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Tag: Woolley

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.

Green Identifies the Lahmu and the Ugallu

“Returning to the apotropaic ritual, after the fish-apkallē the text prescribes various kinds of wooden figures which cannot be identified among actual figurines, although some types may, as Dr. Reade suggested, be represented in Assyrian sculpture.

BM 118918, courtesy of the British Museum, plate XId. Green determines in this article that the leonine-headed entity in the center is the ugallu, or "Great lion."

BM 118918, courtesy of the British Museum, plate XId. Green determines in this article that the leonine-headed entity in the center is the ugallu, or “Great lion.”

These wooden figures end, however, with those of the ugallu, “Great-lion,” of which clay examples do exist. The human-leonine figure of Plate XId, centre, is commonly portrayed in glyptic art from the Akkadian period onwards and in seventh-century Assyrian sculpture.

He has been identified by Karl Frank and, with reservations, Ursula Calmeyer, as an utukku-demon (K. Frank, MAOG 14 (1941), idem, Babylonische Beschwörungsreliefs (Leipzig, 1908) … Notice already a figurine of the type used to illustrate the edition of Utukkū Lemnūtu of R.C. Thompson, The Devils and Evil Spirits of Babylonia and Assyria II (London, 1904)), but this view has been challenged by Dessa Rittig (Rittig, 108).

She is unable, however, to offer an alternative identification. Woolley once appears to interpret the creature as the ugallu, but elsewhere in the same paper as the urmahlīlu, “Lion-man,” apparently incorrectly identifying the two. Dr. Reade has suggested alternative identifications as the ugallu or the lahmu.

An ugallu, or "Great lion," ND 8190, courtesy of the Musées Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire, Brussels, Plate XIa.

An ugallu, or “Great lion,” ND 8190, courtesy of the Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, Brussels, Plate XIa.

But the latter creature, as we shall see, appears to have a different identity, and the identification of this human-leonine figure as the ugallu is apparently confirmed by the Nimrud fictile examples (Plate XIa). The inscription (Plate XIb) corresponds well with that prescribed for figures of the ugallu in the ritual.

Inscription on the right side of ND 8181 (IM 61854), British School of Archeology in Iraq, photograph by David A. Loggie. Plate XIb. Green states that the "inscription corresponds well with that prescribed for figures of the ugallu in the ritual."

Inscription on the right side of ND 8181 (IM 61854), British School of Archeology in Iraq, photograph by David A. Loggie. Plate XIb. Green states that the “inscription corresponds well with that prescribed for figures of the ugallu in the ritual.”

The type must probably be distinguished from the whip-carrying human figure wearing a lion’s pelt, of which a single example occurs in the Nimrud series (Plate XIIa).

ND 9342, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1957. Plate XIIa. Green states that this is a "whip-carrying human figure wearing a lion's pelt," from the Nimrud series.

ND 9342, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1957. Plate XIIa. Green states that this is a “whip-carrying human figure wearing a lion’s pelt,” from the Nimrud series.

The type, as R.S. Ellis has shown, is also distinguished on the palace reliefs (Plate XIIc).

BM 136773, British Museum, a clear representation of the ugallu or "Great lion." Plate XIIc.

BM 136773, British Museum, a clear representation of the ugallu or “Great lion.” Plate XIIc.

Perhaps yet another distinctive type is the Janus-figure of Plate XIIb, having both human and leonine faces, but with no parallels known to me. The identification of both types is unclear.

ND 5296, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1957. Green terms this figurine "Janus-faced," with both leonine and human faces. Plate XIIb.

ND 5296, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1957. Green terms this figurine “Janus-faced,” with both leonine and human faces. Plate XIIb.

The next passage of the ritual prescribes clay figures of the lahmu, inscribed and coated in gypsum, with “water painted on them in black wash.” The type of figure to which this passage refers, though not the reading of the Akkadian name, has been well recognized, since plaques from Aššur, inscribed as in the ritual, depict the figure in close conformity to his representation on the monumental reliefs (Plate XId, left).

BM 118918, courtesy of the British Museum, plate XId. Green identifies the ugallu at the center, the "Great lion," and lahmu at left.

BM 118918, courtesy of the British Museum, plate XId. Green identifies the ugallu at the center, the “Great lion,” and lahmu at left.

The Nimrud “heroes” are in the main heavily bearded and bewigged men without the distinctive six spiral tresses (Plate XIIIa), but they are nevertheless often inscribed, in the same fashion, and so quite likely represent the same personage.

Green states that these figurines are inscribed with statements that they represent lahmu.  ND 7847, Royal Ontario Museum. Plate XIIIa.

Green states that these figurines are inscribed with statements that they represent lahmu.
ND 7847, Royal Ontario Museum. Plate XIIIa.

Most interesting, perhaps, is a Burnt Palace example on which much of the gypsum coating and painted water survive (Plate XIIIb), as on some similar figures from Ur.

ND 4111 (IM 59290), British School of Archeology in Iraq, photograph by David A. Loggie. Green, Plate XIIIb.

ND 4111 (IM 59290), British School of Archeology in Iraq, photograph by David A. Loggie. Green, Plate XIIIb.

Figurines of a human deity with one arm raised in the air in similar fashion to the ugallu (Plate XIc) have not been found at Nimrud, but the identification of the ugallu from Nimrud figurines allows a possible identification of this personage also.

Oxford 1924.701, Ashmolean Museum. Plate XIc.

Oxford 1924.701, Ashmolean Museum. Plate XIc.

A common line-up at doorways in the North Palace at Nineveh involves a trio of this god, the ugallu and the lahmu (Plate XId). In the ritual text, moreover, the passages prescribing figurines of the ugallu and lahmu occur together, preceded by a prescription for figures of the “House god” who makes a gesture with his right hand and carries a weapon in his left.

BM 118918, courtesy of the British Museum, plate XId. Green identifies the ugallu at the center, the "Great lion," and lahmu at left. He speculates that the "House god" appears at far right. Plate XId.

BM 118918, courtesy of the British Museum, plate XId. Green identifies the ugallu at the center, the “Great lion,” and lahmu at left. The lahmu can be distinguished by his idiosyncratic six curled tresses. He speculates that the “House god” appears at far right. Plate XId.

It is possible, therefore, although it cannot be proved, that the three figures of these doorway reliefs are enumerated in the same order in this ritual.”

Anthony Green, “Neo-Assyrian Apotropaic Figures,” Iraq, Vol. 45, 1983, pp. 90-2.

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