Stone cult vessel
From Mesopotamia, about 3400-3200 BC
This stone vessel dates to the late fourth millennium BC, when large cities were developing in southern Mesopotamia. The largest known settlement was Uruk (modern Warka). In the centre of Uruk were monumental temple buildings where archaeologists have found beautiful objects with designs very similar to those depicted on this vase. Exotic sculptures may have had a ritual use within the temples or, considering the small scale of this example, left as votive objects as an act of piety.
Lines of animals are commonly found in sculpture and also on cylinder seals which developed at the same period as part of administration. Wild animals, and particularly lions, are often depicted attacking domesticated animals. This is a standard theme in Mesopotamian art, a symbolic representation of the struggle between chaotic savagery and divine order.
Like sheep, which appear on similar objects (for example a stone vase, also in The British Museum), cattle were clearly an important part of the economy. It was during the fourth millennium BC that the first evidence for milk products appears. The earliest actual representation of the milking of cows dates to the third millennium BC.