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Statuette of a man

© 1988 RMN / Pierre et Maurice Chuzeville

Near Eastern Antiquities

Castor Marie-José

This small male figurine carved from hippopotamus ivory comes from Safadi, in the Negev, Israel. It is a fine illustration of the work of ivory carvers around 3500 BC. The naturalistic style and rather stiff pose are characteristic of many male or female nude statues of the time. Their role may be religious or related to fertility.

Hidden in the floor of an underground dwelling

Uncovered in 1958 by Jean Perrot during the eighth campaign of excavations at Beersheba, this figurine carved from hippopotamus ivory was found in the floor of an underground house, perhaps an ivory workshop. The statuette seems to have been made on the spot, because tools were found there, too: a slab of limestone as a work bench, a bone handle fitted with a copper tip, and a perforated hematite mallet that may have been used to work a drill.

An original art form

The man is represented in a frontal position, naked or wearing a simple loincloth with a penis sheath, and standing in a hieratic pose. His ovoid head seems to be sunken into his shoulders. His ears are delicate and close to the head. His round, hollow eyes were probably inset with a bead to imitate the iris. A long straight nose divides the face in two. The mouth and chin are almost absent. A slight hollow on the top of the skull suggests that it once held a wig; other statuettes discovered at the same time have small holes for attaching beards and other attributes to accentuate the presence of facial and sometimes body hair. The body is slender with angular, narrow shoulders. The thin arms are separated from the body and touch it at the hips. From a technical point of view, they were separated by a series of holes probably bored with a copper pin like the one found beside the statuette. The hands are sharply bent onto the pelvis, which accentuates the impression of stiffness. The figure is wearing a penis sheath and a loincloth that poorly conceals his prominent penis, further emphasized by incisions in the ivory. His short legs have been separated by sawing the ivory with a flint tool; the feet are rudimentary.

A naturalistic style

This work is a fine illustration of the naturalistic style of many statuettes produced in the region during the Chalcolithic Age. Stylistically, they are similar to the statuettes produced in Predynastic Egypt, especially in the Naqadah period around 3500 BC. Other figurines have been found from the same period and their role may have be religious or related to ideas about fertility.

Technical description

  • Statuette of a man

    Chalcolithic period (5000-3500 BC)

    Safadi, Negev

  • Hippopotamus ivory

  • J. Perrot excavations, 1958 , 1958

    AO 21406

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Room 303
    Display case 6: Ivory work

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