A Western Asiatic Zoomorphic Whetstone Handle, Iron Age II, ca. 8th - 7th Century BCE


Designed to hold a honing stone, this superb device comprises a hollow socket and handle cast in the form of a vivacious ibex-shaped protome.  The socket forms the main body of the animal, with small, spindly forelegs characteristically disproportionate to the overall size.  Serving as the main handle, the long slender neck extends up from the body, terminating in a realistically-rendered face, with raised circular eyes, pointed ears, and a beard hanging from the chin.  Two elaborately modeled horns dramatically curve back from the head down to the neck, each with twelve raised near-spherical dots.   Depicted in the same masterful style, a second smaller ibex located on the body of the first near the flared terminus with a raised band pierced on either side to hang a chain or clamp.

Background:  The earliest zoomorphic protome whetstone handles date to the 11th century BC.  Varying widely in form and style, and ranging from naturalistic depictions to highly stylized renderings of many different animals, with most examples attributed to Luristan, the masters of bronze in the ancient Near East.  It is theorized the animals depicted on Luristan weaponry were believed to possess apotropaic properties, bestowing their power on the objects they were sharpening.  Furthermore, the rare double ibex iconography depicted here is particularly significant for, the appearance of the Capricorn constellation (a correlation for the ibex figure) marked the beginning of Autumn, the season harvest and the time of the most important New Year festival. 

For related example:  Muscarella, O.W. "Bronze and Iron. Ancient Near Eastern Artifacts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art" (New York, 1988), p. 182-183, #301.

Dimensions: Height: 12 cm (4.7 inches) , Length: 17 cm (6.7 inches)

Condition: Intact and in excellent condition. Custom mounted.

Provenance:  Private NY collection, acquired from the trade and thereafter private Virginia collection.

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