Sumerian Two-Headed Alabaster Pommel

£ 10,000.00

An extremely fine and rare Sumerian alabaster cross guard or dagger pommel, modelled in alabaster and dated to the Early Dynastic Period, circa 2500-2334 BC. The piece has been carved in the shape of two protome heads, facing opposite directions, depicting a male and female figure. Each head displays idealised naturalistic features and sophisticated detailing of the nose, eyes, mouth and ears. The male’s head features delicate glass or shell inlays to the eyes, with painted blue pupils and two drilled holes to the top of the head, while the female head features a series of holes starting from the hair line and further back over the surface, some with the traces of glass inlays and bitumen. Such holes were indented for extra attachments such as a plaster or bitumen wig or headdress. Facial features of the male and female figure are rendered in an idealised manner, following the aesthetics of Sumerian Early Dynastic stone sculptures. The presence of holes for glass, gold and semi precious stones inlays suggest that the piece must have been belonged to a member of the aristocracy. The piece have been pierced vertically, hence the classification as a dagger pommel or cross-guard.

Date: Circa 2500-2334 BC
Period: Sumerian Early Dynastic Period
Provenance: Ex Robin Symes gallery, pre 1999.
Condition: Extremely fine, with traces of the original glass and semi precious stone inlays. Signs of wear to the surface.
Product Code: NES-13
Category: Tags: ,

During the Sumerian Early Dynastic period (circa 2500-2334 BC), aristocracy and elite classes arose and as a way to establish and display their wealth, they created a wide range of precious objects, used for everyday life but also with ceremonial purposes. Sumerian artistic production of the period features the use of precious and exotic materials, such as alabaster and marble and included royal and religious iconographies. The purpose behind such beautiful pieces is still under discussion. Similar rendering of alabaster can be seen in mace heads dated to the same period, featuring delicate zoomorphic and anthropomorphic deigns and decorative motifs, with much attention given to idealised naturalism. Such mace heads can be referred to the cult of the Ancient Sumerian god Ningirsu, god of farming, hunting and justice, and to the cult of the king Eannatum, who ruled Lagash between circa 2500 BC and 2400 BC. The male head featured on our pommel displays iconographic similarities with known portraits king Eannatum, linking the iconography on the item to the cult of the first ruler of Lagash. Similar pommels or cross guards also appear depicted in stone stelai of the period, thus confirming the dating of the piece to the Early Dynastic Period. Most likely, the two figures modelled on the pommel might be referring to idealised images of Sumerian deities or rulers. In conclusion, this piece would have probably been mounted on as small sword or dagger as a pommel or cross guard, intended to hold ceremonial and votive meanings. Considering the extremely high quality not only of the materials used, such alabaster and semi precious stone inlays, but also of the exquisite rendering, the piece must have belonged to a member of the Sumerian aristocracy.

To discover more about the ancient Sumerians, please visit our relevant blog post: Ancient Sumer and its Art.


Dimensions W 4.4 x H 2.6 cm



Near East (Western Asiatic)

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