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Tag: Gurney

Carolyn Nakamura on the Figurines

Mastering Matters: Magical Sense and Apoptropaic Figurine Worlds of Neo-Assyria

Introduction: Magical Figures from the Past

“When contemplating certain deposits unearthed during the excavations at Nimrud in the 1950s, Max Mallowan remarked, “this magical practice had an immensely long survival, as witness the nursery rhyme:

Four corners to my bed,
Four angels round my head,
One to watch and one to pray,
And two to bear my soul away.” (1966:226)

Mallowan’s commentary, rather typical of his time, concerned the discovery of numerous brick boxes encasing figurines made of sun-dried clay, found buried underneath the corners, thresholds, and central spaces of room floors, possibly where a bed once stood.

Excavations during the late 1800s to mid 1900s located such deposits in residences, palaces, and temples at important political and religious capitals of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, including Nimrud, Assur, Nineveh, Khorsabad and at Ur in Babylonia under Assyrian rule; they first appeared during the reign of Shalmaneser III and generally persisted up through the reign of Sin-shar-ishkun (ca. 858–612 B.C.).

One can imagine an excavator’s delight in finding such deposits, and there was apparently considerable competition and excitement surrounding their discovery and unveiling (Oates and Oates 2001:253–254).

But, locating such boxes did not always promise the discovery of figurines. Numerous “empty” brick boxes contained nothing more than a thick layer of sandy material, possibly remnants of decomposed organic matter such as wood or food.

Deposits from Ur contained offerings of animal bones, remnants of grain and a pottery sherd along with the clay figures (Woolley 1926:692). And at Assur, some of the buried boxes entombed miniature bronze weapons (Rittig 1977).

But perhaps the most curious finds were the figurines of “warrior” men, mythological fish- and bird-apkallū sages, human-beast hybrids, horned snakes, and other fantastical beings (Figure 2.1).

Apotropaic figurine deposit found in room S57 of Fort Shalmaneser at Nimrud. Adapted from Curtis and Read (1995:112).

Apotropaic figurine deposit found in room S57 of Fort Shalmaneser at Nimrud. Adapted from Curtis and Read (1995:112).

Generally, such deposits comprised one, two, or seven figurines standing “at attention” in boxes facing in toward the center of the room.

These deposits, not simply buried but concealed and contained, amounted to the discovery within a discovery, the revelation of an ancient secret or desire that had remained hidden for thousands of years.

Other archaeological findings, however, had already anticipated these discoveries: ancient texts preserved instructions for an apotropaic ritual involving the burial of clay and wood figurines under room floors quite in the manner described above (Gurney 1935; Smith 1926; Wiggermann 1992).

The name of one text explicitly pronounced its purpose: šēp lemutti ina bīt amēli parāsu, “to block the entry of the enemy in someone’s house” (Wiggermann 1992:1); and the first twenty lines named the “enemy” to be almost any evil imaginable, from spirits, gods, and ancestors to disease, misfortune, Fate, and Death.

The text guided a priest-exorcist through a choreography of very specific and often protracted ceremonies involving various objects, gestures, substances, and locations, leading up to the final installation of the magically protective figures entombed underground.

Notably, another related text fragment, KAR 298, specifically detailed the making, function, character, number, and placement of the figurines (Smith 1926). The archaeological evidence proved to be remarkably consistent with these texts in terms of form and details of surface treatment, and to some extent, position and grouping of the figures.

So the Neo-Assyrians themselves revealed the secret of the figurine deposits: they were magically powerful deposits that protected the individual and his house from sickness and evil. The protective figures served to “watch,” “pray,” and “bear souls away,” as it were.”

Carolyn Nakamura, “Mastering matters: magical sense and apotropaic figurine worlds of Neo-Assyria,” Archaeologies of materiality (2005): 18-19.

Each King had his Apkallu

“The fish-figurines would seem to confirm the theory attractively put forward by Zimmern (KAT 535 ff. and subsequently ZA 35 151 ff.), that the apkallu’s, often occurring in groups of seven and sometimes identified with purādu-fish (Sumerian s u h u r . k u), represent Oannes and the other fish-like monsters who, according to Berosso’s account, taught mankind all crafts and civilization.

