- Museum number
Copper alloy fork; two pronged and decorated; twisted ergonomic handle grip with oval section, ending in a miniature head of a horned animal and, at the other, a pair of tines with ovoid-circular sections, the intermediate zone between the handle and the
- Production date
Length: 5.50 centimetres (of tines)
Length: 20.20 centimetres
Width: 2.40 centimetres
- Curator's comments
Treasures travelling exhibition catalogue entry
Sasanian bronze fork
Length 20.2, width 2.40 cm
From Kuyunjik, Nineveh in northern Iraq
Iran is justly famous for one of the richest cuisines in the world. This is not a modern development but is the product of its long history and excellent food ingredients. Elaborate etiquette and complicated dishes are described in pre-Islamic Iranian sources, such as the Pahlavi story of the Sasanian king “Khusrau and his Page”, and the names of other dishes survive in later medieval recipe books. Ewers, bowls and drinking cups survive in precious metal and cut glass from the Sasanian period but cutlery sets are unknown prior to the late 19th century. The discovery of this fork during 19th century excavations in the area of Sennacherib’s palace in the south-west corner of the mound of Kuyunjik prompted much interest as it was initially believed to belong to the period of the Assyrian empire whose capital was at Nineveh between about 700 and 612 BC. However, it actually belongs to a much later period, namely from when Nineveh became part of the Sasanian empire in 364 AD. Several similar forks made of bronze or silver are now known from southern Iraq, Iran and Central Asia, and it appears that there must have been a brief fashion for such items across the Sasanian empire. The twisted handle grip gives an early idea that ergonomic handles are nothing new but whether it was designed for use for a specific type of dish is unknown.
This object was described by the excavator, George Smith, as "a curious bronze fork with two prongs" in his paper presented to and later published by the Society for Biblical Archaeology (1874).
Comparanda: '7000 years of Iranian Art', no.144
cf. Corinth XII ("The Minor Objects") pl.84, nos 1377, 1382.
cf. catalogue of Sotheby's sale 9th-10th July 1984, no 121 (+ illus.). Following parallels are noted:
1) Qasr-i Abu Nasr, near Shiraz ('BMMA' Dec 1934, vol.29, fig.32; Donald S. Whitcomb, 'Before the Roses and Nightingales: Excavations at Qasr-i Abu Nasr', Old Shiraz, fig.65j; one example displayed in National Museum in Tehran (inv no 2740).
2) Silver example in Dumbarton Oaks Museum.
3) Susa, displayed in National Museum in Tehran (inv no 2741).
4) ex-Foroughi collection, displayed in National Museum in Tehran (inv no 19673).
5) ex-Surena collection, two examples of silver (Christie's, 'Antiquities', sale London Thursday 6 October 2011, lot 33, p.19).
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2009-2010 11 Dec-10 May, Madrid, Canal de Isabel II, Treasures of the World’s Cultures
2009 1 May-20 Sep, Victoria, Royal BC Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
1995-2005 17 Nov-12 Dec, BM, G52/IRAN/20/8, from official opening
1994 16 Jun-23 Dec BM, G49/IRAN, case 20/19
- Acquisition date
- Middle East
- BM/Big number
- Registration number