Height: 12.700 cm
Width: 7.930 cm
Room 56: Mesopotamia
Late Prehistoric period, about 3400-3200 BC
A cult vessel from a temple
This limestone cup dates to the late fourth millennium BC when large cities were developing in southern Mesopotamia. The largest known settlement was Uruk (modern Warka). The remains of monumental temple buildings have been discovered in the centre of the city, and archaeologists have found objects with designs very similar to those depicted on this cup. Exotic sculptures may have had a ritual use within the temples or been left as votive objects as an act of piety.
The cup is carved on either side with a figure shown frontally, naked except for a belt, and with his hair parted in the centre. One of the figures has his hair in curls and holds two bulls around the neck; on the back of the bulls perch large birds. 'Hero figures' were popular in later Mesopotamian art, where they are often depicted wrestling with wild animals (for example in a scene on an aragonite cylinder seal in The British Museum). The meaning of this image is unclear. The man may be protecting the animals, or he may represent the struggle between chaotic savagery and divine order.
Animals are commonly represented on sculpture of the time, and also on cylinder seals which developed as part of the administration of the city (for example, a seal from Uruk, also in The British Museum).
D. Collon, Ancient Near Eastern art (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)