This depiction of a fish-apkallū (Apkallu, Abkallu) guarded the entrance to the temple of Ninurta at Nimrud. A fish's head can be seen on Apkallu's head, and its skin hangs down over the back of Apkallu's body.  Neo-Assyrian era, 865-860 BCE. From the Temple of Ninurta, Nimrud (ancient Kalhu; Biblical Calah), northern Mesopotamia, Iraq. (The British Museum, London). Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP (Glasg) http://www.ancient.eu/image/2708/

This depiction of a fish-apkallū (Apkallu, Abkallu) guarded the entrance to the temple of Ninurta at Nimrud. A fish’s head can be seen on Apkallu’s head, and its skin hangs down over the back of Apkallu’s body.
Neo-Assyrian era, 865-860 BCE. From the Temple of Ninurta, Nimrud (ancient Kalhu; Biblical Calah), northern Mesopotamia, Iraq. (The British Museum, London).
Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP (Glasg)
http://www.ancient.eu/image/2708/

Furthermore, the apkallu-figurines of the ritual KAR 298 discussed by Zimmern loc. cit. (see also Gurney, AAA 22 38 ff.) are each associated with a city in Mesopotamia and addressed as ūmu; Güterbock’s suggestion that the element p i r i g in the names of three apkallu’s in our text corresponds to this ūmu and refers to their character as mythological creatures (ZA 42 10 n. 3) would thus strengthen the argument in favor of the identification of the apkallu’s with the monsters described by Berossos.

What in the Greek account clearly reflects an etiological myth finds no correspondence in any of the texts dealing with apkallu’s in Mesopotamia. The exploits of the apkallu’s, as we shall see, are on a different mythological plane.

Nergal appears at the top, leering over a top register which contains the eight-pointed star of Ishtar and the inverted half-moon crescent of the Moon God Sin.  In the second register, seven demons appear to support the heavens.  The middle register depicts the burial rites for new arrivals in the underworld, presided over by two fish-apkallū.  The lower register depicts the goddess Allat, or Ereshkigal, sister of Ishtar, who reigns in the underworld. She kneels upon a horse, which appears to be oppressed by her burden, in a boat which floats upon the waters of life. Note the lion pups suckling at her breast.  Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a bronze plaque of which an engraving was published by Clermont-Ganneau.  The original, which belonged to M. Péretié, is now in the collection of M. de Clercq. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0039

Nergal appears at the top, leering over a top register which contains the eight-pointed star of Ishtar and the inverted half-moon crescent of the Moon God Sin.
In the second register, seven demons appear to support the heavens.
The middle register depicts the burial rites for new arrivals in the underworld, presided over by two fish-apkallū.
The lower register depicts the goddess Allat, or Ereshkigal, sister of Ishtar, who reigns in the underworld. She kneels upon a horse, which appears to be oppressed by her burden, in a boat which floats upon the waters of life. Note the lion pups suckling at her breast.
Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a bronze plaque of which an engraving was published by Clermont-Ganneau.
The original, which belonged to M. Péretié, is now in the collection of M. de Clercq.
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17323/17323-h/17323-h.htm#linkBimage-0039

The connection between them and wisdom and the crafts lies in the term ummânu, which is one of their epithets, and to which I shall presently return.

First, however, we shall have to dispel the misconception originating with Zimmern’s article in KAT, and repeated in the discussions connected with the apkallu’s by others, namely, the assumed identity of the “wise men” — or some of them — with the early kings.

Besides a certain juggling of names inevitable when dealing with Berossos, the allusion to the “man who ascended to heaven” in the text published by Gurney, JRAS 1935 459 ff., was taken to refer to Etana, the more easily so since the phrase used in the Sumerian version, l ú a n . š è  b a . a n . e x (DU+DU) echoes the very words of the Sumerian King List: E t a n a   s i p a  l ú  a n . š è  b a . e x . d è (see Jacobsen, AS 11 p. 80: 16 f. and n. 67).

Antediluvian apkallu portrayed as fish-men, such mixed-species creatures were the teachers of men.

Antediluvian apkallu portrayed as fish-men, such mixed-species creatures were the teachers of men. Small figurines of this type were buried beneath doorways and beneath walls for prophylactic purposes, warding off evil. In some cases, they were buried in a set of seven statuettes, indicative of the so-called “Seven Sages” of Sumeria.

The view of Güterbock, ZA 42 9f., that the tradition of the apkallu’s is separate from that of the historical kings, and his assumption that the phrase “who ascended to heaven” refers to Adapa — of whom the same words are used in one of the versions of the Adapa legend (PSBA 16 [1894] 275:14, latest translation by Speiser, ANET 101 ff.) — is vindicated against his critics by the structure of the present text.

Since each personage is described by a group of at least four lines, the third and fourth lines, “[ . . . ] who ascended to heaven”, must be part of the description of the same person mentioned in the first and second lines as the purification priest of Eridu (išippu Eridu).

Because this is a well-known title of Adapa, the section must refer to him rather than to Etana. Indeed, none of the apkallu’s mentioned is himself a king, but is only associated with a famed king of old: the text states clearly that Nunpiriggaldim was the apkallu of Enmerkar, that Lu-Nanna was apkallu under Šulgi, allowing us only to conjecture that each was a noted person during a particular reign, excelling in superior wisdom — a topos later taken up by the Assyrian kings when they boast of being endowed with a wisdom equal to that of the apkallu’s.”

Erica Reiner, “The Etiological Myth of the “Seven Sages,” Orientalia, v. 30, No. 1, 1961, pp. 6-7.

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