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Work The temple of Inshushinak cache

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Iran

Lion mounted on wheels

© 2008 RMN / Franck Raux

Near Eastern Antiquities

Dunn-Vaturi Anne-Elizabeth

These little animals mounted on carriages with casters, are part of a valuable deposit found at Susa, near the temple of Inshushinak. This collection of objects consists in a wide range of items assembled under the brilliant Shutrukid dynasty in the late second millennium BC. A number of animals on casters, tablets and wheels found in isolation indicate the widespread existence of these mobile objects, toys or votive carts, at Susa.

Favorite Elamite animals

Powerful and majestic, the lion is the animal attribute of the goddess Narunte or Narundi, the Susian divinity equivalent to Inanna/ishtar, the Mesopotamian goddess of love and war. The lion is therefore an important animals in Elamite culture. Although representations of the hedgehog are less frequently found than those of the lion, this little animal nevertheless featured in the furnishings of Susa as early as the 4th millennium (amulet, flask). A dove, another favorite creature of the Susians, mounted on a base that would formerly have been on wheels, has also been found in this depository (Louvre Museum, sb2909). The two figures shown here, made of white, finely worked limestone, contrast with the dark base of bitumen mastic on which they stand. The added elements (eyes, ears, tail), probably made of a different material, have been lost, as have the two small hedgehogs, of which only the little hollows where they were fixed next to the remaining hedgehog remain.

Toys or votive carts?

The function of these animals on casters remains unclear, however. Terra-cotta specimens have also been found at Susa (Louvre Museum, sb19324), raising the question as to whether they should be considered as toys or as votive carts carrying figurines. Susian children in the Middle-Elamite court may have played with them, pulling the little carts along with a piece of string. Scholars have also pointed to the religious connotation of human or animal figurines on wheels, suggesting they were purely votive offerings. Of course a toy could become an offering, dedicated to a divinity or buried alongside a deceased person.

The temple of Inshushinak cache

These works are part of a group of objects known as the "temple of Inshushinak cache," found on the Susa acropolis near the temple of the god Inshushinak, whose name means "Lord of Susa." These precious objects from various periods were gathered together in a sort of hiding-place in the late second millennium BC. They included animals on casters, bronze statuettes of praying figures, circuit games (Louvre Museum, sb2911, sb2912), jewelry and gold ingots. The interpretation of this treasure-trove, like that of the neighboring "golden statuette find" (Louvre Museum, sb2758), remains unclear, but both reflect the far-reaching influence of the Shutrukid dynasty, whose sovereigns sought to pay tribute to the god Inshushinak, particularly on the Susa acropolis, the religious center of Elam.

Technical description

  • Lion mounted on wheels

    Middle Elamite period, c. 1500-1200 BC

    Tell of the Acropolis, Susa

  • Limestone and bitumen

    W. 7.50 cm; H. 3.60 cm

  • J. de Morgan excavations, 1904 , 1904

    Sb 2905

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Iran, Susiana (Middle Elamite period)
    Room 304
    Display case 8: Susa. Deposits from the period of the Shutrikide kings (12th century BC)

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