Monstrous male figure

Period: Bronze Age

Date: ca. late 3rd–early 2nd millennium B.C.

Geography: Bactria-Margiana or eastern Iran

Culture: Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex

Medium: Chlorite, calcite, gold, iron

Dimensions: H. 4 in. (10.1 cm)

Classification: Stone-Sculpture

Credit Line: Purchase, 2009 Benefit Fund and Friends of Inanna Gifts; Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Horiuchi, 2010

Accession Number: 2010.166


In the world of the ancient Near East, images and beings that combined human and animal qualities were thought to possess supernatural powers. This small yet potent figure, with its human face and serpentine-scaled body, probably represents such a creature, enlivened and charged with magical efficacy whether propitious or demonic. The monstrous figure’s most enigmatic and distinctive features are the prominent scar across its face and the two holes pierced into its upper and lower lips. The scar may indicate that the figure was defaced, and the holes suggest that the lips may have been sealed, literally. Taken together, the scar and the sealed lips imply that the figure portrays a decommissioned being whose power is no longer operational. Having served its purpose, it may have been ritually muted and “killed.” The unusual form of composite construction used to create the figure, achieved by using tangs to join together several sections of differing materials and colors, further enhance its powerful effect. As is true of so many great works of art from the ancient Near East, the forcefulness of the rendering and the unsettling imagery work to make the figure appear much larger than its actual size.