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Small dog with a ring

© 1986 RMN / Pierre et Maurice Chuzeville

Near Eastern Antiquities
Iran

Author(s):
Benoit Agnès

This small pendant in the shape of a dog is one of the first examples of gold- and silverwork in the late 4th millennium BC. It encapsulates all the metalworking techniques known at the time, and also provides valuable information about one of the two principal breeds of domestic dogs in the Susian plain.

A feat of metallurgy

This small gold dog pendant illustrates the dexterity of metallurgists active in Susa in the Late Uruk period, from 3300 to 3100 BC.
The art of metallurgy was a skill acquired in the 4th millennium BC. Metalworkers had learned how to reduce the ore to extract the metal and then to cast it in molds. It was an art that required the mastery of high temperatures, often exceeding 800 C. The first ore subjected to such operations was copper. Metallurgists soon started working simultaneously with several metals (lead, silver and gold), and discovered how to make alloys with arsenic, antimony and lead. Silver- and goldwork was nevertheless rare in the late 4th millennium BC. This little dog is thus an exception, while also serving as a reference in the field. It required many different techniques, making it a kind of showcase for craftsmen's skills at that time. These included the lost-wax casting method, used for the solid body of the work, and the drawing out of the metal while hot to form the ears and tail, with extra material added to turn the tail over the dog's back. To save precious metal, a clay core was initially placed in the center of the piece. Finally, the suspension loop was attached to the pendant. The temperature of the metal had to be lowered at the junction between the two parts to prevent the statuette from melting. For this purpose, the loop was soldered by brazing with copper and gold. The Susa dog is considered to be the first known example using this technique.

A domesticated dog

The breed of dog represented here is different from the long, narrow salukis featured on the ceramic painted vases that were found in the Susa I necropolis dating from the foundation of the city. This stocky animal with a curled-over tail was domesticated, as indicated by the collar around its neck. Such domestication was not recent, dating back to pre-Neolithic times. But the 4th millennium BC was marked by an increase in pastoralism throughout the Near East, probably as a consequence of improved exploitation of ovine wool, and the dog became a highly prized assistant to man. Dogs often feature in the art of this period, particularly in Susa, in the form of statuettes and pendants.

Bibliography

Duval Alain-René, Eluère Christiane, Hurtel Loïc, Tallon Françoise, "La Pendeloque au chien de Suse. Étude en laboratoire d'une brasure antique", in Revue du Louvre, 1987, n 3, pp. 176-179.

Technical description

  • Small dog with a ring

  • Gold

    H. 1.40 cm; W. 1.50 cm

  • R. de Mecquenem excavations, 1939, Tell of the Acropolis

    Sb 5692

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Iran, Susiana, and the Iranian plateau
    Room 7
    Display case 3: Susa II. Various arts from the Late Uruk period (3300–2100 BC). Susa II and Susa III. Uruk and Proto-Elamite periods (3500–2850 BC). Domestic objects

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