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.