Inlay: seated male with cup and palm frond


Not on view

This square plaque cut from a piece of shell is decorated with the incised image of a seated man, wearing a garment with a tufted fringe, who holds a cup aloft in his right hand and a branch-like object in his left, either a palm frond, date spathe, or an implement such as a whip or fly whisk. The garment wraps around to cover his left shoulder, leaving the right arm bare. His bare feet are visible below the hem of the skirt. His head and beard are shaved, suggesting that he is participating in a religious ceremony which required ritual purification of the body. The man’s face appears in profile, with a distinctive hooked nose and foreshortened ear, and an oversize eye whose pupil was not defined by incision. The plaque was probably set in bitumen (a tar-like substance used as an adhesive) with pieces of shell and stone to create a composition in contrasting colors, a characteristic technique of the late Early Dynastic period exemplified by the well-known Standard of Ur, now in the British Museum.

Nippur, the great holy city of southern Mesopotamia, was the home of the chief deity Enlil and housed temples to Enlil and many other gods. Excavations in the temple of the goddess Inanna have revealed that the sanctuary was first built in the Early Dynastic I period and continually rebuilt on the same site until the Parthian period, some three thousand years later. Hundreds of objects were discovered in the temple: statues, stone bowls and plaques, inlays, furniture attachments, and other fragmentary items, found either in hoards or scattered throughout the building.

Inlay: seated male with cup and palm frond, Shell, Sumerian

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