Brief Identification Edit

This artifact, known as Vessel stand with ibex support, is from the Early Dynastic III period (ca. 2600-2350 B.C.). The stand is from the Mesopotamian region and belonged to the Sumerian culture. Recovered from the Temple Oval at Khafajah with three other stands, this vessel stand "may have been used to hold cylindrical vessels" due to the three large rings and smaller ring located in the upper framework [See Aruz 2003, 81-82]. It's currently located at The Metropolitan Museum in Gallery 403 in New York, NY 10028

Vessel Stand with Ibex support

Vessel stand with ibex support ( Mesopotamia, Sumerian, Early Dynastic III, ca. 2600–2350 B.C.) Copper alloy, inlaid with shell and lapis lazuli. H. 15 3/4 x W. 9 1/4 x D. 9 7/16 in. (40 x 23.5 x 23.9 cm). Photo from Gallery 403 at The Met Fifth Avenue, New York, NY.

Technical Evaluation Edit

This piece stands almost 16 inches tall and 9 inches wide, and is made from arsenical copper, shell and lapis lazuli. The animal figure that sits in the center of the stand is thought to be an ibex, a wild goat "whose habitat was in the mountains to the east and north of Sumer ," the southermost region of Mesopotamia [Benzel 2010, 64]. The "ridged back-ward curving horns" identified the animal, and its "cocked ears and wide eyes," create the illusion that the ibex is standing in attention [Benzel 2010, 64]. 

One of the most interesting aspects of this stand is the process used to create it. The metalwork used to created the ibex and the rest of the piece is a sophisticated method known as the "lost-wax" technique , or lost-wax casting, which started as early as the fourth millenium B.C. [Harper 1984, 46]. For this technique, the desired image is molded using wax which is later surrounded by clay; it is later baked so that the clay hardens and the wax is melted and "lost," creating a "negative space that corresponded to the wax image". [Harper 1984, 46]. Molten metal was then poured into the shape of the wax mold, forming a reproduction of the original [Benzel 2010, 64]. This stand is one of the earliest examples of this complex technique, one that focused on a "central ceramic core."

As a result of using this method, the stand was created by fusing together four sections (the head, body, base and superstructure), a technique that required skill as a craftsman [Benzel 2010, 64]. The ibex itself is supported by a base with "distinctive upturned struts above each foot," and the legs of the ibex are attached by tangs, which required additional metal (at least in the case of the rear legs) [Aruz 2003, 82]. X-rays have shown that the body is hollow, while the rest of the structure is solid, though the head and the body were both made using the lost wax technique [Aruz 2003, 82]. Also, while both eyes hav elapis lazuli inlays (though it is not clear whether they are original), the right eye still contains an original shell inlay while the left has been replaced with wax [Muscarella 1988, 333]. 

Although this piece resides at The Metropolitan Musuem of Art since 1950, the dealer that introduced the artifact claims he acquired the piece in 1947 [Muscarella 1988,333]. However, because the stand was not acquired through a controlled excavation, it is difficult to provide exact information about where it was recovered; though the dealer claims "it derives from Tel Sifr in southern Mesopotamia, the closest parallel to this stand was found in the Diyala region, located in the central Mesopotamia [Muscarella 1988, 333]. 

Local Historical Context Edit

During this time, some of the major developments included inscribed clay tablets with literary text and poetic hyms, though most early writings were largely administrative. The Temple Oval at Khafajah where the vessel stand with ibex support was found was considered to be a center for socializing and a place where Sumerians would come together to worship [Delougaz 1940]. 

The Mesopotamian temples were located near the first ever developed cities. Although there is a lack of evidence as to what this specific stand was used for, the evidence available points to its use in temple rituals; these rituals of the Near East during the Dynastic Period involved offerings (including food, drink and possibly incense) to the gods. Its retrival from the Temple Oval suggests that this stand was was part of “ritual furniture” in Sumerian temples, usually placed before a statue of the deity in the temple’s sanctuary [Benzel 2010, 62]. Rising from the back of the ibex stand are four rings (three large ones surrounding a smaller one), which were thought to have held cylindrical vessels used during these rituals [Aruz 2003, 82]. The temple was also "believed to be the central structure of every city throughout Mesopotamia serving as a seat of kingship, of administration, and organizing the distribution of food among people" [Mark, 2009]. 


