Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Inlay: male torso

Early Dynastic IIIa
ca. 2600–2500 B.C.
Mesopotamia, Nippur
2.17 x 3.23 in. (5.51 x 8.2 cm)
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1962
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 403
This plaque is cut from a piece of pearly shell in the shape of a man’s upper torso and arms. He clasps his hands to his chest, bending his arms deeply; his elbows are sharp points. His head is now missing, but two rounded rectangular depressions carved into the top of the plaque likely represented the lower extent of the figure’s beard. 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.
1960–61, excavated on behalf of the Joint Expedition to Nippur (Baghdad School of the American Schools of Oriental Research and The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago); acquired by the Museum in 1962, as a result of its financial contribution to the excavations.

“The Art of Sumer and Akkad: Mesopotamia and Iran in the Third Millennium B.C.” Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, April 3, 1973–May 27, 1973.

“The First Civilization: The Legacy of Sumer.” The University of Texas Museum, Austin, The University of Maryland Museum, College Park, January 12, 1975–May 2, 1975.

Wilkinson, Charles K. 1962. "Near Eastern Art". The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 21 (2), Ninety-Second Annual Report of The Trustees for The Fiscal Year 1961-1962 (Oct., 1962), p. 84.

Mc Keon, John F.X. 1973. The Art of Sumer & Akkad, exh. cat. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Schmandt-Besserat, Denise. 1975. The First Civilization: The Legacy of Sumer, exh. cat. University of Texas and University of Maryland, College Park, no. 229.
Related Objects

Vessel stand with ibex support

Date: ca. 2600–2350 B.C. Medium: Copper alloy, inlaid with shell and lapis lazuli Accession: 1974.190 On view in:Gallery 403

Standing male worshiper

Date: ca. 2900–2600 B.C. Medium: Gypsum alabaster, shell, black limestone, bitumen Accession: 40.156 On view in:Gallery 403

Inlay: woman wearing a cylinder seal, playing a flute

Date: ca. 2600–2500 B.C. Medium: Shell Accession: 62.70.46 On view in:Gallery 403

Inlay: dancing man

Date: ca. 2600–2350 B.C. Medium: Shell Accession: 59.41.53 On view in:Gallery 403

Inlay: banquet scene with a seated figure holding a palm frond

Date: ca. 2600–2500 B.C. Medium: Shell Accession: 62.70.47 On view in:Gallery 403