Pendant in the shape of a lizard
Period: Near Eastern (proto-Sumerian), late 4th millennium B.C.
Material: Black stone
Dimensions: Length:5.3 cm
Private collection; acquired from Mr. Elie Boustros, Beirut, Lebanon, in 1980.
Conditions: Complete and in excellent condition, but eyes (probably inlaid) lost. Minor cracks and chips.
This creature was carved from a small black stone. The surface is perfectly polished and presents a matte finish. The underside is flat and without anatomical details. A hole is pierced through the abdomen from side to side, allowing the figurine to be suspended as a pendant or amulet.
The creature, with its long, though slightly chubby body, appears to be in a resting or waiting position, with all four legs folded at the sides. The pointed and rather stubby tail has regular crescent-shaped incisions may well represent scales or skin markings.
The rounded head features a triangular snout marked by two vertical lines engraved in front of the eyes. Many details of the anatomy are indicated, like the eyes, the circular nostrils (probably made with a snap tool) and the small horizontal mouth. Two engravings separate the head from the body.
It is not easy to identify the species represented. It undoubtedly looks like a small reptile (the shape of the snout excludes the hypothesis of a crocodile) and one can therefore imagine that it is a lizard or a gecko, given its proportions and characteristic snout. The color, the matte surface of the stone and the general morphology also recall those of a salamander, a common amphibian in Europe, but still living now in Anatolia and in the Levant.
In various ancient Near Eastern sanctuaries (cf. Tell Brak and Uruk for the period contemporary with our statuette), images of animals were among the objects most usually offered to the deity; they were genuine statuettes, like this piece, or seals carved in the shape of animals. Since their symbolism and precise meaning cannot always be determined, nor can they always be identified, they are to be considered today as evidence of how important it was for the inhabitants of these regions to feel integrated with the natural environment in which they lived and on which they depended. At the same time, one may appreciate their great variety (mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and insects, as the Mesopotamian bestiary is extraordinarily rich) and their artistic quality; indeed, even with some stylization and naivety, they often awaken the aesthetic sense of the modern viewer.
On animals in Mesopotamia, see:
ADAMS D.N. et al., When Orpheus Sang: An Ancient Bestiary, Paris, 2004, pp. 19-83.
BECKER A. and HEINZ M., Uruk: Kleinfunde I, Stein, Mainz/Rhine, 1993, pp. 89 ff.