South Arabia, Saudia Arabia and Yemen, ca. 1st millennium BCE. Wow! One of my favorites! A huge slab of thick alabaster, carved into a table with a slightly raised border, a smooth, flat interior, squared-off edges, and, at one shorter side, a short projection with a high relief head of a bull flanked by the heads of four ibexes. The bull head has a shallow groove between its horns that serves as a drain. A similar table that sold at Christie's in 2008 (see below) had an inscription in Old South Arabian reading, "Autumn [harvest] offerings," giving us a clue as to the use of such a table. The drain, for allowing sacrificial blood to flow off its smooth surface, allows us to imagine the sacrificial offerings being made. The animals are delightfully stylized in a classically South Arabian manner, with wonderfully symmetrical form, while the alabaster glows a warm cream color in any light, with bands of red-brown snaking across its surface. Size: 27.35" L x 16.7" W x 6.4" H (69.5 cm x 42.4 cm x 16.3 cm)
The people of ancient South Arabia practiced a form of paganism that would ultimately be replaced by Islam, and that is largely lost to us today. It involved ritual sacrifice of animals, using tables like this one, and worship of powerful beings who often took animal form. For example, the bull's face symbolizes Anbay, the chief god, who was a deity of justice - indeed, his name was even invoked in the ancient Arabian kingdom of Qataban for the filing of paperwork and the regulating of resources! The ibexes, meanwhile, symbolize virility and evoke the taming of the wild associated with the hunt.
A similar table, featuring only ibexes, sold at Christie's New York in 2008 for $52,500 (see Lot 54 here: https://www.christies.com/antiquities-21697.aspx?lid=1&dt=220420190241&saletitle=)
Provenance: private East Coast, USA collection; ex-private Connecticut, USA collection, acquired in the 1970s
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Small losses to peripheries, notably the lower edge, with scratches, chips, and nicks commensurate with age. Overall the piece is in very nice condition, unrepaired and with light deposits.