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Work Perforated stone with a coiled serpent

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Iran

Galet perforé portant un serpent lové

© 2005 RMN / Franck Raux

Near Eastern Antiquities

Herbin Nancie

This perforated stone was commissioned by Puzur-Inshushinak, a prince of the dynasty of Awan in Iran, to commemorate the erection of a monument. It is decorated in relief with a scene showing a god offering a nail before a lion, protected by a lama divinity. The object, which displays a strong Mesopotamian influence, also has two inscriptions, one in Elamite, the other in Akkadian.

A commemorative stone for the foundation of a building

This stone seems to be part of an object made in three sections. It has a central perforation, some fifteen centimeters in diameter, intended to receive a nail made of copper and cedarwood. This hole would would have been made with a wooden or metal tool, with grains of quartz used as an abrasive. This was a votive stone dedicated as part of the foundation ritual for a building. A second fragmentary relief (Sb 177) shows the hindquarters of a lion and carries an inscription in Akkadian. The broken surfaces seem both to belong to the left side of the same object, although the exact correspondence has not been established. This stone was commissioned by Puzur-Inshushak, a king of the Awan dynasty, after the decline of the Akkadian Empire, c.2100 BC.

A mythological scene illustrating the function of the monument

The mythological scene is carved in bas-relief on the side of the stone. A god, wearing a short loincloth and a horned headdress, presents a monumental nail before a crouching lion. The god is on his knees, in an attitude expressive of the effort involved in driving in a nail, and is protected by the Lama standing behind him. This minor goddess, characteristic of the Sumerian renaissance that followed the fall of the Akkadian Empire (2350-2150 BC), is a beneficent power. Generally nameless, she has a protective role. Here she stands behind the god who performs the foundation ritual. She is depicted in an attitude of intercession that is found unchanged until the Neo-Babylonian Period (626-539 BC): standing, with forearms raised to the level of her face. The wild beast embodies either the evil forces which the god must ward off or, conversely, a guard animal defending the entrance to the sanctuary. Despite Puzur-Inshushak's battle for independence, the iconography still displays a strong Mesopotamian influence. The coiled snake on the upper part of the stone was a popular motif in Iran, here wound around the central perforation.

Two different writing systems

The stone has an Elamite inscription in a new script, linear Elamite, which is however incomplete. The new script was meant to express the language of the mountain-dwellers of Northern Iran, symbolizing the rebirth of Elam as a center of political power. The second fragment has a fragmentary text in Akkadian, in a cuneiform script of Sumerian origin. The presence of both Akkadian and Elamite inscriptions is characteristic of the official monuments of the reign of Puzur-Inshushinak, who reconstructed a state that included the land of Susa, which spoke a Semitic language, and the Iranian plateau, which spoke Elamite. The Akkadian inscription on the back of the lion would have consisted of two columns.


André-Salvini Béatrice, "Réflexions sur Puzur-Inshushinak" in Iranica Antiqua, vol. 24, Ministère de l'Éducation et de la Culture, Gand,1989, pp 54-58 ; fig.1 et 2.
Borne interactive du département des Antiquités orientales.
The Royal city of susa. New-York, The Metropolitan Museum of art, 16 nov. 1992-7 mars 1993, New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992. pp.88-90 ; ill.54, fig.31-32.

Technical description

  • Galet perforé portant un serpent lové

    Règne de Puzur-InshushinakVers 2100 avant J.-C.

  • Calcaire

    H. 56.5 cm; W. 39 cm; D. 62.5 cm

  • Fouilles J. de Morgan, tell de l'Acropole

    Sb 6733

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Iran and Susa during the 3rd millennium BC
    Room 231

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