Length: 19.300 cm
Width: 16.900 cm
ME 1973,7-25.1 
Room 34: The Islamic world
Moulded stucco plaque
Umayyad, 7th-8th century
From Chal Tarkhan, northern Iran
This plaque originally formed part of the decoration of an early Islamic building dating to the period of the Umayyad dynasty (AD 661-750). It is made of stucco, a fine plaster, and represents a legendary dog-headed bird known as a senmurw. This creature first appears in the Late Sasanian period of the 6th century AD in embroidered roundels on textiles. In one tradition it sits on top of the 'Tree of Life' and, by beating its wings, causes the seeds to scatter across the earth. The senmurw is found in modern Iran as the simurgh: it is supposed to be so old that it has already seen the destruction of the world three times.
About AD 224 the Parthians were defeated by Ardashir, a descendant of Sasan who gave his name to the new Sasanian dynasty. They were to rule Iran for over 400 years and saw themselves as the successors to the Achaemenid Persians. By the fourth century the Sasanian empire stretched from the Euphrates to the Indus and included Armenia and Georgia.
Between AD 637 and AD 651 the Arab armies, united under Islam, gradually over-ran the Sasanian empire stretching from Iraq through Iran into Central Asia. However, despite the change in political rule and dominant religion, many earlier traditions continued unchanged for at least a century. These included Sasanian concepts of architecture and decoration, such as the use of mass-produced moulded stucco plaques to decorate the walls of the main reception room in small palaces, such as the one where this plaque was found. In addition, the motif of the senmurw became a particularly popular subject in this period and was widely used on textiles, metalwork and other media such as this.
J. Curtis, Ancient Persia-1 (London, The British Museum Press, 2000)
V. Curtis, Persian myths (London, The British Museum Press, 1993)
D. Collon, Ancient Near Eastern art (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)