Ceramic vessel in the form of a figure

Amlash, early 1st millennium BC
From the Marlik region, north-western Iran

This figure comes from the so-called Amlash culture of Gilan province in north-western Iran. This was one of the most distinctive Iranian cultures of the late second and early first millennia BC. Similar vessels were excavated at Marlik Tepe, one of the richest cemeteries of the region and where fifty-three intact tombs were excavated in 1961-62.

The most spectacular group of vessels from Marlik consists of a series of anthropomorphic shapes. These took the form of squatting, bear-like figures or standing nude females and males. Some of these closely resemble smaller cast-bronze statuettes also found at this site. In addition more naturallistically modelled zoomorphic vessels in the form of hump-backed bulls, stags, rams, horses or donkeys and even a leopard were excavated.

The ceramic figures are heavily stylized with exaggerated physical features, such as prominent buttocks and swollen legs, perhaps designed so they could stand upright. Their pinched ears were pierced for metal earrings. It was hollow and is therefore presumed to have been used as a form of container.

Radiographic analysis of this vessel in the British Museum's Department of Conservation, Documentation and Science, using a technique similar to X-ray, suggests it was made by careful coiling of the clay, first making a pair of cups then continuing upwards to make the body and head. The figure has been authenticated using thermoluminescence.

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Ceramic vessel in the form of a figure

  • Checking background radiation, using a gamma spectrometer

    Checking background radiation, using a gamma spectrometer


More information


J. Curtis, Ancient Persia-1 (London, The British Museum Press, 2000)

M.J. Aitken, Science-based dating in archae (London, Longman, 1990)

St J. Simpson, 'Early Iron Age rural ceramic traditions in Iran' in Pottery in the making: world-4 (London, The British Museum Press, 1997), pp. 152-57

J. Jespersen and J. Fitz-Randolph, Mummies, dinosaurs, moon rocks (New York, Athenium Books, 1996)


Height: 25.500 cm
Width: 15.200 cm

Museum number

ME 136794



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