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Tell Asmar Sculpture Hoard (Iraq)

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Alabaster Figurine from Tell Asmar 2750-2600 BC

Alabaster Figurine from Tell Asmar 2750-2600 BC

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Definition:

The Tell Asmar sculpture hoard is a collection of 12 human effigy statues, discovered at the Mesopotamian site of Tell Asmar. The hoard was discovered during Henri Frankfort's Oriental Institute excavations in the 1930s. They were stacked in several layers within an 85x50 cm hole 1.25 meters (about 4 feet) below the floor of the structure known as the Square Temple.

The statues average about 42 centimeters in height. They are of men and women with large staring eyes, upturned faces, and clasped hands, dressed in the skirts of the Early Dynastic period of Mesopotamia. They are believed to represent gods and goddesses and their worshipers. The largest male figure is thought to represent the god Abu, based on symbols carved into the base.

The Asmar statues were modeled from processed gypsum (calcium sulphate). The ancient technique involves firing gypsum at about 300 degrees Fahrenheit until it becomes a fine white powder (called plaster of Paris). The powder is then mixed with water and then modeled and/or sculpted.

The exact location of the hoard with regard to the temples is somewhat in question. Most sources refer to it as either below the Abu or Square temples at Asmar. Evans (cited below) believes the hoard, discovered well beneath the floors of the Square Temple, predates both temples.

Sources

This glossary entry is a part of the About.com guide to Ancient Mesopotamia, and the Dictionary of Archaeology.

The Metropolitan Museum's exhibit sculpture of the Early Dynastic period has a large image of one of the Asmar statues, on its website. Evans's article has an image of the complete hoard.

Evans, Jean M. 2007 The Square Temple at Tell Asmar and the Construction of Early Dynastic Mesopotamia, ca. 2900-2350 B.C.E. American Journal of Archaeology 111(4):599-632. Free download.

This glossary entry is part of the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Also Known As: Square Temple Hoard, Abu Temple Hoard, Asmar hoard
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