A special thanks to Dr. Sophie Cluzan (Curator of Near Eastern Archaeology at the Louvre), and Tessa de Alarcon, our project conservator, for the X-ray of 35-1-98C.
The idea for this month’s blog post came while I was looking at the Facebook page for Archaeology in Syria, where Dr. Sophie Cluzan had posted a silver pendant from Ugarit (Ras Shamra). Tessa, our conservator, and I had just finished discussing an X-ray of a very similar pendant, and I became interested in the possible link between the two. In researching these pendants, I found similar objects from Troy, Ugarit, Mari, and Ur, all dating from the 3rd to the 1st millennium BCE.
George Bass published four pendants, from a supposedly Trojan hoard. They are created from two gold wires, twisted together to form the center vertical bar, and the ends are spiraled. These spiraled ends are then pushed outward to form cones. The outside of these pendants created by four wires incised all around with a chevron pattern. The backing of the pendants is open. Each pendant originally had three cylinders of soldered wires on top which acted as spaces for the necklace strings from which they hung. Many gold and silver examples of this type of pendant exist at Ur. “There can be little doubt that all of these pendants came from the same source, for the basic design with its embellishments is rather complex and not likely to have been invented independently at Troy and Ur. Because of their frequency at Ur, it seems that Mesopotamia was their source.” (Bass 1966:37).
Ugarit, or Ras Shamra, is an archaeological site that was the capital of the Kingdom of Ugarit, located on the Mediterranean Sea in present day Syria. The occupation dates from the Neolithic to present day. Ugarit began to work metal in the 3rd millennium BCE, and received raw material from around the Middle East. This pendant is made from silver, with a solid backing, and a solid cross delineating four spiraled cones. Around the base of these cones are punctured holes, and there are raised solid domes around the outside. One loop was created for hanging , probably on a chain, for a necklace.
Mari is a prominent site located along the Euphrates in present-day Syria, near the border with Iraq. It flourished as a trade center and hegemonic state between 2900 and 1759 BCE. Its construction relates to its position in the middle of the Euphrates trade routes, between Sumer in the south, Anatolia in the north, and the Levant to the west. At Mari, a few objects are present with either spiral or conical designs, but not both. These objects are usually constructed of silver or gold. The beads are created by taking a hollow tube, and wrapping two pieces of wire around the hollow portion. The ends of the wire are then curled towards each other. The conical designs are created by taking a flat sheet of metal and tapping it with a pin of some type to create a domed shape on the other side. “The comparisons that have been made with the silver pendants with cones from Ur are unsatisfactory because on one hand they are elements of a necklace, and on the other these cones are twisted spirals of wire, but the spirit of the decor is close.” (Translated from Nicolini 2010:328)
At Ur, we have multiple examples of spiral pendants. Tessa, our conservator, discovered 35-1-98C had spiral cones under its corrosion by X-raying the object. She was then able to clean it, and look at the 12 spiral cones, and the twisted wire cross between them. She was also able to delineate the three and a half loops that attached the pendant to the necklace. This object has not been linked to a U number, and hence, we do not have a context for it. Another variation is 1928,1010.110 which is located in the British Museum, and is U.9656C. This strand was found in PG/580 and is very similar to the spiral beads from Mari. A third variation is very similar to the Trojan example above. B16794 is U.9351A and is from PG/580. This pendant is created of gold wires, with four spirals with a central wire connecting the four. The outside of the pendant is a ring that is notched and holds lapis beads. The backing of the pendant is open. The last variation is B16370 or U.6800. This object was found in the King’s Palace South, in Unit A6. This is pendant is made of silver with four spiral cones and a spiraled central wire connecting them. There were four lapis beads on top of the cones, and lapis filling in the hollow backing.
These spiraled objects are not only found at these four sites, but rather throughout the larger area of Anatolia, Iran, Central Asia, and the Indus Valley suggesting that the transmission of artistic motifs occurred along trade routes that linked the regions. The early form of this bead or pendant was made by hammering, pulling, and twisting two to four wires from a one-piece tube or by overlapping two half tubes with spiral ends. This created flat beads or pendants. Later, these spirals were pushed upward to form cones, following the technique used to create cones on flat metal disks. This created the 3D pendants or ornaments. These ornaments are usually made of gold or silver, but may also be constructed of copper alloys.
The spiral is found throughout the Aegean beginning in the 4th millennium BCE and stretching into the 1st millennium BCE, and has been interpreted as flowing waters, possibly resembling waves. This design is depicted on cylinder-seals from Syria, and was created in a larger form on copper in Anatolia (Aruz 2003:244). These pendants could represent water, or they could just be a design created at the ends of wires. In Roman and Greek wall paintings, spirals are interpreted as being a symbolic representation of a snake. Twisted snakes are a common motif in Mesopotamia, and possibly have a protective meaning (Black and Green 1992:137). Because these designs are found from the Mediterranean to the Indus Valley, spanning multiple millennia, it is impossible to trace the source of these objects. We may never know what exactly these objects were depicting, or if they were depicting anything at all, but it is a very interesting concept to explore across the Middle East.
Aruz, Joan (2003) The Art of the First Millennium BC From the Mediterranean to the Indus. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: NYC p.239-250
Bass, George (1966) “Troy and Ur. Gold Links Between Two Ancient Capitals.” Expedition. (Vol. 8, no. 4):26-39.
Black, Jeremy and Anthony Green (1992) Gods, Demons, and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia: An Illustrated Dictionary. University of Texas Press: Austin.
Chanut, Claude (2000) Bois, Pierres et Metaux A Ugarit-Ras Shamra (Syrie) A l’Age du Bronze Recent: D’apres les donnees des sciences naturelles, de l’archaeologie et des textes. These presentee pour l’obtention du Doctorate n Philologie et Histoire des Religions de l’Orient Ancien. Institut Catholique de Paris, Paris.
Nicolini, Gerard (2010) Les Ors de Mari. Mission archaeologique Francaise a Tell Hariri/Mari. Presses de l’IFPO. Beyrouth