The clay rattle was one of the earliest musical instruments first produced, and the ancient Near East has produced an extensive repertoire of examples. Archaeological excavations have produced a variety of shapes, from small jug vessels, pie-shaped instruments and an abundance of animal types. The rattles are classed as ‘vessel rattles’, because their sound is produced from a pellet inside banging against the sides of a closed vessel container. The pellets inside could be clay pellets, ranging in size, or they could be fruit seeds and stones. The latter usually have not survived the age of time, meaning little sound can be heard. The sound heard was also affected by the perforations on the vessel. The lack of perforations would result in a more muffled sound. Zoomorphic rattles, such as this, were harder to produce than their spool-shaped or pie counterparts, and would have been made on a wheel by an experienced potter. Material evidence also shows that rattles such as this were made for the domestic setting, as apotropaic domestic votive pieces or as children’s toys.
Old Babylonian Terracotta Ram Rattle Figurine
An Old Babylonian, terracotta vessel rattle in the shape of stylised ram. The animal features a rotound, globular body, balanced on four short, cylindrical legs. The body leads an elongated head, with protruding, circular eyes and a rounded snout. The nose is perforated with a small hole. The defining feature is a set of large, undulated horns, sat between the body and head, just behind small ears. The horns have been decorated with small,linear indentations, to mirror the ridged bone of the animal. There is also another small perforation to the underside of the animal’s belly.
Provenance: Ex London dealer collection, BL, acquired 1980s-2000s.
Condition: Excellent. Form and features still clearly defined.