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Ancient Tell Brak Uruk Terracotta Eye Idol

Ancient Near East, modern day Syria, Tell Brak, Late Uruk Period, ca. 3300 to 3000 BCE. An enigmatic, hand-built pottery idol of one of the most famous classes of artifact from early Mesopotamia. The idol has a wide, bell-shaped body surmounted by a pair of wide-spread loops 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 large discs for eyes and no other discernible facial features. He named the place where he found them the "Temple of the Eyes." Size: 3.3" W x 2.5" H (8.4 cm x 6.4 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 - characterized as a Type 2, for its bell-shaped body and a neck supporting two perforated circles - 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? See a very similar example with its original shiny red paint still visible at the Louvre (https://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/eye-idol).

Condition: Surface wear and abrasions commensurate with age, and small nicks to base, neck, and eyes. Nice earthen deposits throughout. Old inventory label on verso.

Provenance: private East Coast, USA collection

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