Knife with Ram's Head

Period: Shang dynasty (ca. 1600–1046 B.C.)

Date: 12th–11th century B.C.

Culture: China

Medium: Bronze inlaid with turquoise

Dimensions: L. 10 5/8 in. (27 cm)

Classification: Metalwork

Credit Line: Gift of Mrs. John Marriott, Mrs. John Barry Ryan, Gilbert W. Kahn, and Roger Wolfe Kahn (children of Addie W. Kahn), 1949

Accession Number: 49.136.9


A combination of animal pommels, geometric design, and inlay characterizes knives found in non-Chinese contexts in Inner Mongolia and in such northern provinces as Shaanxi, Shanxi, and Hebei. Somewhat similar knives are also known from southern Siberia; however, a greater variety of forms and a higher degree of workmanship distinguish the Inner Mongolian and Chinese examples.

The handle and blade of this knife are cast as a single piece, topped by a ram's head with powerful curving horns. Turquoise inlay accentuates the ram's eyes. A series of thick parallel lines along the hilt is the only other decoration on the knife. Knives with elaborate handles, such as this piece, are thought to signify rank or tribal affiliation and were most likely prized possessions.