Spiral pendant


Not on view

This silver pendant consists of two spirals connected by an intertwined stem. A horizontal sleeve for suspension is at the top. It was excavated at Tepe Nush-i Jan, an Iron Age hilltop site about 60 km sound of Hamadan in western Iran. Nush-i Jan was occupied in the 7th and 6th centuries B.C., and its occupants are generally thought to be the Medes, an Iranian people known from Assyrian, Achaemenid and Biblical sources. Though the textual sources portray them as a powerful empire, archaeological evidence for the Medes has yet to sustain this impression. Rather, they seem to have lived in scattered fortified sites in western and central Iran, without any clear capital. Nush-i Jan, one of the best known of these sites, features two temples, a columned hall, and a fort, where the pendant was found.

The pendant was discovered in a bronze bowl containing 231 pieces of silver, including jewelry, ingots and scraps. At the time coins were not yet in use in Iran, and silver bullion was the primary form of money. The form of the silver did not matter, only the weight, so any silver object, including jewelry, could potentially be used as money. To make a payment, one would weigh out a certain quantity, and to make an exact amount it was sometimes necessary to cut silver into smaller pieces, which is why the hoard includes scraps of metal. It was found below floor level, suggesting that it was hidden for safekeeping. Whether its owner did this as a long-term storage strategy or in response to an emergency is unknown.

Spiral pendants have a long history in the ancient Near East, going back to the 4th millennium B.C. The closest parallels to this one are from Tepe Hissar in northeastern Iran, dating to ca. 2000 B.C., more than a millennium earlier than the occupation of Nush-i Jan. This raises two possibilities: (1) that this pendant was already an antique when it was added to this hoard, or (2) that spiral pendants continued to be made for a very long period of time. Since there are other, much older objects in the hoard, the first possibility seems likeliest. The pendants from Tepe Hissar were found in graves, so it is possible that this one from Nush-i Jan was looted from an earlier tomb.

Spiral pendant, Silver, Iran

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