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Ancient Tell Brak Banded Alabaster Eye Idol

Ancient Near East, Tell Brak, modern Syria, Late Uruk Period, ca. 3300 to 3000 BCE. A beautiful and abstract eye idol, hand-carved from a creamy banded alabaster using drills and string cutting. One of the most famous artifact types from early Mesopotamia, it has a bell-shaped body surmounted by two conjoined, perforated circles which form the "eyes." Eye idols were named in the 1930s by the British archaeologist Max Mallowan when he was excavating at the mound called Tell Brak and found hundreds of small anthropomorphic items of similar form to this one - some kind of simplified body topped by huge discs for eyes and no other discernible facial features. He named the place where he found them "The Temple of the Eyes." Size: 2.9" W x 3.375" H (7.4 cm x 8.6 cm).

More recently, items like this one have been found beyond the Temple of the Eyes, leading French archaeologist Catherine Breniquet to speculate that examples like this one could have also been used for separating wool while spinning. The object would have been placed in front of a seated person who used the holes to separate two or three strands and then twist them together. Artwork on cylinder seals from Uruk seems to support this hypothesis. Other scholars have suggested they might have been lids for narrow jars or parts of a firedog. What do you think this mysterious object might have been?

A similar example hammered for GBP 8,125 ($10.796.48) at Christie's, London, South Kensington Antiquities Auction (sale 5488, October 7, 2010, lot 66): https://www.christies.com/lotfinder/ancient-art-antiquities/a-syrian-white-stone-spectacle-idol-tell-5358330-details.aspx?from=searchresults&intObjectID=5358330&sid=62a5efd7-9321-4589-a56d-0f74f76056ea

Condition: Body repaired from a few large pieces with small chips around eyes and along break lines. Small areas of restoration underneath one eye and around body. Surface wear and light abrasions commensurate with age, light yellowing to white marble color, and small nicks to eyes, body, and base. Light earthen deposits within recessed areas.

Provenance: private East Coast, USA collection

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