Old Babylonian Terracotta Plaque Fragment of Birds


A finely modelled Old Babylonian terracotta plaque fragment, depicting two birds in relief. The birds are portrayed in side profile, facing each other. The birds have a bald head, long thick beaks, projecting tails and long toes. These physical characteristics bear resemblance to the sacred ibis which dwelled in Africa and the Mesopotamian Marshes or could simply be stylistic representations. The lower section of the plaque is now missing. The plaque comes with a customised display stand and the item itself measures L5.7cm x W5.3cm.

Date: Circa 1894–1595 BC
Provenance: Ex S.M. Collection, London, Mayfair, acquired 1970s-90s.
Condition: Fine condition. Minor chips visible along the edges and at the back of the plaque. Slight earthly encrustation visible on the surface and signs of wear on the relief consistent with age.


SKU: XJ-32 Category: Tags: , ,

Terracotta plaques of this sort were mass-produced from moulds and represent a form of “mass” art available to ordinary Babylonians. They have been found in temples as well as household shrines in private homes. The subject matter was heavily influenced by the iconographies of Mesopotamian cylinder seals and varies widely from religious images, mythological and erotic scenes, and representations of rulers and gods.

Zoomorphic representations, including birds, sheep, goats, bulls and lions were favoured by Mesopotamian glyphic artists from the Uruk period (circa 3500-3000 BC). Birds, mostly identified as geese or swans, were attributed to a number of deities, including the goddesses Bau and Nanše. Geese and swans, grouped as ‘anserinae’, were associated with fertility, the protectiveness of their young and as protectors of cities. They were a symbol most often connected to women and their multifaceted meaning lent itself well to multifaceted feminine deities. In the Old Babylonian Period, Lilith a demonic aspect of Inanna/Ishtar is often associated with bird like features. Lilith is theorized to be the goddess featured in the famous “Queen of the night” relief, a terracotta plaque date to the Isin-Larsa or Old Babylonian period in the British museum.

Weight 104.5 g
Dimensions L 5 x W 4.8 x H 7.5 cm

Pottery and Porcelain


Reference: For a similar item, The British Museum, London, item 116854

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