Plaque with animal legs

Early Dynastic IIIa
ca. 2600–2500 B.C.
Mesopotamia, Nippur
Shell, slate, bitumen
3.23 x 3.86 x 0.83 in. (8.2 x 9.8 x 2.11 cm)
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1962
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 403
This fragmentary plaque was carved from a slab of slate, into which were inlaid pieces of carved shell cemented with bitumen, a tar-like substance. The two shell inlays that remain are the rear legs of an animal, with incised details emphasizing the joints. Above the legs is a cavity into which a larger piece of shell inlay was set, probably representing the animal’s body. The cavity is roughened to enable the adhesive to bond to its surface. When complete, the plaque would have probably also incorporated other pieces of shell and stone 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.
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.

Dolce, Rita. 1978. Gli Intarsi Mesopotamici Dell'Epoca Protodinastica II. Catalogo, Tavole. Rome: Istituto di Studi del Vincino Oriente - Università, p. 44, no. 56.