The Temple Oval at Khafajah. Early Dynastic Period. Image from Department of Classics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

This included the city of Eridus which is considered to be the first city of the world by Sumerians, one that they believed was created by the gods after they defeated the "forces of chaos" [Mark, 2009].  Founded by King Enmerkar , the city of Uruk was an important city in ancient Mesopotamia, even considered to be the most important city at one point [Mark 2011]. Sumerian goddess Inanna , the goddess of love, procreation, and of war was another important figure during this time [Mark 2010]. It is believed that goddess Inanna "stole the meh (the decrees of civilitation), which was thought to come from the temple where Enki lived (considered as one of the three most powerful gods in the Mesopotamian pantheon). This took place after a drunked party where Inanna brought them to Uruk after stealing the meh [Mark 2010]. The importance of the stolen meh by goddess Inanna is that it "symbolizes the transference of power from the one city to the other and, specifically, from one temple, one sacred spot, to another" [Mark 2010].

During the Early Dynastic Period (2900-2300 B.C.), however, there was a shift from priest kings (or ensi ) to a more modern king known as a "Lugal." The rise of secular kings did not completely erase the seat of religious authority, as both secular and religious officials used the temple for their administrative purposes. Information taken from tablets have shown that Sumerians held a variety of jobs and positions, including working as "smiths, carpenters, weavers, millers...and officials such as scribes and and foremen" [Orlin 2007, 24].

World-Historical Significance EditEdit

The development of such techniques to create this stand suggest that the Early Dynastic craftsmen learned unique skills in order to create structures and pieces with cast metal .  The thinness of the stand’s structural elements and freestanding features suggests that craftsmen during the Early Dynastic period were able to create functional objects that were overall graceful in proportion as well as design [Aruz 2003]. Along with two other vessels that were recovered from the Temple Oval, anthropomorphic stands similar to this one have been retrieved from the Shara Temple in Tell Agrab , and imagery similar to this stand engraved on a cylinder seal in the Vorderasiatisches Museum in Berlin [Aruz 2003]. Another close parallel resides at the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore ; although this piece does not have a stand underneath and the animal is not stylistically similar to the ibex, the piece has pronged support for vessels, indicating it is also a vessel stand [Muscarella 1988, 334].

The vessel stand is also considered to be zoomorphic due to the incorporated ibex as support. The use of a zoomorphic structure is significant, given the range and cultures that zoomorphic art has been discovered, which includes not only Mesopotamia, but also the Eastern Mediterranean . Zoomorphic findings range from a variety of locations and include artifacts like the "Neolithic Levantine bulls from ’Ain Ghazal in modern-day Jordan; very similar clay bulls from Crete’s Atsipades’ peak sanctuary in inland Agios Vasilios; and various zoomorphs ranging geographically from Chalandriani on Syros in the Cyclades, to Deve Huyuk and Bouqras in modern-day Syria" [Campbell 2004, 70]. 

Bibliography EditEdit

Aruz, Joan. Art of the First Cities. Yale University Press: New Haven and London, 2003. Edit

Benzel, Kim. Art of the Ancient Near East: A Resource for Educators. Yale: Yale University Press. 2011.

Campbell, Leanne Michelle. Anthropomorphic and Zoomorphic Figurines of the Eastern Mediterranean. Australasian Society for Classical Studies, 2004.

Delougaz, Pinhas. The Temple Oval at Khafajah. University of Chicago: Oriental Institute Publications, 1940

Harper, Prudence Oliver. "Ancient near Eastern Art." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 41, no. 4. 1984.

Muscarella, Oscar White. Bronze and iron : ancient Near Eastern artifacts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Museum.1988.

Ancient History Encyclopedia. Early Dynastic Period (Mesopotamia).

Ancient History Encyclopedia. Sumer.

Ancient History Encyclopedia. Temple.

Department of Classics From The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Mark, Joshua. Inanna. Ancient History Encyclopedia, 2010.

Mark, Joshua. Temple. Ancient History Encyclopedia, 2009.

Mark, Joshua. Uruk. Ancient History Encyclopedia, 2011.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art.