Steatite (also known as Soapstone, or soaprock) is
a mineral schist, largely composed of the mineral
talc and is thus rich in magnesium. It has been a
medium for carving for thousands of years.
Steatite is relatively soft because of its high talc
content, with a surface which may feel similar to
soap when touched, hence the name.
It was utilized during antiquity for the fabrication
luxurious containers and ceremonial weights, such
as the present, in
greater Gulf region as well as southern Iran.
Excavations at the archeological site of Tepe
dated to the mid-third millennium B.C., in Iran
unearthed the ruins of workshops where such
were discovered. As well, raw materials used for
manufacture and quarried
from the nearby hills were also present. On the
of Tarut, in the Gulf close to the Arabian coast,
six hundred complete and fragmentary vessels
weights have been unearthed. Because many
formed objects found on Tarut were discovered
chunks of unworked chlorite, it has been
this island was once a center of production for
Found throughout the ancient Near East, from
the Indus Valley, revealing the extensive trade
of the time, these works are classified by modern
historians as belonging to the “Intercultural
called so because they derive iconographical
from both Near Eastern and Harappan traditions.
like the written cuneiform alphabet was used by
several distinct cultures throughout the ancient
East to dictate their individual spoken languages,
steatite works were created by various cultures,
adorning the piece with their own distinct
style. Many examples were discovered in the
palace and temple structures or entombed in the
of the nobility, including Sumerian Mesopotamia.
Clearly these vessels and weights were among
precious luxury items that could only be afforded
the ruling elite.
This type of stone sculpture is commonly referred
as a “lock” due to its form. Carved from a large
of steatitic stone, with sculpted images rendered
decorating both sides, this work probably
functioned as some sort of ceremonial weight.
side of the weight, a mythological scene has
carved depicting a central figure with the upper
of a man and the legs of a bull or horse. In his
hands, he holds the tails of two spotted panthers
flank him on either side. He pulls their hind
quarters in the air as they stand on their front
looking up towards him. Their mysterious
creature is cleary in control of these powerful
felines, thereby earning the label, “Master of the
Beasts” which is applied to this theme.
Such iconography seems to originate in eastern
and Central Asia, where the theme of man
over the animals appeared to be quite popular.
scorpions frame this grouping, placed
join of the handle to the body of the lock.
to some scholars, the wild beasts represent chaos
are contrasted to the humans, who display
nature and the promise of fertility. At one time,
spots of the leopards and the figure’s eyes would
been filled with inlaid shell or bone. It is possible
that these scenes are related to
epic legend of Gilgamesh.
- (LO.624 W)