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A Mesopotamian Lapis Lazuli Amulet of Humbaba, ca. 1st millennium BC

MA1604

This small and exquisitely carved face bead represents the monstrous giant of immemorial age, Humbaba, a guardian creature found in the Epic of Gilgamesh, that is generally considered to be the earliest surviving great work of literature.  According to Mesopotamian religion, Humbaba, assigned by the god Enlil to guard the Cedar Forest where the gods lived, was a terrifying creature, “whose shout is the flood-weapon, whose utterance is Fire, and whose breath is Death”.  It was the hero Gilgamesh, with his friend Enkidu, who defeats Humbaba, severing the head of the great beast and placing it in a leather bag, which was brought by Gilgamesh to the temple of Enlil.

Humbaba’s head was a popular motif in ancient Mesopotamia with many depictions in all mediums unearthed during archaeological excavations.  This finely carved example in lapis lazuli features large eyes with heavy brows, an open toothy mouth, and a wrinkled face.  Pierced for suspension, it was no doubt worn as a protective talisman providing a portable and relatively inexpensive source of protection.

Dimensions:  Length:  9/16" (1.43 cm)

Condition:  Light surface encrustation. Intact, and in excellent condition overall.  A very rare and lovely example.

Provenance: Private New York, NY collection, acquired from the NY trade in the 1980's.


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