Kneeling bull holding a spouted vessel

Period: Proto-Elamite

Date: ca. 3100–2900 B.C.

Geography: Southwestern Iran

Culture: Proto-Elamite

Medium: Silver

Dimensions: 6 7/16 x 2 1/2 x 4 1/4in. (16.3 x 6.3 x 10.8cm)

Classification: Metalwork-Sculpture

Credit Line: Purchase, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1966

Accession Number: 66.173


Soon after the political transformations of the Uruk period in southern Mesopotamia, similar innovations—including writing and cylinder seals, the mass production of standardized ceramics, and a figural art style—developed around the city of Susa in southwestern Iran, an area in which the predominant language was Elamite. While most of these innovations were adapted from Mesopotamian examples, they all took on distinctive Elamite characteristics in Iran.

This small silver bull, clothed in a robe decorated with a stepped pattern and holding a spouted vessel, shows a curious blend of human and animal traits. The large neck meets distinctly human shoulders, which taper into arms that end in hooves. Representations of animals in human postures were common in Proto-Elamite art, possibly as symbols of natural forces but just as likely as protagonists in myths or fables. The function of this small masterpiece remains uncertain. Traces of cloth that were found affixed to the figure suggest that it was intentionally buried, perhaps as part of a ritual or ceremony.