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Work Perforated plaque of Dudu

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Mesopotamia

Bas-relief votif de Dudu, prêtre de Ningirsu, au temps d'Entemena, prince de Lagash

© 2007 RMN / Franck Raux

Near Eastern Antiquities
Mesopotamia

Author(s):
Iselin Claire

Plaques perforated in the center and decorated with scenes incised or carved in relief were particularly widespread in the Second and Third Early Dynastic Periods (2800-2340 BC), and have been found at many sites in Mesopotamian and more rarely in Syria or Iran. The perforated plaque of Dudu, high priest of Ningirsu in the reign of Entemena, prince of Lagash (c.2450 BC), belongs to this tradition. It has some distinctive features, however, such as being made of bitumen.

Dudu, priest of Ningirsu

The bas-relief is perforated in the middle and divided into four unequal sections. A figure occupying the height of two registers faces right, leaning on what appears to be a long staff. He is dressed in the kaunakes, a skirt of sheepskin or other material tufted in imitation of it. His name is inscribed alongside: Dudu, rendered by the pictograph for the foot, "du," repeated. Dudu was high priest of the god Ningirsu at the time of Entemena, prince of Lagash (c.2450 BC). Incised to his left is the lion-headed eagle, symbol of the god Ningirsu and emblem of Lagash, as found in other perforated plaques from Telloh, as well as on other objects such as the mace head of Mesilim, king of Kish, and the silver vase of Entemena, king of Lagash. On this plaque, however, the two lions, usually impassive, are reaching up to bite the wings of the lion-headed eagle. Lower down is a calf, lying in the same position as the heifers on Entemena's vase. The lower register is decorated with a plait-like motif, according to some scholars a symbol of running water.
The image may be read as a series of rebuses or ideograms. A priest dedicates an object to his god, represented by his symbol, and flanked perhaps by representations of sacrificial offerings: an animal for slaughter and a libation of running water. The dedicatory inscription, confined to the area left free by the image in the upper part, runs over the body of the calf: "For Ningirsu of the Eninnu, Dudu, priest of Ningirsu ... brought [this material] and fashioned it as a mace stand."

Perforated plaques

This plaque belongs to the category of perforated plaques, widespread throughout Phases I and II of the Early Dynastic Period, c.2800-2340BC, and found at many sites in Mesopotamia (especially in the Diyala region), and more rarely in Syria (Mari) and Iran (Susa). Some 120 examples are known, of which about 50 come from religious buildings. These plaques are usually rectangular in form, perforated in the middle and decorated with scenes incised or carved in relief. They are most commonly of limestone or gypsum: this plaque, being of bitumen, is an exception to the rule.
The precise function of such plaques is unknown, and the purpose of the central perforation remains a mystery. The inscription here at first led scholars to consider them as mace stands, which seems unlikely. Some have thought they were to be hung on a wall, the hole in the center taking a large nail or peg. Others have suggested they might be part of a door-closing mechanism. Perforated plaques such as this are most commonly organized in horizontal registers, showing various ceremonies, banquets (particularly in the Diyala), the construction of buildings (as in the perforated plaque of Ur-Nanshe), and scenes of cultic rituals (as in the perforated plaque showing "the Libation to the Goddess of Fertility"). The iconography is often standardized, almost certainly an indication that they represent a common culture covering the whole of Mesopotamia, and that they had a specific significance understood by all.

Bibliography

André B, Naissance de l'écriture : cunéiformes et hiéroglyphes, (notice), Paris, Exposition du Grand Palais, 7 mai au 9 août 1982, Paris, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1982, p. 85, n 42.
Contenau G., Manuel d'archéologie orientale, Paris, Picard, 1927, p. 487, fig. 357.
Heuzey L., Les Antiquités chaldéennes, Paris, Librairie des Imprimeries Réunies, 1902, n 12.
Orthmann W., Der Alte Orient, Berlin, Propylaën (14), 1975, pl. 88.
Sarzec É., Découvertes en Chaldée, Paris, Leroux, 1884-1912, pp. 204-209.
Thureau-Dangin, Les inscriptions de Sumer et d'Akkad, Paris, Leroux, 1905, p. 59.

Technical description

  • Bas-relief votif de Dudu, prêtre de Ningirsu, au temps d'Entemena, prince de Lagash

    Vers 2400 avant J.-C.

    Tello, ancienne Girsu

  • Pierre bitumineuse

    25 H ; 23 LA ; 8 EP

  • Fouilles de Sarzec, 1881

    AO 2354

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Ancient Mesopotamia, from the earliest times to the 3rd millennium BC
    Room 1a
    Vitrine 6 : Epoque des dynasties archaïques de Sumer, vers 2900 - 2340 avant J.-C. Antiquités de Tello, ancienne Girsu.

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