A Collection of Sino-Scythian Knives

Originally Published in 1931

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THROUGH the courtesy of Langdon Warner, Esq., a collection of fifty-four bronze knives have been placed on view which supplement in an interesting manner the Museum’s growing collections of Sino-Scythian art and serve to illustrate the Far Eastern expression of the so-called animal style, the Western expression of which is well exemplified by the Maikop Treasure from South Russia, described in an earlier issue of the Bulletin. The under-lying resemblance between the objects from these far distant areas is a characteristic use and stylization of animal forms to provide decorative principles, a characteristic shared not only by the artisans in these places but at various times by all the many primitive people stretching from Russia across all of Siberia.

Nine knives laid out together, the handles in different animal forms and decorations
Plate XII — Sino-Scythian Knives

The knives in the present collection at first present a large diversity of form, but close examination indicates that they fall into two or three main groups. A selection of these is illustrated on Plate XII. The simplest are knives in which no animal motive is to be found nor even the rudiments of a highly conventionalized animal motive. These are of interest for they reflect a prototype in which handle and blade were separate, the former perhaps of wood lashed about with rawhide thongs or with strings, vestiges of the use of which are still indicated in the lines incised or cast on the handles.

Among those in which animal motives are introduced, the horse is the most common beast to be used. Sometimes the head alone is conventionalized at the end of the handle, other times small friezes or borders of horses in profile are found along either side of the handle. Among the most interesting in the collection are two knives with the handles ending in heads of some mythical animal, a dragon or snake perhaps, in which the flat tongue is suspended at the back of open jaws so that it rattles to and fro when shaken.

It is not possible here to describe this collection at length and it must suffice to direct attention to it and indicate that a study of the individual pieces will be productive of information and artistic satisfaction.

Cite This Article

"A Collection of Sino-Scythian Knives." Museum Bulletin II, no. 3 (January, 1931): 95-98. Accessed July 15, 2024. https://www.penn.museum/sites/bulletin/626/


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