were among the most precious luxury items that could only be afforded by the ruling elite.

The decorative scheme of this chlorite vessel has been divided into two bands. The vessel is conical in form, tapering from its base to the neck, where it begins to flare outwards into the wide-mouthed rim. Both bands along the body feature the same motif of a big cat battling a serpent carved in low relief. The spots on the animals’ bodies have been inlaid with white shell, some of which remain intact. The leopard grasps the body of the snake in its powerful claws and the two beast confront each other face to face. Their eyes are wide open, their mouths ajar, respectively hissing and roaring in a show of beastly might. While scenes of snakes battling with lions or eagles are a common motif of “Intercultural Style” works, discovered throughout Mesopotamia and at temple sites in Syria, we have little idea of the meaning of this mysterious iconography. - (LO.626 W)


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