An offering vase discovered on level III of the Temple Complex of Eanna, part of a treasury hoard which included a duplicate vase and many cylinder seals. The level is generally dated to 3000 BC, though the vase was probably fashioned much earlier, roughly datable to the end of the Uruk and beginning of the Jemdet Nasr periods; the vase is thus the oldest cultic container found in Sumeria. The vase stands roughly 1 metre tall and 0.36 m broad at the rim, formed from a red, burnished clay; there is evidence that the vase was once broken and later repaired in antiquity.

The side is divided into 4 different bands. The lowest band shows herds of cattle and other beasts, beneath the 2nd band, depicting fields of corn. The 3rd band shows a procession of naked men, most likely temple servants, carrying baskets filled with various offerings. The 4th band, the top, shows a man dressed in a long, tassled skirt, behind another naked figure, presenting an offering basket to a female figure. The ancient repairs have destroyed her head-dress, making a definite identification impossible, but the location and the presence of a double bundle of reeds next to her figure (later the symbol of the goddess), makes it likely that this is meant to be either Inanna or one of her priestesses. Behind her stand two more figures, both in skirts, who seem to be accepting or recording the offerings for storage in the temple.

The whole vase provides us with a simple narrative of Sumerian temple administration. The lower bands provide some of the earliest indications of temple ownership and maintenance of fields and herds, while the procession of naked men indicate servants of the temple; it is possible that their nakedness is an indication of the emphasis of ritual purity, similar to that practised by Egyptian priests and evidences by later depictions of the bald Gudea or rulers washing themselves, holding towels.

Perhaps most importantly, one of the figure standing behind the goddess Inanna is labeled with an early form of the later cuneiform sign for high priest, read EN in Sumerian, indicative of the process of identification of text with figurative, narrative art evidenced by later cylinder seals and inscribed statuary.

Update: 16 June 2003. This was among the most famous of those pieces which stolen at the end of the war against Iraq, during the looting of the Baghdad Museum. On display and bolted to the floor in a case, it was considered too heavy to remove into safe storage. This was incorrect. Thought lost for good, it was officially declared returned on 12 June 2003, some 3 months later. The vase is now rather damaged, and requires major restoration. Most noticeable from photos are the damaged foot, torn from the floor of the display case, and the shattered upper register. Once I know more, I might get around to posting it here.

An ancient Mesopotamian vase dating from the Late Uruk Period, about 3500 BCE – 3300 BCE. This item was found in the city of Uruk, which is in Southern Mesopotamia. The city of Uruk is also known by the Sumerian name of Uru, the modern name of Warka and the Biblical name of Erech

Occupation of Uruk dates back to the early third millennium (roughly 4000 BCE). This vast site had 9.5 km walls surrounding it, and portions of the site lay outside the walls. The origins of urbanization are evident at this early site, and writing originated here during the Uruk Period, 4000 BCE – 3000 BCE. The site was excavated by an archaeologist named Lenzen in the 1950’s and 60’s.

The site has two main temple complexes, named Eanna and Kullaba. Kullaba was the first site of temples, and was dedicated to Anu, the god of the sky. The Eanna complex was dedicated to the goddess Inanna, who is later known as Ishtar. Ishtar is the Mesopotamian goddess of love and war, and is present in the Sumerian, Akkadian, Assyrian, and Babylonian cultures.

The vase itself is a 4 foot high limestone sculpture. Only one remains, but it is part of a pair. The pair is depicted on the vase itself, but only small fragments of the second one remain.

The layout consists of 4 registers, or horizontal strips of narrative artwork. The bottom register shows running water and growing plants, most likely wheat and grains. The next register shows livestock. This represents the Mesopotamian view of the natural ordering of plants and animals, at the lowest strata and only to serve humans.

The third register from the bottom shows nude figures carrying large jars and pots of food, grains, and beverages. In Mesopotamian artwork, there are two terms to describe unclothed figures. The term naked is used to denote unclothed slaves; nude is used to describe ritually pure, clean, unclothed people associated with the temple.

The top register presents the most interesting subject matter. Unfortunately, vital portions have been damaged. The scene depicts another nude presenting a seated woman with the offerings, on behalf of another figure.

The woman is believed to be Inanna for numerous reasons. First of all, this item came from the Eanna complex dedicated to Inanna. Secondly, behind the woman, two bundles of reeds are depicted. These reeds are known from other pieces of artwork and textual evidence to represent Inanna. Unfortunately, the woman’s headdress has been damaged and repaired in antiquity, obscuring a vital piece of information. In Mesopotamian art, the headdress signifies social standing, whether it be the horned headdress of a god or the special headgear of a king.

The important male figure is also damaged. He may have been damaged accidentally, or vengefully chiseled out. We know his importance for due to a few clues. First, he takes up more space than any other figure except the seated woman. Also, we see an attendant behind him, holding what seems to part of his robe. Finally, part of one leg remains. This reveals a netted robe. Not only is he the only dressed male, but in other artowrk of the period we see an important figure saluting gods, defeating enemies, killing animals, and always wearing the signature netted skirt. This is not always the same person, but represents an office, possibly kingship.

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